Silent Hunter IV: Wolves of the Pacific is the highly anticipated sequel to the excellent Silent Hunter III. The older game put submarine simulations back on the map, with an excellent combination of realism and options to tone it down. Even at its easiest, it was immersive and let the player feel the thrill and fear of stalking a merchantman or running from its escorts. At full realism, especially in the later patches and with some add-ons like the Gray Wolves Expansion, it was a painstakingly detailed and beautiful simulation of World War II submarine combat.
Wolves of the Pacific, quite naturally, brings the player into the Pacific Theater of Operations – the war against Japan. The PTO was quite an interesting campaign. Historically, it was the Japanese who had more to gain by using submarines, since it was their strategy to be on the defensive and wear out the Americans after the first rapid conquests. Thus, American fleets and their supply lines would be constantly stretched further out, ever-more-vulnerable. Despite this, the Japanese built few submarines and those they did build were tasked with attacking warships, and generally did not strike at the merchantmen. As such, the Americans dominated the submarine conflict, with no restrictions on what types of ships their submarines could attack. The Japanese were slow to adopt anti-submarine warfare (ASW) measures in comparison to the Allies and their desperate struggle against the U-boat fleets in the North Atlantic.
Wolves of the Pacific, especially with the recently-released 1.2 patch, is a beautiful game. Previous versions could not properly increase resolution past 1024x768, they simply scaled up the images which resulted in a very pixellated look. Optional rendering filters give it a look like the game is being played back from 8mm colorized film. The effect makes spotting aircraft – already a difficult task – more difficult, but it does create a certain atmosphere to play the game in. Other technical improvements include crew on ships and much more detailed craft in general. Even the damage states are improved, with holes from torpedo hits showing exposed decks, and ships which break in half show their inner compartments.
Naturally, this all comes at a cost in performance. Even on my new system, running at full detail in 1600x1200 without
anti-aliasing on, the game would occasionally slow down during action, especially if several ships were present on-screen. On the bright side however, the strategic map does support time compression up to 8192x real time, in 512x increments starting from 512x itself. This permits players to choose a setting that will run relatively well on their computers while minimizing travel time from their home base to their mission destinations.
Speaking of missions, unlike Silent Hunter III, Wolves of the Pacific doesn't just have your submarine attacking enemy shipping. This is naturally the primary task of your boat but there are a couple of other mission types as well. Two new examples we saw included intelligence work – sneaking into an enemy harbor and taking pictures of the ships there, and dropping off agents, soldiers, and supplies at various land locations.