Destroyer Command

Publisher: SSI (Ubi Soft, Inc.)
Developer: Ultimation, Inc.
Genre: Naval Simulation
Date released: February 2002
Recommended System Requirements: P3 processor/equivalent; 256 MB RAM; 64 MB video card; HD Space 700 ~ 850 MB; CD ROM-drive.
Official Website:
Even their name sounded short and sweet – ‘the destroyer’- and suitable though they were in terms of naval hierarchy, they can rank among the most low down as opposed to say the aircraft carrier or the battleship in between the 2 Great Wars. True, they do get involved in destroying enemy ships and such and I do think that their function is way better than PT boat or gunboat but I’ve always imagined the destroyer to be a sort of fearsome ship, larger than those tin can boats with rusty, aged cannons, being able to launch missiles etc. and they can be sleek as they come and are tough to sink. While this may be true for modern destroyers, WWII versions are not the type of boats one would think of as awesome, at least at first sight.

I concede that I hardly knew what a true destroyer when I was in olive green trousers as uniform. The Command and Conquer: Red Alert game presented a modern view of what destroyers can be, launching stinger missiles and depth charging enemy submarines with loads of grape-like spheres. The cruiser in that game was the one devastating capital ship that can level an enemy base in minutes and from the farthest range imaginable. So, there goes the debate by all fans of that game who suddenly became naval experts overnight and present ridiculous ideas of the cruiser being better than the battleship (just because no one could see a single battleship in Red Alert although the FMVs of the game do present a confusing image of an Iowa-class battleship masquerading as a Red Alert “cruiser” lobbing destruction onto targets far away). Heck, some ‘educated’ Red Alert gamers even profess that there are only 3 classes of naval ships in navies of the world as represented in the game besides the submarines and battleships!

My history education came in the form of a movie. It’s a movie most people love to hate but I was really in love with it when it first came out: U-571. It’s true that most of the ‘factual events’ in the movie have been badly misrepresented by the film’s production crew. You can read all about its inaccuracies all over the net, but one thing was clear,  the movie ain’t bad. While most of half the movie was spent evading and sinking the German destroyer (which is pretty lame TBH), the destroyer’s role in the War was made abundantly clear: to hunt submarines down and turn them into wreck. This movie is better than the sloppy and demented ‘In Enemy Hands‘  starring William H. Macy who played the Chief of the Boat among a crew of American submarine sailors who could be better casted in one of the episodes of the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ or ‘The 3 Stooges’.

So, destroyers are fundamental naval units equipped to perform ASW missions. Destroyers also fulfill the role of first-line units, pretty much the same as the common infantry unit of the ground forces. This does not mean that they are readily dispensable and are willingly committed without regard to the lives of the sailors; but this meant that their role has been underscored by the larger and perceptibly more important capital ships. Destroyers act as screening units of the navy, scouting enemy ships way ahead before their own friendly capital ships engage them. In this regard, they are little more than escorts but nothing is further than the truth. Destroyers also perform anti-aircraft duties where the Japanese airmen were performing their notorious ‘kamikaze’ attacks. Because of their multi-faceted role, destroyers are, in fact one of the better naval units to have around. It’s like you can’t have one without the other. Destroyers can also take on other lighter naval units, adding to their usefulness or possibly acting as a decoy.


With these information in mind, I can guess that you’d have a pretty rough picture of what to expect in this review and of what this game is all about.

In my previous article about Silent Hunter II, I’ve illustrated the role submarines play in World War II, particularly of the Kriegsmarine. It’s a successor to the hotly favoured Silent Hunter I game and has spawned an interesting franchise.

Destroyer Command was supposed to be the partner title of Silent Hunter II. You play the role of American destroyer commander this time round and to engage the fearsome Imperial Japanese Navy, the Kriegsmarine and the Italian Regia Marina. When the game was first released, the developers were enthusiastically promoting the fact that both titles’ multiplayer sessions could be ‘interoperational’ and can potentially pit players against each other in submarine vs. destroyer roles and vice versa. This is not like in SH 2 alone where the AI still control the enemy surface ships (destroyers as well) and the players take command of the U-boats. So, you might have friends playing the hunter and some as the hunted or whatever you choose.


Gameplay and Objectives:

As in SH2, you’d have to navigate your boat to your objectives. This can be achieved by referring to the map and then by setting the appropriate speed settings as you see fit. The map (F3) is a handy way to maneuver your way around

Your enemies come in various forms, from enemy ships to enemy submarines and, more often than not, aircraft. They can inflict painful damage on your ship and all of them are to be viewed with some caution in mind.

Fortunately, you can engage these enemies with all sorts of weapons at your disposal. This is where the destroyer really shines. You might consider engaging enemy aircraft with your 40mm, 20mm or even you anti-aircraft shells from your 5-inch guns. Surface ships should be taken out by the 5- inch main guns whereas enemy subs can be taken out by the main guns or your very own depth charges. As a little flavoring, you can also use your torpedoes to take out the main ships.

In the game, your primary role is to escort American naval units to a point of objective. Sometimes, you may have to perform the lonely boat patrols and fight off some enemy surface ships on your own. Since the game objectives may vary greatly from mission to mission, consider it that your primary mission is to sink as many enemy ships as you can and to stay alive.

Your destroyer is also equipped with some interesting equipment to assist your duties. You can rely on the sonar equipment to detect enemy subs; the radar for enemy surface contacts; and the main battery director to organize your shots effectively. These capabilities are different as time passes from the early days of the war to imminent Allied victory.

You’d also command different destroyer classes from time to time. While it’s not possible to utilize the entire destroyer classes in the game, you’d still have a healthy selection of 14 types to choose from. From my point of view, however, the differences in terms of practicality and combat efficiency would mean that you’d be partial to the destroyers of the later classes such as the Fletcher-class as well as the Sumner class. The reason here is that most of the earlier destroyers would hardly suit your needs in terms of additional firepower and unit speed. More main guns mean that you’d have a better chance of winning naval duels and the upgunned 40mm cannons are really good adversaries of enemy aircraft and divebombers. On top of that, the equipment onboard are really awful on earlier destroyers. It’d be superfluous to mention that earlier destroyers aren’t too pretty aesthetically either.

You may also have the common privilege to command a small task force, which is a nice touch from the previous naval sims available. In certain missions, this may mean using different groups to achieve a simultaneous objective in different coordinates although there is little wrong to be had even if all of your ships are grouped en masse to take on superior foes. Whatever your choice, you’d be leading from the flagship and you call the shots. When your lead ship gets sunk, your flag (command) would be automatically shifted to any other available subordinate ships and assume command of that ship, with damages and all.

Adverse weather conditions may affect your shot efficiency, ship speed and visibility. You may opt to use starshells to illuminate dark surroundings to get a clearer view of the battle.

Your destroyer, according to the manual, is a sturdy piece of equipment but can only take so much abuse before succumbing. In truth, your destroyer can take some beating but not too much. If the enemy fleet has zeroed in on your ship and are concentrating fire, you’d better say your prayers. If a lucky enemy torpedo meets your keel, there goes your mission. Ditto for enemy aircraft releasing naval bombs from a great height. On the other hand,you can take comfort in the fact that you can actually take your boat to ram enemy submarines, and provided that your own boat’s damage is not too severe, chances are you’ll come out tops.

If you’ve made the transition from the Silent Hunter franchises, it’s more practical to think in the way that you aren’t in control of a submarine anymore and the diving procedure ain’t going to save your ass this time.


Some new stuff:

i. Battery director – Coordinates all main guns to fire in unison at the enemy. This is made even more useful when attempting a broadside against enemy ships when both your ship’s and the enemy’s positions are ideal. Imagine firing 5 main guns at a ship at one time!

ii. Depth-charge racks – You can monitor enemy sub activities on this screen and perform a quick depth charge run; setting the depth at which the explosive charges would explode and firing off as many of them as you think appropriate.

iii. Boiler and engine room – Some game reviews wrote of it as a useless addition to the game. Tentatively, they have a point but this room is also there for some reason. When taking constant enemy fire, chances are, your ship would receive severe damage. There would then be a chance that your ship’s boilers and engine room would also suffer some form of mauling – this is where you may need to take charge and shut off some engines in case they may start a major fire. Some repairs made with regard to the engines can only be performed if some boilers are disengaged.

iv. Sonar station – to be closely associated with your depth-charge stations. The sonar ‘searches’ for enemy submarine activity when your boat is travelling at standard speed or below. The sound head rotates every five degrees, giving you the chance to ascertain the direction of these underwater predators. You can then transmit these data to the depth charge station and you can select the amount of punishment to deal out to the offender.

Game modes:
Not a lot, frankly.

You do have your usual servings of campaign modes, random missions and the multiplayer arm. The historical missions illustrate where ‘Destroyer Command’ truly shines. You battle Japanese ships in some of the Pacific War’s really dramatic naval engagements and some scenes of fierce fighting.

The campaigns, I think are not that bad, really – they are a slight improvement over “Silent Hunter II” with the addition of subordinate units under your command and most campaign missions are co-operative types where you fight alongside your compatriots, which feature capital ships. They are still rigid in a way, and are really too difficult for those starting out. I’d recommend the random mission generator to get cracking.

The replayability value of the game, however, is quite low. The random missions would have you in awe for a moment – you can alter certain parameters to allow enemies to roll out dive bombers and submarines against you. This nice touch can wear off quickly since random missions are simply over in a flash. Simply too fast just after you were taking all the naval experiences in.


Strategies for taking on the enemy:
Know your weapons –

a. Main gun – can fire 3 types of ammunition. HC (high caliber?) ammunition works great against enemy surface ships and coastal installations. SS (starshells) do no damage but can light up the night’s darkness enabling you to see the enemy better. AA (anti-aircraft) shells explode from a distance and is the best ammunition for enemy aircraft.

b. 20mm MG/ 40mm AA gun – Intended primarily for anti-aircraft defense/offense. I’ve used them sparingly against weakened enemy smaller ships to finish them off. The 40mm gun, in particular, is of great choice against annoying surfaced submarines.

c. Depth-charge racks/ K-guns – Strictly for enemy submarines. I’ve attempted to use it at close range against enemy ships (with the K-guns aiming at their main structure) with limited success.

d. Torpedoes – good weapons for scoring quick kills against clustered enemies although their spread often missed targets of opportunity. Unsurprisingly, firing salvoes against enemy ships bear best results although they expend your torpedo reserves in matter of seconds.

i. Surface Ships – This would include all ships which do not have the ability to dive (like the submarine, in case  you’re wondering) and can be presented in various forms, from the imposing battleships; aircraft carriers and heavy cruisers to the lighter ships such as the light cruisers and your counterpart destroyers. They may also be smaller escort boats and can also be troop transports or even merchant ships.
Generally, a good idea is to gauge the distance between your ship from the enemy fleet. You may also want to decide which enemy ship should bear the brunt of your barrages and sink when the going gets tough. Consult the map and the radar screen at all times to get a basic idea of what you’re up against.

The next step is to decide on your own firing position. You may be better off bringing your guns to fire a broadside on the enemy to maximise the chances of hitting them. You’d have to be at 90 degrees relative to the enemy position to do this, however and reduce your speed to get a full chance of inflicting as much damage as possible in the short space of time.

You may also consider using your torpedoes for clustered enemies. On paper, this may be a simple alternative but this is often not the case. Enemy ships can spot the torpedo wakes and maneuver accordingly out of the way. Alternatively, your torpedoes may also hit some ships but simply slip through others in an almost linear position. Having said that, torpedoes are excellent weapons in the right positions and it’s better to conserve them.

If commanding a small squadron, you may decide to focus your firepower on their battleship or heavier equivalents. Consider the fact that some element of surprise may be helpful in some situations (e.g. poor weather etc) but not on a bright, sunny day where the enemy also get a perfect view of your ships. as much as you do them. My basic tactic of hitting their main ships first often meant that their smaller ships are already fighting a running battle as your own capital ships are also performing their naval bombardments.

Note that you may opt for manual fire control (if you want to simulate actual World War 2 procedures) but I usually don’t choose to do that in adverse weather conditions as the stormy seas won’t help in your task as the data would be helplessly outdated by the time you got your bearings right. Remember that it’s also sometimes better to do your own manual firing as opposed to the lock-on mode as your own crew are quite incompetent in these matters.

ii. Aircraft – Tough one this. While they don’t really present themselves as sitting ducks, they can also gain the upper hand when they pass directly over your position. Their main armanent would be the bombs which can really cripple your ship. In the game, enemy aircraft do focus rather a lot on your own battleship (obviously not in your control and which you’ve been tasked to protect), drawing attention from your own.

You may opt for the faster-firing 20 mm machine guns which is rapid firing but largely inaccurate at long distances; or you can utilize the 40mm guns which do decent damage but is slower-firing than the 20 mm MG; not mentioning the lower ammunition reserves and payload. You can also adopt the main gun’s AA shells and this would be a treat. Since these AA shells explode from a distance, the likelihood of hitting these enemy aircraft is higher. There is no particular method in fighting these annoyances but a principle is to fire a good 2 seconds earlier from their flying position, ensuring that their flight path would coincide with your stream of fire.

By all means, if you’re banking on the 20mm or the 40mms, fire these weapons slightly to the side of the crosshair in anticipation of the flight path of these aircraft and you’d eventually down one of them.

iii. Submarines. Yes, the tables have turned. You’d either be the hunter or be hunted yourself. In Destroyer Command, your destroyer is well suited to taking out enemy subs wherever they may lurk. The hard part, obviously, is to triangulate their position and tossing some depth charges for their enjoyment. In the game, you’d have a hard time using the sonar as it was obviously not as effective as you would imagine. You see, the sonar equipment is only effective at certain destroyer speeds and there is only a certain range limit (approximately 500 to 8000 yards, which isn’t that fantastic). On top of that, you can’t really hear what is behind you (90 degrees), so beware of enemy submarines prowling on your neck or the ones which have survived your depth charge runs.

When conducting a depth charge run, the sonar would briefly relay the position of the submarine in your depth charge monitor. If you’ve just seen an enemy sub diving to the depths of the ocean, chances are, they haven’t descended very far and can be caught with a quick run. You may set your depth charges to detonate at certain depths, but be aware that these are in the US customary units and is different from ‘Silent Hunter II’ which uses the metric system. I point this out since players familiar with ‘Silent Hunter II’ may be confused with the change of measurement system.

I’d rank submarines as the most irritating enemy to take out since they can surface and submerge at will and your depth charges are really quite unreliable, at least with the earlier depth charge models. I concede that I’ve only successfully taken out about 5 subs whilst playing ‘Destroyer Command’ but you could be much better than I do.


Performance issues and other flak on ‘Destroyer Command’:

i. AI horror – Some game reviews rated this game very disparagingly. In fairness, I found some good points which the reviewer has raised, notably the poor AI launching torpedoes into friendly units not more than ‘200 yards away’. This is frustrating as you squadron formation doesn’t really permit much room to navigate around to your comfort zone of operations and your stickiness with other ships mean that torpedo ops are a good hit or a miss with friendly units. The sad part is – it’s quite a promising game, with your squadron in tow and capable of multitasking but poor AI navigation and common sense really burned a hole in the fun factor most times. Toning down the amount of friendlies may be a suitable workaround but what’s the fun of playing with fewer ships to take lead of? The developers did release a patch to amend these shortcomings although they are still there for some reason.

ii. Rigid campaigns – I did mention that the campaigns are quite interesting and have potential to be memorable ones. The sad part is – Ubisoft never seemed to realise that ‘engaging Ship A at X and Y coordinates’ missions are really past it and do not work well in the game engine. Why? If you miss the enemy ship by just a ear-shot – that’s it! You’d have to replay the mission over and over again until you do it the exact same way which the developers have envisioned.
Due to the funny way which the game’s AI handles the time compression, you may end up missing the said objective hours ago (in game time) and you would be patrolling the coordinates over and over in a futile exercise. If the developers still insist on these sort of missions, at least allow some form of tweak where enemy ships are more or less heading in your direction in a more acceptable speed. This condemned “Destroyer Command” to the budget bins in good computer stores.

iii. Substandard graphics – I didn’t blame ‘Silent Hunter II’ for the same reason as that it was quite acceptable that the game’s chronicles have been marred by a change of developers so frequently that the end product was simply released as an appetizer of things to come in the world of naval simulations. ‘Destroyer Command’ had quite a bit of time before they got to release it – so the rushed nature of the end result is blatantly obvious. Ugly, blocky images of what was supposed to be heavy coastal batteries; ‘ghost harbours’ (also present in ‘Silent Hunter II’); cardboard ‘towns’; etc. There are instances where you can see that some decent work was done to spruce up the game’s atmosphere – the starshells are quite beautiful to look at; stricken ships; your anti-aircraft fire shells exploding in a distance; your shots falling into the water from a distance and more. If, and that is a big ‘if’, the developers have committed themselves to really improve ‘Destroyer Command’ from ‘Silent Hunter II’ instead of taking wholesale excerpts from an older game and slapping in between some new effects to buffer the gameplay experience.

iv. Low replayability – Besides the colorless campaign mode; the fairly unsatisfying random mission generator and the predictable historical missions, there doesn’t seem to be much else to hold up the interest in ‘Destroyer Command’. The mission generator may seem like a quick way to jump into a game straightaway and familiarize yourself with the gameplay mechanics but after a few missions with some changes in game parameters, you could be bored to death. Yes, you can alternate your enemy ships to be from the Imperial Japanese Navy, the Kriegsmarine and the Regia Marina but there isn’t exactly that many variations in your weaponry to offer different ways to defeat them.


So, is ‘Destroyer Command’ a good game?

It depends. If you’re a naval sim fan and can wait to be captain of a destroyer and experience the intricacies of waging battles at the high seas, this would be a fine addition to your games library. If you’re just a casual gamer looking for some good old sea battles, this would be quite a good way to spend an hour or so but no more than that. On the other hand, if you’re struggling with navigating the virtual boat and even starting up the engines, bringing it to bear on the enemy and so on, then the complexities of the game would likely throw you off.

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