What are these games? These esoteric sim games of which there appear to be a million; Threshing Machine Simulator, Louver Simulator 2008 etc. They seem to be made by different developers and published by different publishers yet the titles on their boxes often resemble the font of Microsoft Flight Simulator, designed, presumably, to indicate that they are a simulator of similar depth and quality.
I haven’t played any because their reviews tend to be quite poor, to the extent that one now questions the quality of MS’s Flight sims retrospectively, due simply to a reverse association with said font. Hardly fair, is it?
Still, now I have the curiously pluralised Ship Simulator EXTREMES to play, which appears a fairly typical example of this “Sim game using MS Flight Sim’s font” breed of sim. Is it good? Is it? No, it’s a load of oars.
The bulk of the game consists of three campaigns. 1) sailing various Greenpeace vessels in recreation of the organisation’s famous sea-borne interventions 2) sailing a hopelessly unlucky cruise ship on some kind of doomed voyage, and 3) sailing a load of different cargo type ships and related in a disparate series of exercises.
All involve a “sail here, do a thing, sail back” structure. The “thing” could hardly ever be considered exciting (ranging from “going somwhere else” to “dropping a smaller boat and then sailing that somewhere else”) – and when the “thing” is actually a challenge, it’s more or less impossible; like trying to tow a ship with tugs, for example. In one mission, I had to tow the doomed cruise liner Orient Star into port as its engines had phutted and died. After a long stretch of tug positioning, the best I could manage was arranging one to pull 90o to the Orient’s port and the other 90o to its starboard which resulted in very little useful momentum at all.
The absence of any kind of tutorials on how to manipulate these large and awkward ships in tight and awkward manoeuvres makes the game a case of experimentation – prodding the controls until the lumbering vessels go in the direction you want, then realising you’ve hopelessly over-cooked it and begin frantic attempts to correct. With the nimbler ships this is more or less bearable; with the larger, your voyages are comical, glacier slow zig-zags from objective to objective, at least until you get the hang of the ship’s propulsion after which they are just comically glacier slow.
With the bulk of a mission involving crawls out of and into harbour, there needs to be something arresting about the game’s fundamentals to make such mundanity, if not amusing, then at least tolerable. Perhaps some impressive visuals to admire, of the real-world ports you’re chugging through? No! The whole game looks like an airfix kit painted by your least talented infant. Perhaps an impressive score, with artfully recorded and edited sound effects to add an involving, nautical atmosphere? Why, no! Samples start and stop without a thought to reverb tails, beginning and ending with a disappointing “pop”. Also, when viewed at some angles boat engines are audible, at some angles they are silent. The sound is a mess. But, Captain – there must at least be faithfully modelled hulls through which you can stroll in the “walkabout” view, having plotted a course which will take an hour to complete? Yes, but only the bridge and only some of the deck – you cannot go below. And they’ve been made by someone learning Google SketchUp apparently.
The best that can be said for Ship Sim EXTREMES is that occasionally, in rough sees, you get a chilling sense of what it would be like aboard such large vessels as they are rocked by massive waves. This can be enjoyed without all the mission dullness by firing up the free play mode, setting the sea to ‘Hurricane’ then dropping a ship of your choice into the middle of it.
Also of merit are some rather interesting video clips unlocked upon completing the Greenpeace missions starring lovably earnest Greenpeace Captain Pete Wilcox narrating footage of the real-life version of the mission you just played. Unfortunately these can’t just be watched in the game files without some kind of de-encoder (decoder?). But they do give you a sense that you’re actually out there, risking your life for a cause in which you believe passionately until you realise, no – I’m actually just playing a cheap sim on my computer while necking Jaffa Cakes, helping no one.
Of course, the game’s as buggy as all hell, rough as a wrecked schooner, the kind of roughness where in-game options other than save and quit do not exist, the mission does not end when you sink and AI ships butt and vibrate against the invisible wall of the map boundaries – and… IT’S NOT REALLY A SIM.
I’m no Captain Birdseye but I’m pretty sure you control more than the propulsion levers and steering when piloting a modern ship of any size. There’s radar and digital maps too, but I’m certain they have settings that need fiddling with other than zoom. Ship control can largely be performed with the arrow keys, which aren’t graduated – whatever you’re using is either on or off – which is far too simplistic; you can struggle with the mouse and GUI representations of the throttle levers and what-not, but they are tricky to even click on most of the time and reset as soon as you touch the keyboard anyway.
I mean, this is probably a more accurate sim of piloting large hulled freight in deep water. Ship Simulator EXTREMES is just hopelessly superficial and hopelessly unfinished.