Have a lot of spare time on your hands? If so, Silent Hunter 5: Battle of the Atlantic might be the game for you. The latest addition to Ubisoft’s venerable submarine simulation franchise is so confusing and unfinished that it would be less of a hassle to join the Navy and get firsthand experience underwater than to figure out what’s going on here. While the game has strong points and shows potential if you want to wait for developers and modders to (hopefully) fix the current problems, at present you have to do everything the hard way. The opening tutorial mission teaches you nothing about how to captain a sub. Key functions have been stripped from the interface in favor of clumsy commands and giving orders to the crew in person. The new morale system for crewmen is broken. And let’s not forget the generous assortment of design quirks and bugs, which are joined by an obnoxious copy-protection scheme that requires you to be online at all times. There are a few glimmers of hope, but much of the time this is one of the most grueling experiences below the waves this side of Das Boot.
Like its predecessors, Silent Hunter 5 is a thorough World War II simulation of life spent hiding under the waves in a German U-boat. Just about everything can be configured, so you can go for total realism or take advantage of crutches that make it easier to spot enemies, shoot torpedoes, and so forth. And it’s a good thing that you can dumb everything down, because Ubisoft has made it tough on rookies. The early hours are frustrating, largely because the tutorial mission is a waste of time and the 35-page on-disc PDF manual covers virtually none of the core concepts you need to understand. It’s absurd how little you’re told. The tutorial sees you do nothing but sink sitting-duck cargo ships and use the map screen to plot a course, while the manual spends more space on cheesy bios of your crew (“Emil is usually very quiet and somewhat nerdy”) than it does on the nuts and bolts of the sub operations necessary to get everybody home to Hitler. Even worse, the manual has been scanned at a low resolution, so you can’t zoom in on maps and illustrations without them turning into blurry messes. First impressions don’t get much worse than this.