Publisher: Paradox Interactive
System requirements: Windows XP (Min. service pack 2), Windows Vista or Windows 7, 32 and 64 bits OS supported; 2GB RAM (Windows XP) or 3GB (Vista or Windows 7); 3 Ghz P4 Intel or AMD equivalent processor; Geforce 8800GT or ATI Radeon HD 4850 with 256MB ram (Shader model 3.0); 3.5GB hard drive space; DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card; DirectX Version 9.0c; broadband Internet connection required for multiplayer
ESRB rating: Everyone
Release date: Available now
Every once in awhile, I get a game across my virtual desk that inspires admiration and disgust in equal measure. Ship Simulator Extremes is such a game. A game intended to fill a niche market, SSE should be a sailor’s dream. It gives players the opportunity to control ships of various kinds while performing a variety of real world tasks, from helping Greenpeace to performing daring rescues. And since it is a simulator, detail is the name of the game. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of ship operations on a variety of real-world ships without leaving your home, this game was designed for you; whether or not you should pick up a copy is a question I will answer in a few paragraphs.
SSE has three basic types of missions. There are some Greenpeace scenarios, some missions that involve shuttling tourists around, and some missions that involve freighters and rescue ships. There is also a free-form mode that lets you just pick one of the 30 different ships and a map to explore and wander around. The Greenpeace missions are probably the most interesting, but true to the game’s roots in simulators, SSE forces players to do both the boring “move from point A to point B for ten minutes” actions as well as “use water cannons in a creative way to accomplish an objective” actions. Commanding anything from a yacht to a supertanker on the open ocean is not about excitement every waking second, but about skill. For a simulator, this is an appropriate game design strategy.
And since it is a simulator, graphics are an important consideration. When played on the right kind of system, SSE is a great looking game; however, the key here is hardware. The minimum requirements might seem a little stiff for a game that does not involve blowing up enemy ships with a variety of naval ordnance, but even meeting the minimum requirements of the game will not give a pretty gaming experience. Exceeding them is advised, and, if graphics are really important to you, I would wander over to the game’s forum and see what setups various users have and see if they match yours. It’s no Crysis, but don’t let that lull you into a false sense of hardware superiority.
The variety of ships is impressive, and I found that they all had their own quirks in terms of navigation and capabilities. They are not merely clones of one another with different skins painted on them. I did find the controls somewhat less responsive than I would have liked. I don’t mean that the ships won’t turn on a dime (they aren’t supposed to); I mean that the controls seem to have no incremental quality when you use keyboard shortcuts. It’s either full rudder or no rudder, not “just a little bit of rudder” for complicated docking maneuvers. I found that using the mouse to actuate the controls by dragging was a better way to control these ships, and it was an interesting feature which reminded me of the Trainz franchise.
However, this comparison to Trainz is a dangerous one. Trainz is a well respected simulator in its own right. While it has never had the best graphics, it has generally been released with few bugs and with all the features it needs. SSE is not so lucky. Even at the time of this belated review, SSE has been patched and still suffers from a number of problems. While some reported problems are actually caused by gamers not paying attention to system requirements, there are still substantial problems that need addressing. The game suffers from missing/erroneous .dll files. In fairness to VSTEP, they may not actually be missing or erroneous, but the game thinks they are and gives error messages on startup. It also suffers from a Steam installation that did not work properly for the first month or so of its release, some ships whose controls are bugged/poorly documented, and the occasional teleporting AI boat. There are also a number of design flaws in the missions which include vague mission objectives that leave out key instructions, suicidal AI ships in civilian harbors, and AI ships that get stuck or confused at the edge of the map.
As a reviewer, I always have to consider the requirements and expectations of a particular genre when reviewing a game. I could say that SSE is boring because all you do is sail around and perform mundane tasks; if I did this, I would be failing at my job. Simulators are not meant to be exciting at the expense of detail; they are exciting because of their attention to the mundane. With that said, in another game, SSE’s bugs would be a serious problem. In a simulator, they are fatal because of the need for simulators to get the small details right. Enthusiasts and arm-chair captains will want to give this game a miss. You might enjoy some moments spent playing the game and its attention to detail, but you will be frustrated by some of the game’s problems to the point of indignation.