Silent Service

by Sid Meier, Simon Butler
MicroProse Software Ltd
Crash Issue 38, March 1987   (1987-02-26)   page(s) 79,80

Some wargames take a very long view of their subject matter, covering a campaign taking place over a period of years. Others zoom in a little closer and recreate the strategy of a single battle. At the microscopic end of this spectrum is the 'war machine simulation.' If you think about it, there can't be a more detailed wargame than one which allows you to press the buttons. And Silent Service, a submarine simulation set in the Second World War, places itself firmly in the category of wargame simulation. There's not so much mechanical apparatus that the military scenario is obscured, and not so much 'dap-zapping' that the illusion of authenticity is lost. Conceptually, Silent Service has got it just right.

However the implementation falls something short of the promise of the game design. I haven't seen Silent Service on other machines, but from playing the Spectrum version I can tell that it has been translated from a Commodore. There's a style of design which shows that this is a too-literal Spectrum 'translation'; chunky graphics, wide spaces, large lettering, joystick fixation. The trouble with such translations is that they tend to look slightly tatty around the Spectrum edges, and Silent Service suffers from this.

The quality that is most lacking is atmosphere. There is too much 'number-crunching,' and there's a lack of sound effects - there are a few, but those which exist seem to highlight the deficiency (this is made worse by the long list describing them - for Amstrad owners I suppose). Despite the Spectrum's well-known limitations, I feel that more attention ought to have been paid to sound in a submarine simulation. The silence of the Silent Service ceases to be interesting when it's a default mode occasionally interrupted by squeaks and scrapes.

Silent Service is supported by superb instruction, including detailed historical and technical information, and diversifying into maps, diagrams and charts. With a game like this, interesting and informative documentation is extremely important. It's unfortunate that the physical format of the ' manual ' is so inconvenient; two of those large sheets of glossy paper which are supposed to be folded fifteen times into the cassette box, and quickly get tatty. In the form of a booklet these instructions would have been a joy to consult, but as it is, it is very difficult to find things. Format aside, the instructions contain descriptions of the multiple stages and scenarios, technical information about the history and 'real-life' use of equipment simulated.

There are three types of scenario; Practice, Convoy Actions and War Patrols. The Practice scenario puts your submarine near the Midway Allied Base, surrounded by a number of empty cargo ships which have been anchored in place so they can't run away. This scenario allows you to learn how to operate the controls of the submarine, and how to aim and fire torpedos effectively. Though this option is mostly useful, the moored ships do have the irritating habit of drifting, making it difficult to keep a good angle on the bow. The Convoy Action scenarios put you in specific historical situations. Somewhere in the Pacific you are faced with a convoy, and you are equipped with a submarine appropriate to the time of the encounter. It is much more difficult to attack a moving, thinking target effectively. Every wargame has a scenario which really counts, in this case its the War Patrols. This option allows you an initial fifty days of fuel and complete freedom of the South Pacific. By roaming across a large scale map you have to locate your own convoys and deal with them. The aim is to sink the maximum possible tonnage of Japanese cargo ships.

On top of four basic 'skill levels' Midshipman, Lieutenant, Commander and Captain, difficulty is also controlled by what the game calls 'reality levels.' For example, the player can choose whether or not to have limited visibility, or the possibility of the occasional dud torpedo. Skill levels like this which directly influence gameplay are a good idea, and one of the many satisfying touches of Silent Service. On the War Patrol scenario the player also has a choice of historical submarines which, fully described in the instructions, reflect the innovations which were added to submarines as the war progressed.

The first two scenarios merely land the player's submarine at the appropriate location, but the War Patrol opens with a large scale map of the entire South Pacific. There is certainly no shortage of convoys, and finding them is not at all difficult. There is a map to indicate the shipping lanes where the more valuable targets - oil tankers and troop ships - are likely to be found. You can then zoom in on the map to four degrees of magnification, which will eventually show your position relative to the other ships in the vicinity.

Internal control of the submarine is based around a picture of the conning tower, complete with a picture of a man who I suppose is intended to represent the player. For some reason I found this screen slightly disconcerting. It seems to take away the perspective of immediacy, as if the simulation allows you to leap in and out of your own body. The conning tower screen's main function is to act as a visual menu for joystick control; by moving the man to various positions about the tower, other screens can be selected with the fire button. There are direct key presses to bypass all this if you wish. The game is paused while on the conning tower, so to get things going you have to be doing something else. Climbing a ladder takes you to the bridge screen, which allows a literal view of the surrounding seas and provides information about visibility conditions. You can spot distant ships off the edge of radar range as you sweep around 360 degrees with your binoculars, but on the whole it is safer to do that from inside the ship through the periscope. The periscope can operate up to a depth of 44 feet (if you remember to raise it), and can rotate through 360 degrees - also independent of the submarines's bearing. The periscope screen is vital when it comes to sinking ships, as it identifies targets when they are entered on the periscope's crosshairs, and provides information about the speed, bearing, distance and angle on the bow. Other screens show a panel of instruments relating to the condition of the submarine itself and a damage report.

Manoeuvring and positioning the submarine is not too difficult, being largely a matter of turning the hull by means of the rudders. There is no need to be pointing at targets in order to fire torpedos at them. The periscope crosshairs aim, and a handy device called the torpedo computer calculates a course for the torpedo, based on the speed and bearing of the target. If you wish, you can turn this off and try to do this calculation yourself - though I wouldn't advise taking on this extra difficulty. While I have faith that the program knows what it's doing underneath, the visual confirmation of torpedo strikes is disappointing - and often ambiguous. It is reasonable that some torpedoes which appear to be heading straight for a target don't cause a strike, because it warns in the instructions that there were sometimes faults in the mechanism. But I become cynical when the torpedo appears to shoot neatly past a ship - and then hits it anyway! All hits are accompanied by stunning silence, and a hit to the submarine is indicated by the corny (and distinctly un-submarine-like) device of a flashing margin.

Japanese convoys are accompanied by destroyers. The idea is to attack the destroyers first, then pick off the helpless cargo ships. Unfortunately the convoys tend to scatter when you make your presence known, making the chase frustrating and time-consuming. There is a facility to speed up time - as the designer points out in the instructions, real submarine patrols and encounters could last for hours - but on this version at least, it doesn't seem to work particularly well.

The designers of this simulation have done a good job in fitting an ambitious game environment into a little 48K Spectrum, and to be honest it's hard to find anything wrong either with the idea or implementation. It is certainly an impressive piece of software. And yet, despite being someone who loves simulations of anything (especially with lots of buttons to press and technical detail to back it up). I feel uncompelled by Silent Service. This is disappointing, because with just a little tweaking (and extra bytes, I suspect) it could have had that extra something. I'm afraid I'm going to have to close another review wishing for a 128 version... no doubt to the irritation of 48K owners.

Presentation: 85%
Rules: 90%
Playability: 70%
Graphics: 81%
Authenticity: 79%
Opponent: 72%
Value For Money: 80%
Overall: 80%

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Your Sinclair Issue 15, March 1987   page(s) 29

Dive! Dive! Dive! Here's a game to play in the bath! This submarine simulation is a great war game but for serious gamers only. If you're the sort to be put off by a suggestion to read one or two books on submarine warfare, then the game isn't for you either, as this is just what Microprose warns you to do. Silent Service comes with two huge sheets of information to drown you in facts though the actual game is fairly simple. You must navigate your American sub across the Pacific, find a Japanese convoy, single out and sink your target, then beat a hasty retreat.

What gives the game its subtlety is the huge number of game options and variations to choose from. There are four skill levels - ranging from hard to totally impossible on my rating - and there are seven reality options so that you can make each game totally different. These include limited visibility, manoeuvrability of the enemy or dud torpedoes on your sub. Finally, you can choose between three game scenarios - torpedo or gun practise, convoy actions and war patrol.

Multiple screens aid your attacks. Map, visual, sonar and radar locations appear on one, while others give you periscope/binocular views, the conning tower, bridge, instruments and damage control. You can suffer from overkill on the information front, but it does seem like the real thing.

Whether you think Silent Service is subnormal or sublime depends on you. Like a good book, it takes a while to get into, but once you're there you'll be pleased you made the effort.

Graphics: 6/10
Playability: 8/10
Value For Money: 9/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Overall: 8/10

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Your Sinclair Issue 81, September 1992   page(s) 54

The instructions that come with this terrifyingly comprehensive submarine sim would probably be sufficient to wallpaper a small basement flat - even after being reduced onto microfilm, as they have been to fit them into the game's titchy cassette box. But fear not. With the aid of my trusty magnifying glass/potato peeler (it came free with 5 litres of multigrade) I've spent the last three weeks analysing them in every detail, and I can safely say there's nothing I don't know about underwater warfare.

A thorough explanation of the game's workings in the inadequate space I've been allotted would be impossible (and incredibly boring) so I won't even try it. Rest assured, however, that if it's got anything to do with submarines it's in there - from conning towers to Christmas trees. (No, really!) And if you're prepared to immerse yourself in it properly, Silent Service is an utterly absorbing game. All that's really missing is a proper submarine atmosphere, but that's easily provided by some pieces of red cellophane, a few holes strategically drilled in the central heating pipes and an obliging friend or relative under orders to shake your chair about at moments of tension.

Overall: 79%

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Super Games Guide Issue 134, April 1993   page(s) 18,19

Silent Service
Label: Kixx
Memory: 48/128K
Price: Tape £3.99

Silent Service takes you far beneath the Pacific ocean in WWII as a submarine commander on the hunt for Japanese warships. You have to deal with every aspect of running the ship, from navigation to aiming and firing the torpedoes.

This game was a smash on 16 bit and is every bit as good on the Spectrum. While the graphics and sound are nothing outstanding, the atmosphere and overall playability makes this one hell of a good game.

Overall: 89%

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Sinclair User Issue 61, April 1987   page(s) 88,89

Dive, dive, dive. No, I'm not moaning about my new flat but I have just seen the latest strategy simulation from Microprose and I am at a loss for words. It's really very, very good.

It's difficult to know where to begin. Running a US WW2 submarine through hostile seas is no easy job and the array of interior and exterior displays, maps and controls in this simulation is very daunting.

For a start you've got to decide upon the reality level. Do you want limited visibility, do you want the worry that some of your torpedoes could be duds, or do you want to increase the strength and agility of the Japanese convoys you're supposed to scupper? It's up to you, but when you're a rookie commander you should concentrate on guiding your sub above the clear water and taking target practice rather than diving and getting lost.

There are three major control screens: the bridge on top, the conning tower which is the control centre, and the maps and status reports. If you decide to forget about reality levels it'll be a lovely sunny day on the bridge. Scanning around the horizon you'll find a group of islands, the sea, and the enemy convoy.

It's target practice time so select the conning tower control room. There are six operations stations in the tower.

If you're looking for action the most important station is the periscope. When you get one of the convoy ships in the middle of your sight a two-line measuring image appears, framing the ship and making targeting easy. The target will of course be moving. It'll probably be zig zagging if you have that reality level set and you'll have to take that into account when you loose off a torpedo.

When you do press the Fire button for the best effect go on to the bridge make sure you're on the surface, though. You'll see the torp ploughing through the water, near the surface, and if you're lucky there's a red flash and the quarry will start to sink. If you hit it on the bows or stern the other ships in the convoy may rally to protect it and come after you with depth charges.

If you're counter attacked you dive. Blow all tanks, go as deep as you can and stop engines. Run silent, run deep as I'm sure Robert Mitchum said in one of his films. In this situation the map station becomes the most important part of the Conning Tower. Push the joystick to the right and the little commander standing in front of the periscope will move to the map station. Press Fire and an overview of the coastline with radar scanning of ships in the area and your position will be flashed on to the screen. You can also zoom in on particular features of the map using a box cursor. That's useful if you want to find places to hide around the coastline or if you're in deep water and can't use the periscope to see where you are.

Silent Service is the most powerful, convincing, simulation game I've seen for some time.

At first sight it seems hopelessly complex but, once you read the two poster-sized instruction inserts, which include an enemy ship spotting chart you'll see that convoy bashing at its simplest level is easy. Then you can begin to progress and use more of the simulations facilities to become a terror of the Japanese shipping lanes.

You'll also be able to take on one of the five special missions outlined in the instructions. The situations include circling around a convoy to make an attack, patrolling enemy waters at night on the surface attacking while submerged and escaping from a burning flotilla in shallow waters. All the situations are crushingly difficult and require mastery of this excellent simulation as well as a great deal of patience.

I was completely captivated.

Label: Microprose
Price: £9.95
Joystick: various
Memory: 48K/128K
Reviewer: John Gilbert


Overall: 5/5

Summary: This submarine warfare game is the best and most complex simulations to be released for months.

Award: Sinclair User Classic

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Sinclair User Issue 127, September 1992   page(s) 39

When boats were invented many moons ago, the whole idea was to have something that floated on water, thus keeping you dry and providing a safer alternative to swimming. This idea was widely accepted until one day Mr. Submarine decided to come along and confuse everyone by inventing a type of boat that sank.

These vessels were very successful and thus Mr. Submarine is now probably a very rich man who resides in a mansion somewhere in Jamaica and spends his days sipping at glasses of Americano and organising his next appointment with his private beautician.

This is what I call a simulator! I can't fault it. You play the captain of a WWII sub posted in the South Pacific, your mission being to seek out, track and sink Japanese vessels! It really is THE definitive submarine simulator. There are so many controls and options, including skill, reality and difficulty levels, location, submarine and combat controls.

The thing about sims with this level of reality is that they won't appeal to everyone. There is just so much to remember, that I think the only people who will completely master silent service are die-hard simulator or naval fanatics and actual submarine pilots. There is just so much packed into this piece of software that you soon begin to notice your Speccy going all dizzy and weak at the knees with its vast size - thus the game moves very slowly and screen updating is particularly sluggish.

Silent Service might not score much graphic and sound wise, but then what do you expect from your humble chum?! Playability and testability only come into play if you can really get into this game. If you take one look at it and decide that it's just too complicated to bother about then obviously neither of these will count for you.

All I can say is, if you manage to reach in and grasp this game by the small intestines, you won't regret it. As it stands, this has to be one of the most accurate sims available (after all, this comes from the bods who created Gunship and Carrier Command).

Label: Kixx
Memory: 48K/128K
Price: £3.99 Tape
Reviewer: Marc Richards

STEVE: This sim is so accurate I think I'm going to be seasick! Unless you've got an IQ of several thousand, keep well away, steer well clear and basically avoid! Personally, I think I'll stick to good old-fashioned blast 'em ups!

Graphics: 71%
Sound: 69%
Playability: 84%
Lastability: 79%
Overall: 89%

Summary: This is a REAL simulator, with more controls than a NASA Space Shuttle. It's very complex, so only buy it if you intend to really get down to it.

Transcript by Chris Bourne

ZX Computing Issue March 1987   page(s) 46,47,48


US Gold (Microprose)

Commanding a US submarine during the Second World War, your mission is to sink as many Japanese ships as possible while avoiding the attention of enemy destroyers.

Armed with 34 torpedoes and a 4" deck gun you must hunt down the enemy shipping in a variety of scenarios. These range from the training mission to hunting convoys in the South China Seas.

Before any would-be Submarine Commander can help America win the war (again!) he must first learn how to control the ship. This means frantic use of the keyboard (despite the frequent mentions to a joystick in the instructions). In all, 33 key controls must be mastered before you can terrify Japanese shipping,and so practice is essential using the torpedo/gun training mission. The object is simply to destroy the four old cargo ships that are anchored in position to make things easler!

Pressing Caps Shift and one of the number keys moves you between the battle stations on your submarine, that include a navigation map, bridge and deck gun, periscope for aiming and firing torpedoes, instrument and gauge displays, damage reports and a captain's log that reports your "kills".

As you move between these stations you must plot your course control, your engine speeds and submarine depths as well as planning your attack run.


How you attack the convoy depends on the conditions (day/ night) and how well it's protected. An unprotected convoy is easy and you can steam up to it at full speed and blast anything that moves. Although you should attack its centre, so you can use both sets of torpedo tubes. Be ready for a chase though as the convoy will scatter.

A protected convoy is more of a challenge particularly if there's more than one destroyer. Now you must stalk the convoy at slower speeds while keeping a narrow profile to the ships to avoid radar detection.

Your periscope is fitted with a target identifier that you should use to map out the convoy and plan your attack. You should be able to plot your attack run, so as the destroyer is stuck helplessly on the wrong side of the convoy, giving you a chance to strike and get away. Your periscope also gives you speed, course and distance of target so you can make every shot count.

If there's more than one destroyer and you can't find a gap then you'll have to take one out. This isn't going to be easy as you'll only have one shot before the destroyer locks onto you with it's deadly depth charges. Then it's DIVE, DIVE. DIVE, as you head for the safety of the depths. Cutting the engine will start the silent routine and you can even release fake debris to deceive a persistent destroyer. When you think the coast is clear, begin to stalk the convoy again.

Your sub can travel twice as quickly on the surface and you should do this whenever possible as it saves the all-important battery power. Lose that and you lose your sub.

Conquer the set scenarios and you're ready for the ultimate missions - the war patrols, when finding the enemy, is as difficult as sinking them. Obviously, lengthy voyages can be time consuming so you can speed up the action to two, three or four times the normal rate until you're ready for battle.

Finally you can make things almost impossible for yourself by adding in skill and reality levels which include limited visibility, dud torpedoes, zig-zagging convoys, no on-ship repairs and the worrying expert destroyers.

The game cassette is accompanied by two instruction sheets that explain almost everything from the control keys to convoy routes, tactics and a submarine commanders' spotters guide to Japanese shipping. When these sheets are folded there's barely room for the game cassette in the box!

An excellent simulation that will have you sparring with destroyers until the early hours.

Overall: Not Rated

Transcript by Chris Bourne

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