Ship Simulator Extremes
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release Date: 08/27/2010
One thing that is fun about reviewing video games is to try new products which you would never have thought about playing otherwise. It puts you face to face with new challenges, giving you a chance to sample many activities which you would probably never experience otherwise. It can be building and managing an entire city with the SimCity series, or driving expensive cars with Gran Turismo or Forza. In this specific case, I got the chance to sail, among others, a 314 meters-long boat.
Ship Simulator Extremes is more or less exactly that. Even though we could argue about its extremeness, it is a ship simulator at its core, but is it a good one? If it is a good one, does it translate well into other qualities that make a game fun? Is it the kind of thing that can be enjoyed by a broad audience?
All of these questions and many more will be answered below.
Ship Simulator Extremes, from now on known as SSE, is pretty straight-forward. It offers three campaigns, all with different missions and different settings. Past that, it offers the possibility to replay the missions you have already completed, a free roaming mode and a bare multiplayer mode.
The first campaign puts you in the shoes of a tourist vessel captain. In this one, you get to pilot large ships, which makes you responsible for thousands of lives as you sail through exotic locations. The second campaign makes you the captain of a Greenpeace ship, sending you around the globe as you try to save whales and duck attacks from angry corporations who want to dump toxic waste into the sea. The final campaign is more or less a grouping of missions based around working in a port. You get to tow ships, put out fires on oil platforms and perform other tasks around inhabited places. According to the developers, these missions are all based on stories that actually happened to captains that were consulted for this game. If this is true, then I must conclude that sailing ships is one of the most stressful jobs in the universe.
The free roaming mode allows you to choose any of the game’s 32 ships, and put it in any of the game’s maps, such as the Port of Marseilles, the Atlantic Ocean, Sydney Harbour, and so on. You can also select the weather, the season, and the time of day as well as many other variables that could possibly affect your experience. It is more or less a “free style” mode, which allows you to do anything you can think of with the game’s engine.
The multiplayer mode lets you connect with friends and then… you just sail your ships together. I am not sure what the interest is here. I feel like a coop mode would have been better suited here, as some of the boats are a pain to operate by yourself. As it is, I guess you could possibly make some sort of unofficial races around the ports with the faster boats, but the mode does not offer much.
As you can see, the selection is pretty thin. However, the campaign mode does have some meat to it, and the sheer number of options in the free roaming mode allows the game to get a passing grade here.
Story/Modes Rating: Decent
Even with a recent computer and good settings, the game is pretty ugly. I am guessing that most of the development time was spent on the engine and not on the visuals, but it’s getting pretty distracting here. If I had to compare, I would say that the water’s depiction is on the level of Wave Race 64. Your boat leaves an awkward white trail behind, but the water barely looks disturbed by your presence. If you sink your ship, it slowly goes down, but the water just keep going through the ship in a pretty straight manner. It’s as if the ship and the water did not even exist in the same dimension.
The different ports in which you navigate have been recreated to look like the real thing. In Sydney, the Opera House is where it should be, as is the Harbour Bridge. There’s even the Sydney Tower on the horizon, but the problem is that you can only recognize these structures by their shape. The textures are ugly and very basic, being mostly plain colours instead of true textures.
I understand that cutting-edge graphics were not the goal here, but it doesn’t make the game any less painful to look at.
Graphics Rating: Bad
There’s only one song in the entire game, and it’s the one that plays on the main menu. It’s not particularly catchy, but it’s not annoying either. You’re not going to hear it much anyway, so its influence on the score is minimal.
The sound effects, however, are a mixed bag. The vessels sound as they should, and they even get louder as you zoom in, or faint away as you zoom out. The sounds are appropriate and depend on which type of boat you’re sailing at the moment. The speedier boats sound as they should, and the same goes for the bigger ships.
The problem is with the water sounds. As far as I know, there is only one splash effect, no matter the speed or force with which you hit the waves. If there are different effects, the difference is so subtle that I was completely unable to notice it after many hours spent with the game.
What’s there is correct, but a little more variety would have helped to make the simulation seem more real.
Sound Rating: Below Average
CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY
The gameplay here is pretty straightforward. Your mission is explained to you before you start, and then the objectives are updated as you complete each one. There’s even a big star on the map to help you know where you are supposed to go. The controls, without being intuitive, are also fairly well done. As long as you take a look at the controls list before hand, you will find that once you actually understand sailing terms, it gets a bit easier. Of course, as a non-sailor, I had to learn what a rudder is, what is a thruster, and so on. To be frank, I am still not completely sure, but I managed to easily complete some of the missions, so I am guessing that I am on the right path.
This game’s biggest problem is that despite good controls, sailing is something that does not translate very well into an exciting gaming experience. I understand that as an educational tool, SSE has immense value, but for anybody who is not a hardcore boat enthusiast, this game is nothing more than a tedious reminder that once you’ve set the ship’s course, there are a lot of downtimes on the ocean. Even for people who do enjoy sailing, I am under the impression that they would much rather do the real thing than just sit at their computer and press the “increase engines power” button for fifteen minutes at a time. Now I am suspicious that the movie Titanic got its facts wrong. The captain was not being cocky by going too fast in iceberg-infested waters. He simply fell asleep at the wheel because there was nothing else to do while the boat did everything else by itself.
Even the missions which I expected to be a bit more fast-paced are somehow rendered boring and long-winded. For example, one would expect chasing after evil toxic waste dumpers to be a bit more exciting than just cruising around in a tourist vessel. That expectation would be wrong. Apparently, such a mission involves going in a straight line for ten minutes with a very slow boat just to get near the vessel that is at fault. Then, you must take the faster boat, go near the enemy of the environment and… wait. Just wait until the game says that you have intimidated them enough. Then you go back to your slower boat, and go back to the original port, once again in a straight line, for ten minutes.
If that doesn’t sound like something you would wish to do, you can always try the free roaming mode, where you can pick any of the game’s 32 ships, put it in any of the game’s available ports or ocean and then just go wild. My first choice was to take the game’s fastest vessel for a pin, as I hoped that the other boats going slow was not just my fault since I had no idea how to make these things work. Much to my delight, it did go pretty fast, but these boats have tricky handling, or at least, that’s what I thought as I crashed myself into the Sydney Opera House. Even then, I use “crash” very lightly, since the game’s engine just awkwardly embedded my vessel into the structure, in a demonstration of polygon clipping the likes of which I had not seen since the early days of the Nintendo 64.
Up next on my list was the oil tanker, because it was big and bad, and I thought that this was one boat which I couldn’t possibly sink because it looked so damn tough. Oh, how wrong I was. Since this is a simulator, I will assume that the physics and the ships’ resistance to damage are all real. Therefore, I can also conclude that transporting huge quantities of oil in these things is a ridiculous and dangerous idea. In less than an hour, I managed to sink two of these things. The first time was just because I bumped into another boat. OK, it was my mistake, but I didn’t expect all of the engines to stop at the same time while my tanker slowly sank into the ocean. Now would be the good time for a BP or an Exxon joke, but I pretty much had the same reaction as them. All I did was look at the disaster, say something along the lines of “oh shit…” and back away from the computer as I took a break from it all. The second occurrence wasn’t much better, as I forgot to look at my radar and somehow got stuck in shallow water. The tanker’s engines were once again dead, as the ship just awkwardly stood there, while the game did not even judge this to be significant enough to give me a “Game Over” or “Mission Failed” screen.
After all of these negative points, I will finish with something a bit more positive. The game allows you to visit each ship by foot, which is quite impressive considering the number of ships, as well as the details that went into recreating some of them. Sure, the graphics are still ugly, but at least it gives you a good idea of what these boats look like, since you probably will never have a chance to visit most of them in your lifetime.
I guess that what I was trying to say here is that competent controls alone cannot make up for the tedious gameplay.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Poor
The game at least shines in this regard. As long as sailing is your thing, you will find a lot to do here as you try each boat at least one in diverse locations and situations. The customization in Free Roaming mode is quite extensive, with many other options to make your experience different each time. Of course, it doesn’t make the game any more fun, but I would be lying if I said there isn’t much to do.
Replayability Rating: Above Average
The missions have different settings, from very easy to hard, and they are presented in a way where the skills you acquire can carry on to the next mission. However, the difference between each boat is so big that it is an entirely new learning process each time, and some of the bigger boats have quite a steep learning curve. You don’t control a huge tourist vessel like you would a small lifeboat, and the number of instruments or the way to perform certain manoeuvres can change dramatically each time. Still, since this is a simulator, realism is preferred to a friendlier user experience, and I can understand that.
Balance Rating: Decent
This is not the first game in the Ship Simulator series, and from what I understand, each update is just adding new locations and boats. That is perfectly understandable because, honestly, once you get the physics down, there’s not much else you can do. After all, this is a simulator, and once you get as close as possible to reality, then there’s not much you can add. The fact that there’s not a huge number of sailing simulators out there – I cannot even name another one – shows that the series is at least filling a gap in that niche.
Originality Rating: Above Average
If I am to consider this product as a game, its addictiveness is quite bad. Sailing boats might be a great and stimulating way to make a living, but as a game, the excitement simply isn’t there. Watching a boat go very slowly from point A to point B for 10 or 20 minutes while all you do is hold down the “up” arrow to keep the engine running is not something I would be willing to do on a regular basis. The most exciting missions are those where the objectives are close to each other, but even then, these missions are too few and far between to make me want to stick with this game.
Addictiveness Rating: Dreadful
Will this really appeal to anybody who is not a hardcore sailing enthusiast? This is not a racing game, or a boat fighting game. It’s just simulator, plain and sample. The game clearly expects you to know your way around a real boat, as the conspicuous absence of a tutorial leads me to think. It’s all right if the developer is really expecting to market its product to that crowd, but I hope they’re not expecting to reach new audiences and bring them the joy of a life at sea. The game’s site says that the game is used the world over as an educational tool for real captains, but that’s still a pretty thin demographic.
Appeal Factor Rating: Dreadful
The developers have said that as the game and its community grows, people will be able to create their own missions and share them with the rest of the world. That’s good news to the series’ fans, as it can greatly extend the product’s life. The developers also talked about introducing new modes to the multiplayer mode, and while they did not specify what we could expect from it, at least it shows commitment to the product.
Finally, I am thinking that a better pacing would have helped the game immensely. If the missions were shorter, or if the downtimes were reduced to a minimum, maybe SSE would have been able to hold my attention for longer. The issue is that I don’t know enough about pure sailing to know if it would have messed with the experience’s realism. At this point though, I’m just searching for anything that could bring up the fun factor.
Miscellaneous Rating: Decent
Sound: Below Average
Replayability: Above Average
Originality: Above Average
Final Score: Below Average Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
As the educational tool that the developers claim it can be used as, Ship Simulator Extremes does a decent job of conveying the difficulties of a captain’s job. As a game though, it lacks the fun factor that would have made the experience more tolerable. It is stuck awkwardly in between the realms of immersive simulation and full-fledged game. The restrictions on what you can do with your boat hinders its immersive qualities, while the ridiculously slow pacing of the more game-oriented missions make it lack the excitement it is supposed to generate. Hardcore enthusiasts may find a couple of things to like here, but everybody else should stay clear from this game.