Our Editor-In-Chief is a rabid simulator fan, he has a cockpit in his house because he can’t play a flight simulator without a cockpit. True story! So when he let this one go to me I knew it was a painful choice for him but he knew a bit about my youth. I grew up on fishing boats since I was six years old (mostly purse netters), learn to helm them by the time I was eight, and spent about 12 years on them as mostly crew but occasionally at the helm. So I learned that taking a boat out is a slow process, steering a boat is as much about the feel of the wheel as it is the compass and for every interesting few minutes of fishing there is tedious work to be done getting there and getting back. So I went into this game very excited about it, expecting a bit of the nostalgia I had been listening to “Downeaster Alexa” by Billy Joel because “I was a bait man like my father was before, but you can’t make a living as a bait man anymore.” In some ways I got just that and others I just ran into the trappings of a video game, something you really want to avoid in a simulator.
Ever wonder how it feels to sail a half-million-ton supertanker through the perfect storm? To take on illegal whale hunters in the Antarctic? Or to feel the rush of being part of the Coast Guard as you evacuate a cruise liner in distress? Ship Simulator Extremes has players take on exciting missions all over the world as they pilot an impressive array of vessels and live the stories of real ship captains. With missions based on actual events in realistic environments at locations all over the world, the new Ship Simulator game is sure to take you to extremes!
- From the very hot to the very cold, sail to the most enchanted regions in the world. Explore the Antarctic or take in beautiful Bora Bora. Includes famous harbors and locations from around the world.
- Wide range of vessels to captain, including hovercraft, Coast Guard interceptors, mammoth tankers, tugs, cruise liners, and many others.
- Includes exciting storylines and missions from all over the world.
- Save the environment campaign: sail famous Greenpeace ships and take on ecological missions based on real events!
- Realistic water and weather system. Sail calm waters or take on the most extreme weather ever witnessed at sea.
- Online multiplayer mode. Sail online with your friends.
Ok That all sounds pretty dang sweet and exciting doesn’t it? I read that and I was pumped, not only would I have a chance to helm ships like I did in the old days I would actually get to fight ecological disasters with Greenpeace while keeping my feet dry? Sign me up! So I dove into the Campaign and was immediately, well, lost at sea. The controls appeared to be point and click which at first I liked because moving the mouse was very similar to steering a ship, you had to push up on the power lever and move side to side with your mouse for the wheel and the controls required finesse which most people who have only plowed waves in a speedboat don’t often understand. You turn the wheel a bit and you wait for the ship to react. You speed up a bit and then checked your speed for maneuverability. This the game had down perfect, even the larger the ship the harder to control aspect was solid.
The problem came when you were in situations where you really needed to crank the wheel to make a heavy course correction. The wheel would at first turn that way then the graphic elements of the wheel would start jumping and the wheel would suddenly be turned in the opposite direction. This happened in the case of collisions and was very understandable then but sometimes when reading a waypoint wrong and making a sharp correction in clear water it would do the same or when even trying to make a subtle adjustment trying to maintain a position to complete a mission. There was a solution to the whole problem which I discovered, using the arrow keys. The sad problem with that is the feel of a simulator is immediately lost and it just becomes about holding a couple arrow keys then using the mouse on occasion. I tried to use a game controller hoping for at least a little more interactivity but the game is not compatible. I don’t have a helm controller which may work wonderful with it, or my fear is it may not.
Getting past the controls the Campaign has no learning curve and you are just tossed in the game without a tutorial. To do the tutorial, which is lengthy and rather in depth for the different ships you will have to steer you need to go to single missions and look at the bottom of the list. It still doesn’t explain everything but hovering over the different buttons on your HUD will help you find just about everything you need to know. The first mission of the first section of the campaign is Greenpeace, which is one of the more exciting looking missions. The problem is they mostly consist of going to where there are wrongdoers, positioning yourself at a certain spot for a certain amount of time then going back to port. So you pull your ship out, spend several minutes getting to the location, hold in place or course for a given amount of time then spend several minutes going back to port. So the most realistic part of the simulation is how boring/calming it is getting to and from the needed work.
This seem to be a running element throughout the game, several minutes of just full speed, maintaining course followed by a few moments of actual interesting work. During one of the cruise ship missions I had to make numerous course corrections, understand the speed the ship could maneuver at to get it out of one harbor to meet a boat for a minute or so then cruise to another port, meet a boat then maneuver through the port. Not counting restarts from frequent save points the mission took two hours at least 20 minutes of which I was able to lock down the throttle, set my course and go get a snack from the kitchen. When I was at the computer I was primarily hitting the three arrow keys (reverse in any ship larger than a pontoon is a sign that disaster has already struck). The game really does take steps to help pass this time by having camera mode so you can take pictures of passing scenery or of the ship and you have three viewing options while sailing (third person, helmsman and crew hand) which try to help mix up the experience but these only seem interesting for so long and when in the harbors where the more interesting scenery is you have to constantly be handling the arrow keys for course and speed adjustments.
The only other concern with gameplay is that sometimes the AI doesn’t understand the common necessity of the games physics. Here is a good example of what I mean: You are the captain of a cruise ship and you have the former captain onboard ill and you need to meet with a runner boat to get him to shore, the runner boat will meet you at a location just before leaving port. So you maneuver through the port in a vessel that makes a double trailer semi look like a Lamborghini maneuverability wise and the ship stops at a location in front of you. If you are going slow enough you kill the engines and hope to stop in place, if you are going too fast you throw the engines into reverse, wait the time and then try slowing down. All this while trying to make the subtle course corrections to hit the vicinity of the smaller vessel. I was pretty proud of how close I got but the vessel didn’t close the distance between us. In fact it just sat there on the water, cutting bait. I had to launch a raft, go to the small boat and tow it over to right next to the ship in just the right spot for a countdown to begin completing that part of the mission. I then cruise on only to have the same issue with a pilot boat in the next harbor. It isn’t maritime law but it is a general given that when two vessels intercept the smaller vessel makes approach on the larger vessel. More maneuverability. more motion control. We used to bait boats at sea on a regular basis and the only time we made approach was when the ship was bigger. The AI should have approached the larger boat when it stopped or entered the rendezvous area or the smaller ship should have been given to player control. Towing a pilot boat to your ship is just plain silly.
Ok now that I seem to have gone through a rant about the issues I really do need to point out the features that work right. The physics are incredibly spot making the gameplay very realistic. If a person isn’t used to the physics of a ship at sea they will be frustrated at first but after playing this game they will actually have a fairly accurate idea of what it is like. I wouldn’t go out and immediately take the captain’s test (you need to learn your maritime law first) but in the case of an emergency they could learn enough to get a ship back to dock or at least a pilot or tugboat. The helmsman view is very accurate as well and I spent a lot of my gameplay time in the wheelhouse with the instruments displayed in front of me using them as my guide as well as my view from there, usually only coming out of that view to dock. With the exception of the control issues mentioned above all the other controls and menus had excellent reaction time and everything you need to get the job done is there. When it comes down to the gameplay simulating real life basic ship experience this game is spot on.
Graphics And Audio:
Like many simulators the details are in place but may not be as graphically detailed as they could be as a tradeoff for the physics. You have your instruments displayed well and clear but the counter they sit on doesn’t have a detailed realistic look anymore than the sights on shore. The details of the water though are spot on as well which is where the ocean experience is important because how a ship cuts the water and the waves break on it’s side can be crucial for negotiating the waters and in some cases staying afloat. So the graphics are as good as most simulators and are very good in crucial elements. The audio is excellent and truly adds to the feeling of a real ship. When in third person behind the ship you hear the loud noise of the engine, when you are off to the side third person you hear the water and gulls. In the wheelhouse you hear the constant squawk of the radio, a sound that if you are sleeping behind the helmsman can actually become comforting to the point that after a while at sea you need to listen to television or radio to go to sleep because you are used to constant chatter. And as a crewman or cameraman you hear wherever you are on the ship the noises appropriate which must have taken a while to get done well all itself.
Multiplayer, Single Mission, Free Play And Community Maps:
The game has a multiplayer element that allows you to go and sail with your friends which let’s face it can take a game that is getting a bit boring and breath new life into it. So can Single Missions and Free Play which enable you to just jump in the game and play it a bit from time to time when you are too busy or tight on time to play a campaign. I always look for these features in a game because as a reviewer sometimes it is hard to find time to get back to a game I like so this gives a nice option. An even better addition is a mission editor which this game also has allowing players to design maps and mission making it so that in theory this game could never stop having new content. Plus there are DLCs and extra ships being released regularly!
This game is truly for an extreme simulator fan or someone who has spent quite a bit of time at sea. There are slow times that can be pretty long like real life and the game has a few issues that need to be worked around to get the most out of it. If you commit to it though it can be a rewarding and in many ways very realistic experience. And with the core game being $19.99 and the collection being $29.99 this is a game that can give affordable play as vast as the seas themselves.