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Posted on Apr 11, 2011 in Electronic Games

Ship Simulator Extremes – PC Game Review

By Jim Cobb

Ship Simulator Extremes.  PC Game Review.  Publisher: Paradox Interactive.  Developer: Vstep.  $39.99 (digital download)

Passed Inspection: Great range of accurate ships; many exciting and challenging missions; fantastic graphics.

Failed Basic: Low FPS; some GUI problems; simple damage model.

Naval wargamers often forget that there’s more to sailing than finding the right position to deliver ordnance. Underlying all maneuvers is the constant foe called by Monsarrat " The Cruel Sea." To get a feel for what handling ships is really like, turn to Vstep’s Ship Simulator Extremes. Gunfire or cutlasses aren’t necessary for excitement.

From Dinghy to the Monster

Ship Simulator Extremes, patched to version 1.3.5, has over forty different kinds of craft with more coming, ranging from the lowly rowboat to giant liners, tankers, and container ships. Humble workhorses like ferries and trawlers are also represented. Also included are smaller craft that can be launched from larger ones such as life rafts and Ridged-hull Inflatable boats. Each boat or ship is lovingly modeled in detailed 3-D. Non-playable craft sailing past are equally well shown. Many of the larger vessels have more than one deck for the player to see. Three different views allow players to see and handle matters to taste. The third-person overview shows the entire craft with controls, charts and indicators imposed on the screen. Every function can be handled here. The second view is from the bridge, be it beside an outboard motor or in the huge con room of a luxury liner. The ship controls are laid out just as on a bridge. The “walk-around” mode allows players to tour their environments, going up ladders to different decks to see hot tubs, swimming pools, cargo holds, and cars on ferries. This movement is done via the mouse and the hallowed “WASD” keys. All views are zoomable and rotate. A binocular view is available in bridge and “walk-around” modes and is helpful on foggy days. Storms, rain, and snow obscure visibility but charts and radar can help. Nits in the ship graphics are that, when two vessels are close, zoomed views may be the bulkhead of the vessel the player isn’t looking for and ships at rest or going slow sometimes seem to bobble slightly in the water when there’s no swell. Also, some complaints indicate that the level of detail and the graphic engine combine to slow down frames per secong (FPS).

Although the controls are easy, the physics model highlights how difficult handling ships can be.

Vessels are not the only things beautifully rendered. The twelve environments include the wastes of the Antarctic and Atlantic to balmy Bora Bora to busy harbors like Sydney, Hamburg, and San Francisco. The details again are exquisite with buildings, islands and bridges shown accurately with appropriate wave and wake action.

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Sound effects are very nice with engines changing pitch with every speed and waves slapping against hulls. At the helmsman position, chatter from harbor control and other ships is heard over the radio. Players can even toot their own ship’s horn.

Steady as She Goes

Each ship has a different set of controls for steering and speed. Steering is usually done by a wheel that can either be dragged with a mouse or be adjusted with keyboard commands. Throttles work the same way but many larger vessels have multiple throttles. Each can be adjusted individually to complement steering, e.g. reversing the port throttle while goosing the starboard makes a sharp left turn. This example shows the intricacies of the physics model where inertia, size, speed, and environment are depicted in great accuracy. Larger ships have bow thrusters to aid in close quarter maneuvering. Direction and speed can be locked but caution must be used as wind and tide work on the vessel. The effect of these elements is shown on an abstract diagram inside the on-screen compass. The compass not only shows the heading but also can reveal the relative position of a goal’s spot during a mission. A chart showing the craft’s position can be enlarged, zoomed, or even hidden. When a small craft is launched, its icon appears above the primary vessel; clicking on it moves the player to it.

Four small icons open up mini-menus dealing with mooring, anchoring, towing, lights, launching small craft and camera positions. Navigation is aided by placing waypoints on the chart and then engaging the autopilot if in open water. When activated, these functions yield highlights on crafts where a click performs the task. Although the controls are easy, the physics model highlights how difficult handling ships can be. Attempting to moor a freighter as one would a speedboat will lead to a crunched bow. Running aground while ignoring the chart is very embarrassing. Damage can be seen in a health bar on the ship’s icon but does not seem to be system specific, i.e. a definite part of the ship like the hull, isn’t damaged – instead you just lose health points. The 43-page manual is fairly clear but players will want to visit the friendly folk at the www.shipsim.com forums to learn the finer points to this simulation. A tutorial omission teaches the basics and mouse tooltips explain some functions.

A-roving, A-roving though Roving is my Ruin!

All of this detail and accuracy would mean nothing without context. Ship Simulator Extremes provides that context in spades. First, three campaigns come with the basic game with another separately sold DLC, Ferry Pack. A campaign consists of a number of linked missions based around a particular theme. For instance, the Greenpeace campaign has players saving the environment, Tourist Tales is built around handling a “Love Boat” liner and the Core addresses the real work tasks of a ship captain in many areas while the Ferry Pack deals with getting people and cars from Point A to Point B. The Greenpeace campaign has nine missions, the Tourist Tales thirteen, the Core eleven and the Ferry Pack ten. Each mission has a specific task which may have a time limit. For example, the first Greenpeace mission has the player locating a ship dumping toxic barrels, launching a small craft and positioning the little craft close to the stern quarter of the polluter for 23 seconds while dodging a water cannon. The player has a small water cannon also; high pressure squirt gun fights is as close to combat as the game comes. Other tasks can be saving people in the drink and docking in bad weather. Successful completion of missions yields rewards for a player’s profile in terms of bonus video.

To date, over thirty single missions are extant. They cover everything from search and rescue to whale watching. They can be downloaded directly from the main game menu or from the “Shipyard” at Simship.com where a trawler mini-campaign awaits. However clever they may be, the FPS problem can become noticeable here.

Need a relief from the strain of missions? “Free Roaming” is the cure. Here, players can select their own vessels and environment. They can inspect their craft at leisure and then buzz around and see the sights. The sights are marvelous with detailed colorful views of the Sydney opera house, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the New York skyline. All the pressure isn’t off; craft can still sink by collision. Multi-play only enhances the excitement.

Trouble in Paradise

The mission editor would seem to be a dream. Players can select environment, sea state, time, and players’ ships, AI ships, and many other aspects. However, the process is so complicated that a 24-page PDF manual and 43 pages of PDF notes are needed to explain it. A problem that is irritating when selecting profiles and missions becomes critical. Clicking to open a list or selecting an item becomes an exercise in patience and manual fine motor skills. This problem obviously isn’t impossible to overcome—missions are being created—yet, casual players will be frustrated.

This problem aside, Ship Simulator Extremes offers buyers a marvelous package found nowhere else. We await additional ships, missions, campaigns and improvements with great anticipation.

Armchair General Score: 89%

About the Author

Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he deals with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online, Ganesquad and Gaming Chronicle.

2 Comments

  1. It’s ordnance, not ordinance…
    (Sorry, couldn’t help myself. :P)

    Rest of the review is solid. While it’s not my type of game, it’s good to see the non-military focused games get a bit of attention too.

  2. Thank you. Both the author and I know better, but somehow it slipped by both of us. Fixed :)

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