Publisher: Lighthouse Interactive
Release Date: January 21, 2008
When I initially reviewed the 2006 version of Ship Simulator, I was skeptical of finding any real entertainment value in a shipping simulator, but after a short period of time, I found myself pleasantly surprised. With the latest release of Ship Simulator 2008, armchair captains now have even more reasons to leave their virtual ports for the high seas. With over 30 new challenging missions, 16 additional ships, and three new geographic locations, Ship Simulator 2008 offers up multiple hours of nautical fun. Numerous visual and gameplay improvements have been made since its initial release, and more attention has been given to generating community content through the use of the included mission editor, ranking system and multiplayer free-roaming mode. Ship Simulator 2008 is currently available in stores and as an online download.
Ship Simulator 2008 offers an excellent mission system that connects to an online database, which tracks completion times and player ratings on a mission-by-mission basis. Mission activities include mooring/towing vessels, racing, ramp jumping, rescuing people/ships, taxiing, and transporting cargo. There is now more to gain than just the mere satisfaction of completing a mission, as successfully completing missions can increase your ranking in one of five different shipping classes: Cargo, Motorboat, Passenger, Special and Tugs. Each class has five ranks, and the ranking system tied to your online profile, which allows you to upload your statistics to the Ship Simulator 2008 Web site to be displayed as a tag next to your name in forum messages. The more complex a mission is, the more you can improve your ranking.even larger active user community for the new version."
As an added bonus to the simulation, you can also operate cargo cranes to load/unload cargo ships, which in effect brings the simulation full circle. Some missions can be completed relatively quickly while others, where you must transverse large areas of water, can take well over an hour to resolve. Unfortunately, like its predecessor, there are no "slew" or "compression" modes to speed up the simulation. Without a much-needed acceleration mode, some of the more lengthy missions can become quite tedious while you wait to cross large, unchallenging bodies of water. This problem has obviously been identified by the developers, and it's occasionally addressed by the mission skipping you forward to an advanced location. This feature isn't offered very frequently, though, so in most circumstances, you just have to wait things out if you wish to complete a lengthy mission.
If you'd rather avoid missions altogether and just explore the world of Ship Simulator 2008, you have the option of playing in a free-roaming mode, which allows you to adjust several game parameters including location, sea conditions, ship type and weather. Even with a large amount of control over the environment, don't expect to be able to simulate hurricane-level conditions; the simulator was only able to produce moderate conditions at best. I should note that I encountered a few crashes to desktop while playing Ship Simulator 2008. The included manual offered suggestions to avoid these "crashes," but since they occurred at random moments while playing, this leads me to believe that there are some stability problems that have not yet been worked out.
As with the previous release, numerous camera control options allow you to examine both the gaming environment and your ship from just about every possible angle. The game continues to offer multiple input methods, including keyboard, mouse, joystick and even wheels; they're all well-designed and offer solid control of your virtual vessels. The clunky and hard-to-use 2006 towing and mooring system has been made more responsive and improved with larger icons representing connection points.
Ship Simulator 2008 includes a simplistic damage model based on a percentage scale. Unlike its predecessor, you can now see some visual deformations on damaged ships. The physics applied in Ship Simulator 2008 are a bit strange; you enter a quasi-slow motion mode whenever your ship leaves the water (such as off a ramp) or strikes an object.
As with the previous ship simulator release, you can monitor your progress on a customizable vector map. The 2008 version allows for adjustment of transparency levels to make the map easier to use full-time in your main viewing window. I also found the map's zooming functions to be a bit awkward to use, and at first glance, the object symbols and map coloring are a bit confusing.
Ship Simulator 2008 offers an overall pleasing visual presentation of a variety of different shipping vessels and waterways, including reasonable representations of the water currents as they interact with the movement of your ships. Although the land-based scenery is not on par with the water texturing, it certainly provides a reasonable atmosphere for coastal navigation. On rougher seas, there are noticeable texture patterns visible, but the appearance is still gratifying and hardly distracting.
In the 2008 edition, the user interface has received a substantial overhaul. Menus and layouts offer a much cleaner appearance, and with the use of transparency in certain menus, the interface is uncluttered and generally much easier to use than its 2006 counterpart. I do have one substantial criticism regarding the user interface, though. The Information Display Panel, which provides numeric data regarding your ship's movement and location, requires players to move a horizontal scroll bar to pan across all of the provided information, which is a bit ridiculous.
The sound effects in Ship Simulator 2008 are adequate representations of what you would expect their real-life counterparts to be, but beyond that, they're fairly unremarkable. In addition to the previous geographic locations, the simulator now includes three new environments: Marseille, San Francisco and Southampton/Cowes/Solent.
Ship Simulator 2008 features a new multiplayer mode, which allows you to join up to 25 other players in an open "sandbox" environment. You must establish a forum account at the Ship Simulator 2008 Web site and register your program key in order to participate on one of the multiplayer servers. After signing up, I found the multiplayer mode to be relatively easy to connect to, and my connection stayed relatively stable. While online, players are allowed to select from a handful of ship types from the single-player portion of the game. In general, my online experiences with Ship Simulator 2008 weren't as enjoyable as I had expected. Some repeated abuse of the online vote-kick and chat systems distracted me from what would have been a reasonably fun online experience. In reflection, it could easily be reasoned that without a formal set of objectives or activities in the multiplayer environment, it will only be a matter of time before some of the less mature players will come up with their own games to play. Of course, as with all online play, your experience may vary.
Since the title is a specialized simulation with a select player base, Ship Simulator 2008 is now designed to be improved by its community. The title includes a complete mission editor, which allows players to design and submit new missions to the Ship Simulator 2008 community. Although I didn't spend a significant amount of time with the editor, I found the editor to be intuitive enough for me to progress through the partial creation of a mission without referring to the documentation, which is included on the game disc as a PDF file.
Without a doubt, the improvements that have been made to Ship Simulator 2008 are a giant leap forward for the franchise. There are still a few wrinkles to be ironed out, namely an awkward information display panel, some less-than-realistic physics, and some random game crashes. The new multiplayer system has a lot of potential, although it is in desperate need of some activities or multiplayer challenges to pick up the pace a bit. Some welcome improvements have been made to the AI with this release, and the ability to regularly download new user-designed missions offers the potential of unlimited replay value. If you enjoy simulations and have the patience, you'll find Ship Simulator 2008 to be an entertaining and relaxing armchair adventure.
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