When the ship goes down, you’d better be ready….
Eurgh. Sometimes, being a reviewer is a joy – getting your hands on a copy of the latest blockbuster before anyone else is both thrilling and allows us a sense of importance. However, at times, we have to review things that are the other end of the scale – limited, turgid titles with very little to offer the average gamer or their friends. And in this case, Ship Simulator Extreme is clearly my penance for recent hits. Now, it’s only fair this is taken in context – SSE is a realtime ship piloting simulator, featuring a variety of realistic ships and situations for the player to enjoy, meaning the actual market for it is a little limited to shipping buffs. Whether taking a Greenpeace vessel out on the prowl for wrongdoers, piloting a tug in a harbour to assist the docking of cruise liners, or simply cruising tourists around some interesting coastline, it’s clear that developers VSTEP have really looked to add to previous titles by really pushing the envelope for realistic ship piloting. The shame is, then, that the final product falls between two opposing stools to create a title that probably pleases no one. But first – the presentation. Utilising a new water simulation system, initial impressions of SSE weren’t too shabby, until you start to look at anything with some scrutiny. Even on highest settings, most ships look a little too flat and shiny to be realistic, and actual detail is a lot lower than expected. Harbours lack discerning features, instead offering a very boxy and repetitive shoreline from which to sail. The framerate stutters horribly too, and bearing in mind I can run BF3 on full settings at a hearty 45fps, I don’t know why such shabby scenery dragged my system through the mud. Multiple camera angles add some variety to the visuals (including a very nifty first-person walkabout mode, for ship exploration), but by and large, you’ll be playing from one of two views – behind the ship (third person), or a bridge deck view. Both have their advantages and disadvantages (immersion vs ease of play), and both give you access to the specific control set for each ship. And here we hit major snag no.1 – the controls are clearly designed to attract a more casual gamer, as outside of a few anchor settings and deployment tools, you have a few throttles and a wheel, controlled with the mouse. Clicking the necessary sweet spot to move either is a game all of its own, but even when you do so, the realistic physics means you need an innate understanding of ship physics before you start – on top of this, the game offers no tutorial for the newcomer, meaning most games involve a frustrating ten minutes of working out what level does what. I’d probably venture a guess at saying that some degree of ship piloting qualification is the key to getting the most out of this game, but then I would question if the available controls would be sufficient for the hardcore shipping king.
one of those niche titles that I really wanted to like a lot more than I actually did
It’s also not helped by so many quests starting and ending in a port – being bloody tricky to navigate, and again requiring a keen knowledge of harbour skills, these opening and closing sections of most missions often lead to a minor player tantrum, as all your hard work is undone because you don’t slow down enough in your haste to finish the level and plough into a jetty. The quests themselves are often a little better, and some guidance is given on how to go about achieving what you need to. It’s a shame, then, that there isn’t any ability to outfit your own ships to go alongside the existing models, although free play exists, despite taking away any sense of importance to what you do. Don’t get me wrong, there was the odd moment of joy, as I escaped a severe storm with nerfed controls (thanks to heaving waves), or ploughed through sheet ice on a rescue mission, but I kept getting dragged back into reality very quickly by realism annoyances, such as having to sail for an exasperating amount of time just to get anywhere, or simply not understanding how the controls could help me. SSE certainly offers variety too, but to be honest, I can’t see how many people outside of the maritime community would really get anything out of this. SSE is one of those niche titles that I really wanted to like a lot more than I actually did – the sedate pace married to incomprehensible (yet simplified) controls meant that although I appreciate I’m not the target audience, I don’t really see who is. The lack of tutorial help means that it doesn’t work as an educational piece, the limited visuals kill it for realism junkies, and although standing on the bridge listening to radio chatter in a harbour is interesting for a minute or two, losing 35 minutes of sedate gameplay to yet another mistimed docking procedure was the final straw. And this is a shame, because with a bit more guidance and help for non-enthusiasts, SSE could have offered enough to intrigue a wider audience.
The Bad: Visually poor; limited controls; no tutorial support; sedate pacing off-putting to most gamers; docking procedures are a headache; no ship builder option; falls between drawing casual ship captains and offering the depth required by realism buffs