Ship Simulator 2008 Review (PC)

Simulator fans are as adamant as they are careful about how they classify a game – the main case in point being that sims are not games, and therefore contemplating how much fun can actually be had navigating a liner down a prerequisite shipping lane is not a relevant way to begin exploring the depths of Ship Simulator 2008. Surprisingly, there is some fun to be had. Slow fun, mind you.

Product placement aside, the impending isolation of a life at sea if felt quite tangibly
If I had to work on the water, tug boat pirate would be the life for me

Following on from the esoterically titled Ship Simulator 2006, Dutch developer V-Step has apparently re-evaluated what it wants to achieve from its sea faring simulator. For one thing, the most significant aspect of this kind of title – the sea – has most definitely been improved upon.

The expanse is not quite as vast as one might expect from our water covered planet, particularly in comparison to the endless horizons of most flight simulators, but the chopping crests and foamy undulations are far more realistic and enjoyable than the uninspired polygon of the previous game. At some points, the calm watery realm seems to stretch on for what could seem like a depressingly boring journey, only to transform into gigantic undulations that place your insignificant oil tanker into a dominating, dark and dangerous valley of salty menace. Fighting against these powerful, rolling hills of dark, queasy peril is one of the first instances that gamers get of the delicate enjoyment found in SS2008, and cresting that tenuous moment to remember the what the light of day looks like and see the generous tract of welcoming ocean inspires a genuine sense of relief.

Don’t be fooled by the pasty landlubber next to you – Ship Sim ’08 isn’t about partying it up off shore. It’s an overly serious exploration of the working mariner
An improvement over the previous Ship Sim is the water – it sounds obvious, but this time out there’s real concern about getting your keyboard wet

But navigating aquatic landscapes still doesn’t quite suggest why we might dedicate a few hours of our precious PC time to driving big boats around. One thing that was of gradual surprise is the relative safety of the waters. It’s been a long time since any kind of computer game journey has been free of assailants and antagonistic danger, though reminding oneself of the gulf between a simulator and a game does quench that particular fire of doubt. The point here is to experience the life of a modern crew; to captain the voyage that the many and diverse goods we take for granted undergo to get to our pound shops and discount clothing stores.

Here, SS2008 does slow down a bit (not that it’s particularly quick in the first place). The eight shipping lanes (or tracts – not being a salty dog, my grasp of maritime terminology isn’t especially profound. It would have been nice to hear the odd “landlubber” or “yarrrr!” coming from the poop deck, however) provide little in the way of adventure for the fair number of different craft at player’s disposal. Certainly the earlier missions amount to sailing carefully in a straight line. That said, the afore mentioned scenery does come back into dynamic view as the ports are eventually reached and the splendour and (presumed) accuracy of their vistas hove into view.

Hamburg, San Francisco, Rotterdam, Marseilles, New York, and Portsmouth all look especially detailed and refined which, in many respects, seems simultaneously expected and irrelevant for a game based on the water. And yet, the feeling of pulling into a busy and dynamic port after a long haul is quite remarkable, and a great deal of time is involuntarily spent simply admiring the remarkable view.

There are some intriguing, short aspects which do bring Ship Simulator closer to a game, which is an invaluable addition to any sim’s limited arsenal. Speeding around in tug boats and navigating the wonderfully busy ports brings home the potential devastation a badly parked liner could cause, while repositioning an oil rig demonstrates the tenuous nature of a life at sea quite wonderfully. But, ultimately, the rather simplistic disposition of the ship controller might struggle to keep the attention of a seasoned sim fan, while gamers are unlikely to persevere long enough to enjoy the more energetic aspects of play.

Despite a great deal of attention obviously being poured into the environments (both sea and land), there’s a distinct lack of various aquatic hazards that would make Ship Sim far more immersive; namely tides and currents. Although the deep sea can get quite aggressive, coming into port is obviously dependent on tides, the weather and any number of squalls and unexpected cross currents (even a dry haired landlubber like me knows that) – all of which are noticeably absent.

Although the ports and building look superb, some of the actual ships can be a bit too plastic to look part of the scene
Admiring the view is an absolute necessity in Ship Sim – the environments are quite spectacular

Ultimately, Ship Simulator 2008 boils down to time spent admiring the impressive (very impressive) scenery, and while it does provide more dynamism than its boring-ass title suggests, the extent of this kind of simulation was apparently exhausted about half way through development, and hopes that the excellent eye-candy will distract gamers and sim fanatics are sadly optimistic.

Top Game Moment:
Buzzing up and down the packed harbours in the bouncy, nausea-inducing tug boats suggests a spin off game all of its own, though it’s sadly unexplored here.