Impressions: Ship Simulator Extremes

By Quintin Smith on September 8th, 2010 at 3:00 pm.

Never thought I'd be on a boat.

I’d been interested in Ship Simulator Extremes since I heard about it at GamesCom. It’s a ship simulator, but with whole campaigns of relatively extreme missions that see you performing rescues, putting out fires, and even harassing other vessels as a pesky Greenpeace unit. Could I – a man – with no experience in ships – hope to succeed?

Since Ship Simulator Extremes came out a couple a weeks ago, I’ve found out the answer is a very firm “No.” The kind of no the bouncer of a fancy club tells you if you’re not wearing shoes at all. That said, my failure didn’t happen quite the way I was expecting. Put on the life jacket located under your seat and click through the jump for an account of my first few missions.

MISSION 1: CHEM TRAILS

My career as a boat-man gets off to a surreal start as my first mission loads. I’m shown a huge indentation in some water, as if a strange, invisible force were pressing down on it. After a couple of seconds the concave hole is filled perfectly by my boat, which pops into view like some strange alien artifact. Earth-people of the seas! I have arrived.

Since this is the first mission of the Greenpeace campaign, my task is pretty simple. In the distance is a large container ship that’s been sighted dumping barrels into the sea. The poor, long-suffering sea. Why can’t we leave it alone? My orders are to catch up with the vessel and harass it like a total asshole, which will cause it the ship to stop dumping and “Greenpeace will get the whole thing on camera”.

The controls of my alien ship prove to be very simple indeed. I’ve got an accelerator and a steering wheel, and I can weigh anchor or hitch myself to things, and that’s it. Stop me if I’m wrong, but shouldn’t a simulator be more involved than that? I’ve played platformers with more complicated controls.

After it dawns on me how ball-wrinklingly slow my Greenpeace ship actually is, I drop one of the two smaller boats it carries into the water and send that zipping off. Within a few minutes it arrives, whereupon it’s revealed that I’m not the only craft in the water using strange future technology. The entire 300 metre long container ship vanishes. Tilting the camera, I see it’s reappeared a few hundred feet away.

Devious! As I change course to catch up with it, the container ship blinks back to where it was originally, sending me crashing against its hull. At this point the container ship opens up with a water cannon, though I couldn’t have been less surprised if it’d shot me with a laser. The ship blinks away again, then blinks back, though by this point my boat was occupying the some of the space where it was originally, causing my tiny craft to disappear under its immense tonnage.

Mission failed, the game tells me. Thanks, I tell the game.

MISSION 2: KNOCKING ON WOOD

Right, sod that first mission. Let’s try mission 2 of the Greenpeace campaign, where you perform a raid on a ship that may or may not be carrying an illegal lumber shipment. Basically, it’s up to you to go over there and see if the other crew’s got wood.

By now I’ve learnt the nuances of the game’s manual controls, though this doesn’t save me from heading off in completely the wrong direction once I’ve left the dock, thus necessitating a laborious 45 second turn. The nuances of the game’s manual controls largely revolve around the steering wheel, which largely revolves as it sees fit. Before touching the steering wheel you say a prayer to its wrathful deity, sprinkle yourself with an offering of fragrant herbs, and then proceed to turn it very slowly and very carefully so as not to upset it. Or you can use the cursor keys, although you have to hold them down the whole time you’re turning.

Reaching the cargo vessel takes a staggering 15 minutes, but once I’m there it goes without a hitch. Except for the actual hitching, whereby I hitched one of my boats to the vessel so my inspection team could do their inspecting. And lo! The illegal shipment was found. The crew has wood! They have wood and they were trying to hide it. With the coast guard on their way, the final leg of my mission is simply to return to port.

I’ve only just turned around and whispered thanks to the steering wheel deity when the coast guard arrive. At top speed. Without changing course or bothering to steer around me in any way. The t-bone collision occurs with such force that I actually yelp.

See the smaller coastguard vessel on its SIDE on the right of my ship there? I took this shot after the crash had happened but before the coast guard manage to detach themselves from the collision detection of my ship. Eventually they flomp back into the water and we both continue on our way. Against the odds, my ship is okay.

For a while, anyway.

But maybe I can limp back to port in time!!

No, no I can’t. Incredibly, the game refuses to cough up a mission failed screen. After spending a minute listening to a strange, repeated rasping noise that was apparently my ship rubbing back and forth against the sea bed like an aroused dancer, I quit.

MISSION 3: BORA BORA FIRE

So, fuck Greenpeace. I swap to a different campaign that pits you as the captain of a cruise ship. And fuck starting at the beginning of a campaign, too. I drop straight into the middle, with an appealing-sounding mission called Bora Bora Fire.

As the mission starts I drop into Captain view on a whim, and I’m given a vision of exactly what I wanted from this game.

Calm waters, and a beautiful island seen at sunset from a powerful craft. My powerful craft. My responsibility. There’s a certain rawness and excitement that’s always found in seagoing videogames, which anyone who’s dabbled in the Silent Hunter series will be able to tell you about. I love that ominous majesty. I love waves, wetness, and guiding this huge, delicate man-made contraption through the dangers of it all. I love the idea of having a crew, and yet all of you being so alone out there.

That said, I suppose what I really want from a boat game is all the emotive elements of the ocean applied to something other than a straight simulation. A kind of post-apocalyptic Deadliest Catch sim would be perfect. You could take your rickety craft out on fishing trips, pulling up all kinds of mutated fish and crabs from the sea and occasionally having to defend yourself from sea-monsters. Then you get home, sell your loot, and upgrade your craft and crew. You could set the whole thing from the captain’s first person perspective. It’d be beautiful.

Back to reality. In Bora Bora Fire there’s a burning cruise ship and a few drowning crewmembers around it. I have to pluck the men from the water, and use my coast guard ship’s water cannon to put out the fire.

Both of these tasks prove to be pretty fiddly. Maneuvering an enormous vessel to a complete stop right next to a tiny man takes several goes, like squeezing into a tight parking space. I actually back my ship motor-first over one of the survivors at one point, but he is a trooper and pops out from underneath me again, uninjured. As for the water cannon, the various levels of detachment I have from it (using delicate mouse tugs to control a joystick with a limited, flat plane of movement to control a cannon that fires in three dimensions) makes hitting the fires a challenge, but I get there in the end.

And look! I can see the saved crewmembers repeating aimless laps of my ship. Reminds me of Pathologic. I wonder if I can swap him my razorblade for a few vegetables?

My relatively uneventful progression comes to a painful halt as I can’t figure out how to dock at the port the game wants me to dock at. After several minutes of confused, time-consuming maneuvering, I give up.

So there you have it! Ship Simulator Extremes, available now for the low-low price of €39.99. Probably don’t buy it. I’m off to go and write an incredibly detailed design document for that sci-fi Deadliest Catch game, then I’m going to shut it away in a cupboard where it will never see the light of day. Ta-ra!

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59 Comments »

  1. TeeJay says:

    “Basically, it’s up to you to go over there and see if the other crew’s got wood.”

    I’ve got wood! :D

    Great review.

  2. Premium User Badge Schaulustiger says:

    I thought this looked rather interesting, especially for someone like me who doesn’t enjoy just cruising around the sear for the sake of cruising. Luckily, I wasn’t that tempted to buy it at release.

    Paradox as a publisher seems a bit out of luck as of lately. Lead&Gold didn’t do well, Victoria 2 was not that well received and now this one. Well, good review at least. Go Quinns!

  3. LionsPhil says:

    Man, if only teleport-crushing Greenpeace ships was possible in the real world.

  4. Ian says:

    So basically this is an Optimus Prime thumb firmly aloft?

  5. Willzam says:

    What if your Deadliest-Catch game was themed on “the Great Waves of Change?”

    • kyynis says:

      Post-apocalyptic fishing simulator based on P.C. Jersild’s brilliant “After the Flood”, plox.

    • Kristinn says:

      Ooh, it should definitely be set in the world of John Wyndham’s “The Kraken Wakes”. The one with the jelly-things from Jupiter or somewhere that colonise the bottom of the ocean, and sink ships, and melt the icecaps, and so forth.

  6. President Weasel says:

    There was a flash-esque deep-sea diving game a few years back, which I believe was supposed to be the first level of a game in development.
    I can’t remember what it was called – although “Men of Iron” seems close but wrong – but if my memory serves it was rather a lot like Quinns’s imaginary “Deadliest Catch” game. You had a captain and a couple of crew, and you could equip them with various comedy steampunk items. You had to navigate around, avoiding the rocks and storms or defeating them with your captain’s captaining abilities, sending a guy in a diving suit to dive for the treasure, and improving your skills and equipment to fight the monsters and the end of level baddie.

    What the devil was it called?

    • President Weasel says:

      Thanks Cooper, and Fungus.
      I remember it being quite amusing if a little light. Once you got the knack of it you could easily level your little mans up far more than the first level actually required, and the first level is all there was. Worth a look though, as it’s the closest thing to “Quinnsiest Catch” that currently exists.

  7. robrob says:

    Is that a sneaky Lonely Island reference?

  8. Clovis says:

    A kind of post-apocalyptic Deadliest Catch sim would be perfect. You could take your rickety craft out on fishing trips, pulling up all kinds of mutated fish and crabs from the sea and occasionally having to defend yourself from sea-monsters. Then you get home, sell your loot, and upgrade your craft and crew. You could set the whole thing from the captain’s first person perspective. It’d be beautiful.

    Pre-ordered.

  9. PleasingFungus says:

    Iron Dukes. Produced a demo then vanished off the face of the earth. Very disappointing.

  10. Cooper says:

    The intro: ‘Excitement’ added to simulation reminded me of SimCopter

    Someone, somewhere, please remake SimCopter. It was excellent.

    • Premium User Badge Fede says:

      Oh, SimCopter, so awesome! Brings back lots of memories.

    • Matt says:

      SimCopter, the game where a crazed helicopter pilot wreaks havoc on the city with nothing more than a rope and bucket.

  11. Xercies says:

    I groaned and laughed at the picture caption.

  12. Ricc says:

    Bravo, sir! Greenpeace can keep their Extremes as far as I’m concerned.

  13. Quintin Smith says:

    For you, then: There is no radar, just a minimap. There is no crew. Docking is limited to the anchoring and tethering I mentioned, which is simple and instantaneous. Water physics is mostly invalidated by the shonky physics of the boats themselves.

    I definitely wouldn’t give a game this treatment if there was an interesting core underneath the bugs. But outside of a large variety of ship models and accurately modelled docks, the simulation itself is hugely light on content.

  14. mod the world says:

    Finally a game that wasn’t dumbed down for consoles and game journalists. I like that you can play as Greenpeace ship, that is one step closer to my dream of a Greenpeace-RPG.

    • Matt says:

      Would said RPG include a mission where your boat is bombed at the direction of the French government?

    • mrmud says:

      When I saw that the boat was indeed Rainbow Warrior in the Giant Bomb quicklook, I fully expected the last mission to be one where you were trying to hold of a series of French attack divers trying to blow you up.

    • mod the world says:

      @Matt
      That would be a great story twist, right before the final battle against the last boss JACQUES.

  15. Archonsod says:

    I was sold on the mysteriously teleporting ships. Why do developers insist on ruining perfectly good games by fixing crap like that?

  16. stahlwerk says:

    @Kobzon According to their website a demo is scheduled for September 2010, so, uh, soon-ish.
    They offer a demo for the predecessor, Ship Simulator 2008, though, which looks kind of similar.

  17. Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

    I approve of this game.

    • President Weasel says:

      Everyone knows that the CEO of Paradox is Roger Paradox.
      Jeez, is that a Eurogamer-only meme or something? I find the outside world a bit scary, I’m going back where everything is familiar and safe.

    • Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

      Right.

  18. thesundaybest says:

    That wasn’t very helpful. Bugs, right. How are radars, docking, water physics? What’s the crew interaction like? Game modes, course planning?

    I like people who come here looking for detailed game reviews that focus on gameplay mechanics. And by like I mean laugh at them all morning.

  19. Michael says:

    Must everything be post-apocalyptic? Is there something I should know?

  20. SheffieldSteel says:

    Right. I see your problem mate. You’ve got the sails in what we technically call a straight fore-and-aft position, which only really works if there’s no wind and you don’t want to sail anyway. Then there’s the giant yellow tennis balls you’ve stuck to your boat. Not good, hydrodynamically speaking.

  21. ZIGS says:

    Not even the word “Extremes” in the game title saved it from failure :(

  22. Arsewisely says:

    Not that I particularly want to defend it, but credit where credit’s due, Ship Sim EXTREMES does have a radar. There’s also a waypoint and quick travel function which makes the game easier and as consequently you don’t really have to play it

  23. ZIGS says:

    Why is it that the game runs at 20 FPS on low, when I have a quad-core @ 2400MHz, 2GB RAM, GTX 275 and Windows XP SP3?

    • Jimmy says:

      You need Windows 3.11 for directx 11. XP just won’t cut it anymore. 3.11 is the new black.

  24. lzaffuto says:

    I’d like to play this just as a ship sinking simulator. I’d ram every ship into every object I could just to see how I can get it to sink.

  25. capital L says:

    I’d be slightly more interested if you could harass the Greenpeace ships—sShearing the bow off of pesky experimental fast boats and trundling off to continue on my merry whaling ways…

  26. Meatloaf231 says:

    I’ll take three.

  27. DevilSShadoW says:

    a sailing ship with a helipad
    interesting indeed

    i wish there was a sail aircraft carrier as well :(

  28. Damian says:

    Me too. But please make the post-apocalyptica green, not brown. Anything but brown.

  29. Neosubu says:

    Quintin, this article is why I love this site. You made me laugh out loud a couple of times..about a ship simulation game no less, that my friend takes skill!

    Keep it up.

  30. Damian says:

    Why? Why did the reply not work? That was intended for the ‘pre-ordered’ line above.

  31. stahlwerk says:

    Why all the Greenpeace hate? Did I miss a memo?

    • MWoody says:

      Not sure; a little curious myself.

    • Matt says:

      Yes, I believe the memo you missed reads as following:

      EARTH NOT WORTH SAVING STOP DO NOT ENGAGE WHALERS DUMPERS POLLUTERS STOP

    • Nallen says:

      ’cause they’re pirates with a CND logo on their eyepatch?

  32. Unbiased says:

    right.

  33. DigitalSignalX says:

    Obligatory: I like big boats and I can not lie.

  34. MrBRAD! says:

    I tried the mission in which you have to head down a river to a cruise ship so you can pilot it. The cow’s fat rear was sunken and she had a huge list to starboard. I tried using the two inflatables as tugboats. She bounced along the riverbed and sunk completely.

    Another day in the life…