New year’s resolutions. Often they take an awful lot of thought and consideration before deciding on an appropriate goal for the months ahead. However, this year I seem to have fallen into one, arguably against my will. “What is it?” I hear you cry. Well, turns out I’m your go to sim game reviewer from now on. Bonus points if it contains ships apparently.
And ships are very much on the menu here. Well, three to be precise. Ships Simulator has you taking control of three different types of vessel, each with eight missions to play through. And if you have the willpower to see it through to the end, a special final mission awaits you.
You will earn cash after completing each excursion, which is needed for repairs and unlocking the other ships. Featured on the main menu, your ship will be docked and each area of it is split down into components. If you take any damage during missions (too much will see you fail), this will randomly affect your ship and cost you to make the repairs. However, from the word go I had so much money that it felt like a redundant mechanic, there’s no choice or decision making involved. Instead, you just go through the menu fixing everything without a thought, the damage has no actual impact on how you play. This is also because you can’t venture out again until all repairs have been completed.
Each mission varies slightly in length, but it’s safe to say they are all on the short side. You’ll be in charge of a cargo tanker for the first batch, loading containers, docking successfully and even fighting off pirates. These were by far the most enjoyable and least repetitive missions, and actually felt like a compilation of mini games more than anything else.
Unfortunately the controls are a mess, and incredibly sensitive. Docking successfully consists of slowly guiding your ship into a yellow target zone, and makes for an excruciatingly drawn out affair. Fighting off pirates actually means you need to direct your crew to man water cannons, but trying to decipher who is where and get them to actually follow your commands the first time is something of a lottery. Standing idly by as pirates bomb your ship is not very helpful.
You can ratchet things up from x1 to x4 speed, but even this is nowhere near quick enough. In fact, I have no idea why the x1 and x2 speeds exist because they are agonisingly slow. But no matter what speed the action is moving at, I always seemed to be spinning my camera around wildly, struggling to get a grasp of what the hell was going on. Things would have been a little better if it was controlled by the left thumbstick, not the right one as it feels unnatural.
Anyhow, the second ship comes equipped with twin cranes. This is the most laborious of the mission sets, as all you we are tasked with doing is picking items up from location A, and placing them at location B. And again, connecting your hook is incredibly fiddly and requires you to be precise.
Apart from the items differing cosmetically, and sometimes needing to be positioned underwater, the actual gameplay doesn’t vary at all. If it wasn’t for each achievement being worth a generous 100G, I would say there was no point in bothering with it.
The final craft is a little more interesting, in that you can submerge it and then resurface to dredge items and carry them off to the docks. Yep, that’s all you’ll be doing for those eight missions. Sadly the pirates never return.
Regardless of everything, my biggest issue with Ships Simulator is that it looks absolutely woeful. I mean, I remember buying Half Life 2 for the Xbox and being impressed with how good it looked on console. That was released nearly twenty years ago, and looks a million times better than this. Granted that’s a high bar, but there’s no excuse for how ugly Ships Simulator is.
The rendering is abysmal, with ships and rocks materialising right next to you, before disappearing without warning. You can see the skyline slowly paint itself into view as you approach, and can even control it with the rotation of the camera and then erase it again like the Google camera gimmick. There is a particular mission set at night which somehow looks even worse. My blocky cargo ship was made up of slightly different-coloured rectangles (all shades of red), and light strobed randomly in an attempt to simulate a storm. The colour palette just looked drab, and rather ironically, washed out.
However, what is fundamentally important for a sim game all about ships is the water. At first it doesn’t look too bad, until you realise that your vessel’s movements make no change or disturbance to the water at all. It simply flows undeterred in a predetermined fashion. What’s worse is that when you go under the surface and position the camera up, the waterline disappears completely and becomes entirely transparent.
Some may find the gameplay in sims dry, but usually this is evened out by immersive visuals to suck you into the world. This is why Microsoft Flight Simulator works, because it’s such a nice place to be despite the pace being slow and steady. However, Ships Simulator is a game which is so basic, bland and unimaginative that you may end up abandoning ship altogether, depending on how committed you are to grabbing those achievements.
Ships Simulator is a voyage into the tedious, but the inexcusable visuals drag this one down to the depths.
Ships Simulator is on the Xbox Store