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Ship Simulator 2008 Review

Ship Simulator 2008 pack shot
Developer:VSTEP
Publisher:Lighthouse Interactive
Genre:Simulation
Platform:PC
Official Site:http://www.shipsim.com/
Release Date:July 13th, 2007 (UK)
Reviewer:Craig Laycock (Cragtek)
 

I'll level with you. My only experience thus far of actual sailing comprises of a) capsizing a small topper boat on Lake Windermere aged 9, b) also capsizing a kayak on Windermere aged 9 and c) watching Popeye (probably aged 9).

As a result, I half expected to be alienated by the concept of Ship Simulator 2008. The very name conjures up images of a hugely detailed, intricate simulation; it implies a similar level of depth that you'd expect from, say, Microsoft's Flight Simulator series.

But with their series, developers Vstep have gone for a different approach. Rather than have the player toiling for endless hours with manuals and operating procedures just to get their engine running, Ship Simulator 2008 offers a more straightforward pick-up-and-play experience, which brings with it a few problems of its own that I'll mention later in this review, oo-arr.

But for now, let's focus on the play modes. When you boot up Ship Sim, you're greeted with a very clean, well-presented menu which lets you engage in mission-based gameplay, play a custom mission or just roam free on the seas. It's supremely easy to navigate - even dads would be immediately comfortable with the interface.

Ship Simulator 2008 screenshot 1 Ship Simulator 2008 screenshot 2 Ship Simulator 2008 screenshot 4 Ship Simulator 2008 screenshot 4

The mission-based gameplay allows you to play through a number of scenarios specific to one kind of ship. There are 14 kinds of ship in the game, ranging from tiny powerboats right up to goliaths of the sea like the R.M.S. Titanic. There are 30 missions, with diverse objectives such as towing broken-down boats and sailing the Titantic across the Atlantic. The missions are well-designed and only hindered by problems with the game itself, which, again, I will get to later. The custom mission option allows you to play user-created scenarios, although I couldn't find an editor to do the job when I looked.

And then there's the free play mode, in which you select a location, a vessel and configure the weather to your liking and off you go. One particularly nice feature of this mode is the ability to see the effects of your weather-tweaking on the fly when choosing. The scene in the background to the menu is a sea view. When you alter the weather sliders, this dynamically alters to show you exactly what you'll be up against in-game. It's a lovely touch.

Ship Simulator 2006 largely comprised of specific locations, but now in 2008, you can also sail on the open waters. The Atlantic ocean and the Solent are two examples, which allow you to ride around on the waves to your heart's content. So that's the good stuff.

Unfortunately, the title of the game is slightly at odds with how it handles. While hardcore simmers might expect a detailed simulation, playing Ship Simulator 2008 is more akin to taking your toy boat on the nearest lake. You move forwards, backwards, left and right and that's just about it really. It doesn't get any more complicated than that. There will be some (I'm thinking dads again) who will love this accessibilty, but this highly toned-down detail offers little to the hardcore community.

Ship Simulator 2008 screenshot 5 Ship Simulator 2008 screenshot 6 Ship Simulator 2008 screenshot 7 Ship Simulator 2008 screenshot 8

There are other options, it has to be said. You can control mooring lines and tow lines, and even operate cranes to load up ships - but on the whole, the level of detail is not going to sate the curiosity of a really hardcore fan of the ocean waves.

And there's more. While the missions are generally well-designed, a few don't work as well as they should and the rest of the game is riddled with strange bugs. When playing, I noticed an AI ship on its side flickering around wildly in the harbour, several texturing glitches and a big problem with selecting a speedboat in the Phi Phi Islands. Whenever I tried that, I would spawn and be sent hurtling up into the air, spinning wildly. It would never settle down and my ship would take monstrous amounts of damage, rendering it completely unusable. The damage model is another (slight) bone of contention. Although ships do take damage, the damage model isn't terrifically realistic and you could end up with a frustratingly crippled ship after a few minor scrapes. Mind you, just look at Microsoft Flight Sim's non-existant damage model and all of a sudden there's less to moan about.

Ship Simulator 2008 screenshot 9 Ship Simulator 2008 screenshot 10 Ship Simulator 2008 screenshot 11 Ship Simulator 2008 screenshot 12

In terms of view modes, there are some nice touches. Generally you'll sail with a view just above and behind the ship of your choice, but you can take the helm or even walk around the ship with a nifty free-walk mode. Free-walk is probably my favourite mode - the Titantic is particularly well done, although the texturing of the small indoors bit you can go in looks like something from the early 90s (see screenshot 8). I did also manage to break the free-walk mode once or twice and at one point completely walked off one of the ships and into the sea. Hopefully these issues will be addressed with a patch, because they let down what otherwise is an excellent feature.

And then we come to the biggest problem of all. It's just too damn sedate. Again, this will appeal to the dad factor, but for the majority of gamers it's just dull. Inescapably dull. Quite why there is no option to speed up the simulation on the really boring bits during missions is beyond me, as I think it would add immesurably to the fun. On free play mode, when you select the Titanic, you think it'll be all fun and hijinks, but instead you have to wait for half an hour for the bloody thing to get up to speed. It's so relentlessly boring, you'll be tempted to leave the room and come back later. Or get a cup of tea and a scone up on the passenger deck, whatever.

This isn't a problem unique to Ship Simulator, but the specifically sedate pace of ships (as opposed to speedy aeroplanes or trains) and the lack of things to do when you're out on the open seas means that this game really doesn't have much to offer the casual gamer and they will bore of it easily. Those who see the game as a sandbox may have more fun on the roleplaying side of things (although the lack of multiplayer is a bit of a downer) and there's no denying it's good for an occasional Sunday sail. It's just that it seems to me that powering around in one of the boats in Far Cry is more exciting.

Summary

It all makes it a bit tricky to settle on a score, really. If you're a casual gamer, you should go with the base score at the bottom of this page. If you're into your sailing and you don't mind compromising a bit of depth for some time on the ocean waves, add half a mark to bring it up to 7.0. If you've already got Ship Simulator 2006, the update is probably worth a punt as it brings with it a fair amount of new content.

Right, now sod this. I'm off to Windermere to do it for real.

The bottom line
6.5 / 10

Good stuff

  • Feel what it's like to captain a vessel
  • Interesting missions
  • Sail the Titanic, for goodness sake!

Not so good stuff

  • Super-slow pace
  • Simplistic contols and charts won't appeal to hardcore
  • No time acceleration option
  • Dull in many places


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