Producer: Lighthouse Interactive/Dreamcatcher
Release Date: August 22, 2006
For someone with my equilibrium, getting the opportunity to pilot a tug boat or a container vessel outside of the bath tub is just not a possibility, at least not without a serious supply of sea sickness bags. Yet just when we accept our limitations, a reasonable solution or opportunity presents itself. Granted, simulations are certainly not the same as their real-life equivalents, but they can provide enjoyable and challenging experiences, and sometimes a bit more. So yes, I have decided to build up my armchair seamanship skills; after all, it's not every day you're offered a chance to take the R.M.S. Titanic out for a three-hour tour.
In Ship Simulator 2006, you are tasked with completing several different types of missions. At your disposal, you have seven sea-worthy vessels, ranging from a tugboat to a large container vessel. As an added bonus, if you prove yourself worthy, you get the special opportunity to pilot the R.M.S. Titanic. Mission objectives include taxiing people around, helping to rescue victims of accidents, transporting shipping containers and cargo, or simply getting from point A to point B. If at anytime you are confused regarding gameplay, you can review the features and controls through the handy built-in help system accessible from the main menu.
The graphics in Ship Simulator 2006 are well done and help to complement the overall gameplay. The water effects and associated textures are close to photo-realistic, especially with the advanced graphics options turned on. Textures for ship objects are well detailed, although they do seem a bit too clean for working-class vessels. The game uses a very tidy window-based interface, with detailed information such as navigation, GPS and mission information provided in separate collapsible windows. Unfortunately, only the objectives window is movable; all others are fixed. Waypoints are clearly represented on navigation screens as well as iconically at the top of the main game screen.
The sound system in Ship Simulator 2006 is well-designed and properly integrated. Depending where you have positioned your view, you will hear appropriate sounds and volumes. For example, when you are on a ship's bridge, you will most likely hear radio chatter in addition to the low rumble of your engines.
The challenges of Ship Simulator 2006 include mastering the control of the various ships with their differing characteristics, learning to properly use the provided navigational tools, improving your piloting skills to the point of being able to complete missions in the shortest amount of time, and the most difficult challenge of all, avoiding the water traffic, which, at times, becomes unreasonably difficult. Environmental challenges in the game include realistically simulated fog, rain and thunderstorms. I didn't notice a great deal of variation in water conditions between missions; dealing with rougher seas at times would have made the simulation much more realistic and a greater challenge during advanced missions. I hope that the developers will take this into consideration for future versions of the game.
Personally, I was a bit disappointed with the A.I. used for the other ships. It is my understanding that in addition to following the rules of right-of-way, a ship's captain should first and foremost use common sense, which would dictate that pilots make an effort to try to avoid all collisions. This is not the case with the computer captains in Ship Simulator 2006. At times, I felt as if I were piloting a gigantic magnet and all the other ships around me had iron hulls. Now for a hypothetical question: If you had a small water taxi, would you try to ram the Titanic? Can someone please let me know what the semaphore signaling is for "Bring It On?" One other concern I have with Ship Simulator 2006 is that you are unable to save a mission that you have partially completed. Since several of the missions are quite lengthy, you will need to make sure you will have enough time to complete them, or be prepared to start over from the beginning.
You start single-player mode with 10 unlocked missions, and you only need to successfully complete five of the first 10 to unlock mission 11. After the 11th level is unlocked, each successful mission completed will unlock an additional mission. There are 40 missions that come with Ship Simulator 2006, and at least one add-on pack is already available for the game. Missions are completed in real time; although you can "pause" a mission at any time, you cannot accelerate time to advance through a mission. This situation is reasonable, considering the constant navigational changes that may be required to avoid other waterway traffic. Once you successfully complete a mission without incurring excessive damage either to your vessel or others, you are rewarded with cash.
To control your vessels, you have the option of using the keyboard, mouse or even a variety of input devices such as a joystick, gamepad or steering wheel. View controls in Ship Simulator 2006 are complete and intuitive. Using your mouse, you can zoom out from the bridge of your ship to a fair distance off the back of your craft. Using your right mouse button, you can rotate your view 360 degrees around your ship or from a little above seal-level to top-down view of your vessel. This real-time view adjustment adds a great deal of quality to the simulation by allowing you to select the most useful vantage point for the task at hand, or the angle that you feel most comfortable with. In certain missions, you can also have either a helicopter or airplane view that you can select for a different perspective.
In addition to playing the 40 included missions, you can create or edit your own scenarios. After selecting from one of four different scenery areas, you will be allowed to place traffic routes, waypoints, and objects to create new and challenging missions. You also have complete control over the weather settings for your scenario. If modding and mission creation is not your thing, you can download additional missions created by other users from the Ship Simulator 2006 web site.
Ship Simulator 2006 does not offer a multiplayer mode; however, you can compete with other players using your high score or best mission time by posting your results to the web site. Uploading scores will require you to create a forum account and to register your license key with the site. After entering your forum information into the appropriate fields in the game's options menu, you will be given the ability to upload your score after each successfully completed mission. I would hope that the developers of Ship Simulator 2006 consider adding a multiplayer option to any future editions of the simulator; the possibilities for additional gameplay would be excellent.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had playing through the missions in Ship Simulator 2006. The graphics are visually pleasing, and the gameplay is varied enough to keep you coming back for more. At times, I found that it was just as much fun to ignore mission objectives and cruise around the various maps. Ship Simulator 2006 does offer reasonable replay value. When you have completed the 40 included missions, the mission editor allows you to extend your enjoyment of the game with your own designs, or if you prefer, you can visit http://www.shipsim-secure.com/ to download other user-created missions. If you get past the frustration of the hordes of kamikaze computer sailors and don't mind the lack of real-time online competition, Ship Simulator 2006 is definitely worth adding to your gaming library.
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