It'll Join The Titanic
Ultimation and SSI have had worthy PC simulations in the past. Panzer Commander is one of the best tank sims that we've ever seen a product of the work between Ultimation and SSI in 1999. Unfortunately, since the Silent Hunter series was passed on to Ultimation, and they took on the project of the World War II naval combat sim Destroyer Commander, things have gone downhill quickly. I have to warn even hardcore enthusiasts to steer clear of this wreck.
Destroyer Command places you in command of the smaller ships of World War II, whose job was to take down enemy aircraft, drop depth charges on enemy submarines, attack other small craft such as merchants, and provide cover for capital ships. Your most glamorous weapons are your 5-inch guns, which would be no match for the behemoths on battleships.
Several things that have been hyped about Destroyer Command are either completely absent or have turned out to be utterly useless. Aside from a few sources of historical information including a tour of an actual destroyer and a vessel identification utility that doesn't even work, there is little reward in the extremely limited gameplay. Your choices include 20-mission Atlantic and Pacific campaigns, some individual missions, and the opportunity to create your own custom mission. It appears that Destroyer Command has become a victim of horrible time constraints. Either that, or the developers mistakenly sent the wrong gold disc to the publishers. The vessel identification utility isn't even mentioned in the manual, so I have no idea what it was supposed to be.
The graphics of Destroyer Command are one of its better features, but that's not saying much. You can play at either 640x480 or 1024x768 in 16-bit or 32-bit color. At the higher resolution and color depth, with all options from fog to environment mapping turned on, performance is clearly not an issue. Even with a battleship and several other destroyers within view and engaging in a firefight, framerates stay very smooth. That's a plus.
The water somewhat ripples, but don't expect to see waves with white caps coming toward you as you patrol the seas. The wake behind your ship, which changes with your speed, adds a certain degree of realism. However, lackluster explosions that look like the flash when you first light a campfire, and destroyers that look more like toys than war-faring vessels, are disappointing. When you're not manning them yourself, the anti-aircraft weapons on your destroyer become two-dimensional. And aren't there usually men on these destroyers of World War II? From Destroyer Command, you'd never know it. About the only time the presence of your crew is revealed is when they annoyingly acknowledge the command you've just given, inform you for the 372nd time that "we're in shallow water!" or plea for you to check your fire because you're so fed up with the lack of performance from the other destroyers in your fleet that you've decided to empty your ammo magazines into them instead of the enemy.
No music enhances the gameplay, which is surprising considering that the music of the frontend is fairly enjoyable. It would've helped set the mood for cruising or for battle, so its absence is a poor decision by the developers. Fortunately, 3D sound is used very effectively. Depth charges explode behind you through the rear speakers and you can recognize the rat-a-tat-tat of your stern anti-aircraft gunners easily.
A series of five training missions introduces you to Destroyer Command. Step-by-step instructions are supposed to be provided in the manual, except there are horrible inconsistencies between the actual missions and the instructions. Still, they are moderately helpful, albeit poorly done. They give you a chance to take on enemies that don't sink you before you're face to face with a U-boat in the middle of the Pacific.
Numerous screens accessible by the F keys represent different stations on the destroyer, which can be set to manual mode when you want to do the nitty-gritty yourself, or automatic when you want other members of your crew to run things. However, each of these screens provides very little control, such as launching a salvo of torpedoes, when you could use the tactical map to control all of these aspects of your ship. Truly, the tactical map is actually a great tool and renders almost all of the other stations completely pointless. From there you can set waypoints without having to adjust manually the rudder, specify different types of attacks and alerts, establish formations, and more.
Because hundreds of miles must be traversed during the course of a mission, the developers were wise to make time compression a prominent feature in the game. You can pause the game or watch time pass at as much as 2048x its normal rate. You'll be to Japan from the Philippines in no time. I have to admit that it's kind of fun to watch the icons of your vessels scurry across the screen at a rapid pace, and then bring them to a crawl just before you're ready to open fire on your opponent's fleet.
Simulations are made and broken based on their AI. They must recreate as closely as possible the opposition given by human enemies and allies. To be honest, Destroyer Command's AI is laughable. Friendly ships will plow into each other and launch torpedoes into each other's hulls. Your fellow destroyers will run themselves aground without question, as if they didn't notice North America coming up rather quickly on the starboard side. It's embarrassing to watch one of the members of your fleet damage itself by smashing into the side of sinking wreckage that it had just launched an attack on minutes earlier. Your opponents are no more intelligent, so not to worry. You can effectively damage enemy submarines by plowing into them. Somehow they don't understand the concept of diving beneath the water when a destroyer is just a few hundred yards away headed toward them at 25 knots. Instead they'd rather try and get off one or two easily avoidable torpedo launches than sneak beneath the waves.
As I described before, destroyers in World War II were tasked with taking on many different targets. Manning the anti-aircraft guns could have been a worthwhile component of the game, if it weren't for some gaping flaws. For instance, the mouse sensitivity when operating these weapons is next to nothing, making it hard to track planes across the sky. At least it's simple to switch from one gun on your ship to another to continue following the target.
Especially in World War II, most of the challenge in naval warfare was to determine the location of your target. This is what takes the replayability out of Destroyer Command. After you've played a mission once, you know where the submarines are waiting for you, what the patrol routes of other destroyers are, and so on. A good multiplayer component might have made this forgivable, but unfortunately that is also lacking.
Multiplayer is available through Ubi Soft's Ubi.com, but we never found enough people there to make it a viable option. Not only this, but you can't play against owners of Silent Hunter II as was promised months ago when the game was announced as the counterpart to Silent Hunter II. The manual refers you to a PDF on the CD for multiplayer instructions, where it talks about Silent Hunter II compatibility as if it were part of the game from square one. But perhaps the most frustrating problem with the multiplayer is that the speed at which the game is played is based upon the lowest common denominator of the participants. So a newbie who hasn't even used the time compression feature can make things progress at a snail's pace for hours.
Pros & Cons
The simulation genre is still alive because of its emphasis on realism through graphics, audio, and AI. Destroyer Command has only one of these qualities to any extent, making it a clear failure at its purpose. Some of these faults could probably be fixed with patches, but we haven't heard about any on the horizon yet, and the problems with Silent Hunter II have remained unpatched for several months now. If you were unlucky enough to already pick up Destroyer Command, you have my condolences. Unless by some miracle Ultimation is able to save this heap of junk through updates, don't consider buying this title. It's a waste of a good $40 that could be much better spent.