Silent Service is an old and popular classic. Simple but well done for its period (mid-80s) it was also converted to Nintendo. The setting is the Pacific Theater of World War Two. There are many cosmetic limitations due primarily to the available programming of the time, but the game is still very playable and enjoyable.
The player commands a modern (as of 1941) American submarine, armed with 24 torpedoes and 80 three-inch cannon shells. There are no other submarine classes or options, although the US fielded several older and less-well-armed boats.
Enemies are just as simplistic -- a variety of freighters, transports and destroyers, but no option to attack capital ships such as aircraft carriers or cruisers.
Missions and even the full-war campaign are also limited. There are half-a-dozen historical missions (based on famous real actions), and several types of convoys to attack. However, there is no randomization; once a player learns to recognize the ships, he can guess at the remainder of the convoy. Only the unescorted convoy includes an 8200-ton transport, only the dangerous convoy escorted by three destroyers has a 7600-ton oilier (so that if you spot this one, you know to be cautious). In the campaign version, there are only four possible ports for your submarine to start and
end its patrols, and they do not change with the period; for example, you don’t get to land at Manila in 1941. The enemy ships themselves are simple silhouettes which, when sunk, do so levelly. Aircraft and mines are not included, so that it’s possible to attack, say, the Sea of Japan in a period when that was virtually impossible. Finally, damage to your boat will seriously impair you; once you are hit or aground, there is not much that can save you.
That said, the game-play itself is functional, realistic and exciting. The AI is fairly straightforward; destroyers that spot you will immediately attack straight towards you, transport ships sail directly away from you. This makes it possible to simply fire “down the throat” at the destroyers, sink them and then surface and chase the unarmed transports down. However, this isn’t as simple as it sounds; one miss and the destroyer will take you out with depth charges (or even ram you if you fail to dive in time). Fighting at night or with realistic (unreliable) torpedoes makes this even more challenging. Real tactics such as end-around runs, or firing a spread of torpedoes, are effective. Convoys also follow historical routes, so that you are more likely to run into them on the coasts or between major war zones. Your sub will also sink if you dive too deep (or alternatively, dive in shallow water).
Silent Service is a piece of gaming history and a fun diversion. Recommended especially as a first subsume or for children; once you have the hang of this one, you are ready for the more complicated, modern, realistic games. Silent Service II (late ‘80s) is a direct sequel and has many improvements, but among the best are Uboat simulators such as the Silent Hunter series.