The wind in your hair, the spray in your eyes. The taste of salt in the air. It would have been nice if Ship Simulator brought any of these things to the table. Instead we’re left with a middle-of-the-range attempt to satisfy all comers, which as a result ends up disappointing pretty much everyone.
A caveat first of all. I know very little about ship-driving, or ‘sailing’ as some people call it. I can just about tell the difference between port and starboard provided it’s served in the right glass, but I’m hardly what you’d call of the nautical persuasion. Forgive me then if my sea-faring terminology is a little lacking, but I’ll be trying my best as I go to sort the buoys from the men.
For the budding captain in all of us, Ship Simulator provides a series of brief campaigns playing on the ‘extreme’ theme. Don’t go into them expecting anything more than a series of loosely connected scenarios – whilst there are a couple of interesting situations, like intercepting illegal dumpers on behalf of Greenpeace and managing a cruise-ship fire, the vast majority of them are simplistic with very little chance of failure. The most frustrating aspect of the campaigns, however, is the complete lack of any guidance on offer. One mission told me to navigate to the company dock to collect some equipment, without telling me where this company dock was, or even what company I was supposed to be working for. Even the tutorial suffers from minimal guidance, with little more than vague suggestions steering you to your next objective.
With fond memories of vomit-inducing cross-channel trips with my parents at a young age, I was pleased to see the option to recreate the ferry journeys of my past. After selecting my vessel and weather conditions from a rather buggy menu, and a considerably ponderous load time (just how long does it take to load up several square km of empty sea?) I found myself sat behind the helm of one of the most unattractive cross-channel ferries I’ve ever seen.
Unmooring from Dover was a fairly straight-forward operation once I’d first quit out to find out some of the more important controls. Release the docking clamps, engage manoeuvring thrusters and apply one quarter impulse. Something like that, anyway. Even so, moments later I was away, surging majestically into the distance at a rate of about 3 miles a week. Whilst the larger ships on offer do feel extremely sluggish, that’s no criticism. Enormous turning circles and slow response times make successful docking manoeuvres feel very rewarding, and you can hardly expect a ship almost a kilometer in length to pull a U-turn at short notice.
On the other hand, smaller vessels have a tendency to get swamped by larger waves. Don’t worry though, there seems to be no larger impact than simply submerging you for a couple of seconds. Extremes is definitely targeted more at simulating the heavier tonnage vessels. The problem with that, however, is with the largest vessels even the stormiest of seas can do little to deviate you from your course. As a result, weather can feel somewhat irrelevant outside of the cramped environments at port.
Finally clear of Dover, I took one look at the compass, steered a vague course in the direction of Calais and engaged time compression. Only I didn’t. There’s no time compression. Ship Simulator expects you to complete all objectives in real time. With no way of speeding up your journey, you’re looking at very long periods of doing nothing. It’s not all doom and gloom, however – Ship Simulator will run quite merrily in the background whilst you’re checking emails, watching a video or doing anything fun. I took the approach of any sensible person, which is take one look at the large expanse of channel ahead of me and quit the scenario.
One interesting addition to the sim is the ability to leave the cockpit and go for a little stroll on deck. Don’t worry about falling overboard – your feet are magnetised to the hull to such a degree that even the heaviest seas cannot dislodge your footing. It’s an odd feeling to wander merrily around the deck whilst your ship pitches violently in the midst of a tempest, and I longed for a slippery deck to fling me over the side. It would have also been nice to have seen a few more crew-members aboard, especially on some of the larger vessels where the empty decks and eerie silences can leave you feeling utterly alone.
Ship Simulator is a disappointment in being exactly what it claims to be and no more. It’s too light-weight for the extreme sim-fanatics, with not enough nods to realism to satisfy a sim-fanatic’s attention to detail. It does get a few things right, with the ponderous ship handling and water physics suggesting, if not simulating, what it’s like to sail something ridiculously big. On the other hand, with no crew management, no time compression and confusing objectives, Ship Simulator is just too time-constraining with too little reward for someone wanting just a quick jaunt on the high seas. Ship Simulator it may be, but extreme? Hardly.
Verdict: Off Target
Platforms Available – PC
Platform Reviewed – PC
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