It’s generally accepted that ‘massively’ online games, by necessity, have to have longer pacing than most other games. The more cynical browser-based products like FarmVille etc all want to keep you hooked and paying up as long as possible, but even the more 'serious' offerings realise that (much like their older MMO Cousins) they are in it from the long haul. Given then that there's only so much content you can prepare for a release, it's vital that this content lasts for the maximum amount of time possible. Oddly enough, this kind of thinking fits perfectly for a game like Silent Hunter Online.
Combining the drawn-out, patience-requiring set-pieces of submarine warfare with the need to offer gameplay segments that can span over several days, Silent Hunter Online offers as much of the core Silent Hunter experience as they can fit into a flash-based browser product. Whilst it’s very stripped down (there’s no walking around the sub like in Silent Hunter 5, for example, although you can go out to the observation deck), it’s more of a sense of going ‘back to basics’ then running on a skeleton crew. At its core, you've got the main submarine interface, which is a static 2D interface and fairly low-tech but with a periscope that gives you access to a full 3D rendered view of the outside (using the Silent Hunter 5 engine we believe).
The key thing about Silent Hunter Online is that you don’t need to have previously been a budding amateur sub-commander to actually get into the game and play it. A feature the team were keen to highlight were the 'Officers' – each section or major task in the running of your submarine has an officer assigned to it, sort of an AI-controlled posse. Everything in the game can either be done manually, or you can ask the relevant officer do it for you. Take combat for example, a core component of the game that’s done in real time: once you’ve found your target, you need to plot a course, mark it on the map, calculate torpedo trajectories… and a whole host of other technical bits and bobs that honestly went right over my head. What didn’t though was the knowledge that you can delegate most of these more fiddly tasks to the Officers.
This scale of depth will be instrumental in allowing newcomers (or even old-timers who are a little rusty) to ease themselves into the game bit by bit... plus it even gets a good sense of role-play going in your head, as a real sub-captain wouldn't do everything himself anyway. Even the planner looks authentic, and uses properly authentic tools for all of the calculations. The other important element of the game is the wider strategic campaigns and the management aspect – individual missions form part of a larger, multi-part and dynamic campaign were you slowly win the ‘initiative’ over the allies, allowing you to unlock later missions. The enemy also responds to how well you’re doing, with more and more ships and escorts working in ‘convoy’ the more active you are in an area.
Managing your submarines is the final component – you will have a main base of operations where you must return to refuel and rearm your sub, but also manage the crew and officers, and outfit your sub with various modifications. In Solo-play, you can command more than one sub, so provided you get enough resources (at the moment, we’ve only really been told about the premium currency and the in-game prestige points), you can buy a newer, better hull from headquarters and then buy components to make it better, whether it be a new rudder or a faster engine, to bigger torpedoes.
And we haven’t even begun to talk about the online or 'co-operative' component that SHO boasts, which is kind of the whole point of the product. As an individual player you can control several subs at once in your own personal flotilla, you can also join up with four other players and form 'wolfpacks', and work together to complete missions in the campaigns. All of the tactics that you can do solo, with your personal pack, apply here too, and we imagine working together to bring off a coordinated, multi-pronged attack is going to feel quite special. There’s also an incentive for veterans to help out newer players do the earlier missions, as the enemy AI can claw back the advantage if you neglect certain missions areas, and if that happens, it makes the latter missions that much harder.
This is no mere scaled down/port of Silent Hunter 5 – SHO has been specifically geared for the free-to-play online space, and is a carefully woven network of incentives, pacing and the odd-micro transaction. It’s not all about ‘waiting’ for things to happen though – there’s natural time compression built into the base game, and we think purchasing speed-ups or whatever will be part of the business model. Considering you’ll be playing this game around your life anyway, and It’s built so that it doesn’t play without you, it’d be an easy thing to just wait and schedule it in. One of the more interesting BlueByte online titles, and one worth keeping an eye on.
Most Anticipated Feature:Will be interesting to see how ‘exciting’ individual mission can get.