Ship Simulator Extremes – Review
The sun goes down on yet another glorious day in Dover. Families return to their homes, sitting down for their meals and talking about what they got up to at work or school. A few men approach the bar to catch up on old times. And I’m flying along at top speed into a head-on collision with the Dover-Calais ferry, in one of the coastguard’s boats. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I have been playing the latest installment in V-Step’s Ship Simulator series, Ship Simulator Extremes. And it’s better than you might initially think.
The title might have given it away, but Ship Simulator Extremes is all about sailing the open seas. The best way to do this is to fire up the game’s free roam, which lets you choose from a huge variety of ships, from small inflatable boats that zip around all over the place to massive oil tankers that plough through the ocean, slowly and steadily. You then get to choose the port you want to sail around, and there are plenty of options available, including the aforementioned Dover, Rotterdam, and even the Antarctic. Then you fiddle with a mess of different settings, like wind speed, fog density, the type of clouds above you and a bunch of other stuff. And then you’re ready to go.
While the game lacks an easy to find tutorial (it’s in there, but it’s hidden under a stack of missions), the controls are fairly straightforward, dependent on the boat. In most cases, you’re presented with the power and the steering on the HUD, and you click and drag these in order to get where you’re going. Larger ships usually have more engines to control, which can make things a bit trickier, but it’s largely easy to get a handle on, which works massively in the game’s favour.
The ships handle as you would expect, which is really quite slow, particularly the larger ships. Flying about on a speedboat is entertaining enough, but since you jump out of the water a lot of the time, your turns usually come in staccato bursts, and it’s easy to end up smashing nose first into the docks if you’re not careful. The steering is very precise, although this can be a problem when trying to go straight, since you’ll spend ages trying to get it just so, only to accidentally send the mouse veering off and your ship along with it. It can be frustrating at first, but you get used to it. As well as that, ships are incredibly slow, and it can take up to an hour to get across a port in a big boat. It’s realistic, but it’s likely to turn off the majority of gamers who are interested in a faster pace of game.
Also, the environment never really gets as “extreme” as the title suggests. You can whack up the wind setting to “hurricane” level, but it’s less ‘A Perfect Storm’ and more ‘white water rapids at Alton Towers’. The storm and rain effects are also generally little more than large white lines streaking across your screen, and, rather than making it more exciting, it just becomes infuriating as you have no idea where you’re headed. You can check the map but, in some cases, even this isn’t particularly useful, as it only zooms out to a certain level, meaning you can’t always find where you’re looking for.
Of course, not everyone is particularly keen on sailing round not doing very much, and while I must say it’s actually rather relaxing, it can get pretty dull. Thankfully, VSTEP have included a number of campaigns to appease the mission-oriented players. You can choose to sail as Greenpeace and help save the world by annoying people who are dumping toxic waste, or take over a ferry and sail around the world, seeing the sights and keeping your tourists happy.
Sadly, the missions really aren’t much cop. For one thing, a lot of them require slow speeds across large areas, especially the ferry missions, and this can get very dull, very quickly. There really isn’t much variation in missions either, as you’ll mostly be told to go from A to B, possibly with a time limit, and maybe dock to switch ships or tow another boat behind you. That’s about it. And even then, sometimes the game just won’t detect that you’re in the objective area. On the “annoy toxic waste dumpers” mission, I spent at least about half an hour with two ships floating alongside, desperately trying to get the objective to trigger. In the end, the ship dumping toxic waste started having a seizure and one of my speedboats got smacked in the face with a barrel of waste. It was around this point I decided to quit.
So the free roam’s not for everyone, and the missions aren’t that great. You could make your own missions with the included Mission Editor, or you could take on the true gem of Ship Simulator Extremes: the multiplayer. Completely seriously, multiplayer sailing is one of the loveliest experiences you’ll ever have. Jump online, pick a server and a boat, and you’re in, sailing around a port with a bunch of other dudes, just chatting away. You might even bump into people role-playing as the coast guard, which was a truly amazing thing to witness. If you can persuade your friends to pick it up too, then Ship Simulator Extremes could be one of the nicest and genuinely fun online games you’ll ever play.
Graphically, the game is hit and miss. The ships look great, and there’s clearly been a lot of care and attention used when crafting each of them. You can even go into a first-person camera and wander around on deck to truly take in the glory, which is an added bonus. Unfortunately, the environments did not receive the same level of attention, and suffer because of it. I wouldn’t expect endless expanses of sea to be that stunning, but it does, for the most part, just look bland and lifeless, even in high winds. The less said about the ports the better; they’re well designed and laid out, but the actual buildings and land are blocky and dull. It’s a minor issue, given the focus on sailing, but it does hurt the overall aesthetic.
Usually this would be the point that I’d start talking about sound, but Ship Simulator Extremes is largely devoid of it. The menu screens have one song on loop, and beyond that you’re left with the noise of your engines, seagulls flying overhead, and other boats blowing their horns as you cut them up from a mistimed steer. To call it minimalist would be being generous, but the sound effects are convincing enough to keep you interested. You just might want to stick your iPod on at the same time.
All in all, Ship Simulator Extremes, while a good laugh in free roam and great fun in multiplayer, is still a slow moving and incredibly niche game. Unless you’re prepared to make your own fun, you’ll likely grow tired of the campaign after a few hours and never want to play it again. However, if ships are your thing, and you’ve got some like-minded friends, this is well worth a look.Pros
- Great fun in multiplayer and free roam
- Huge choice of options to finely craft your sailing experience
- Good looking and detailed ships
- Campaign missions are repetitive and a bit dull
- Environments are bland and lifeless, including the sea
- It’s still not going to be to everyone’s tastes
Ship Simulator Extremes was never going to be a big name hit, and will probably only ever appeal to a very niche audience. Include the bland environments and the relatively boring campaign and it’s not exactly the greatest of packages, but if you’re looking for a fun game that lets you fine-tune your experience, sail around in some nice looking ships and screw around with your friends, then it might well be worth a look.
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