Ships 2017 is exactly what you're expecting, a ship simulator. Don't think you'll find yourself at the head of the USS Missouri however; you'll be in control of industrial vessels and performing various menial tasks from loading and unloading shipping containers to heading out to sea on what seems like an unending trip across the ocean just to park at another dock.
The game's description sounds boring to the point where watching paint dry seems like a better pastime, but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself having a good time while playing Ships 2017. Fragout Studios have taken the dreary task of simply loading and unloading items and turned it into an intricate and entertaining mini game that requires patience and concentration, very much like building a model. If you've caught loads of stuffed animals while playing those crane games at the local arcade, then you have the perfect skill set to master Ships 2017.
Ships 2017 is available on Steam for $14.99.
After receiving the code to download the game I nearly fell off my very comfortable office chair when I saw a massive 3.5GB download starting. This is an indie game for Pete's sake, why on earth does it have so many files. This question was soon answered when I launched the game for the first time and was left speechless by the visuals. This is an achingly beautiful game in so many ways. And I don't just mean beautiful for an indie game, I mean it's beautiful, period. If I didn't know any better I would easily have mistaken this for a big-budget production.
Standing around the ship yard you can inspect your vessel from every angle, taking in all the details from the gigantic cranes and scaffolding to the fuel drums and cabling. It's unbelievable the amount of detail that went into creating each of these ships. When you're out on a mission then you'll be stunned by the incredibly realistic oceans that steadily ripple around your ship and get agitated greatly when the winds pick up. You'll find yourself staring into many a sunset while playing and sometimes… errm, running your ship ashore while doing so. You are also put into a few storms which very realistically depicts what the crews on such ships must go through. During an early mission I found myself in the middle of the ocean surrounded by nothing but darkness and rain. I moved ahead in the direction indicated in search of the dock, but ran into an island which I didn't see until I was right on top of it.
The camera angles could do with some improvement though. The camera is always centered around what you're currently controlling, either the ship or a crane. When captaining the ship across the sea, the view doesn't pose any problems but when operating a crane and trying to connect to a tiny hook that's lying at the bottom of the seabed, things get a bit tricky. It would have been nice to be able to roam around freely to be able to better see what you're doing. You do get used to this but a bit more freedom would have been welcomed.
There's not much to talk about in terms of sound in Ships 2017. You do get the expected effects like the rumbling of the ships engines or the motors on the cranes and there's a simple soundtrack playing in the background that's very reminiscent of the music found in the original Sims games. The sound isn't bad but also not memorable. Honestly, after finishing the game I had to load another mission just to check if there's actually any music during the campaign.
I want to start off by saying this, thank goodness for the speed multiplier! If I had to play this game at real speed, I would be wearing my undies on my head and licking windows right now. When starting a new mission, the speed multiplier is automatically set to 1x. I frequently forgot about this and often had to check if the game hadn't frozen after I gave the ship some commands and saw no response. Luckily the speed can be cranked up to 8x, without which Ships 2017 would have ended up shipwrecked, if you'll pardon the pun.
Before starting the game you have to choose a ship. Only the World Ship is available with your starting budget, which is a giant container ship. Later you'll unlock DCV Builder, a mid-ocean construction vehicle, and Orange Ship, a half ship, half submarine vessel with a giant flatbed, like a seaworthy pickup truck. Strangely it's the container ship that provides the widest variety of missions. First, you have a crane operating job where you have to load the ship with containers from various trucks. The following mission has you simply parking at another dock, easy enough until you remember that ships don't have brakes, and running full steam into a parking bay will end badly for you. You also have three crew management missions, one has you putting out a fire, the second presents you with a man-overboard situation, and in the third you have to fend off a bunch of pirates using water cannons on the side of the ship. These missions felt like mini games within the campaign and were a welcome change to the usual gameplay, I only wished there were more of them since you only play each of them once.
When you finally unlock the DCV Builder you'll have two cranes bolted onto the ship and will be able to move stuff around in the middle of the Atlantic. Most of these missions just has you moving heavy objects from one end to another on the same ship, but you'll also have to collect items from wreckage at the bottom of the ocean, replace links on a broken pipeline, and even assist in building a new bridge. The last mission is particularly tricky because you had to pick up large beams and insert them at just the right spot between two pillars. The Orange Ship, despite being the last to unlock in the game, was the easiest to work with and the quickest to complete in the campaign. With this ship you have the option of working above water or submerging. When submerged you can move in all directions and even rotate to position yourself underneath items like pipes or smaller boats floating around the water, then you'll emerge again in order to load everything on the flatbed and take it all back home.
Although the various missions seem mundane, the intricacy required to pull some of them off make them rather enjoyable, as long as you have the required patience. On a few occasions I was tasked with travelling across the ocean to another dock. This was a tedious task, because even at the top speed multiplier I still found myself staring at the screen for minutes waiting for something to happen. Another addition which would have been appreciated is a map with the location of your objectives as well as an outline of any obstacles around you. You are presented with an arrow to see which direction to go, but too often I found myself staring at a land mass between me and my destination with no idea where the entrance to the docks actually was. Also, because of a few bugs I had to restart some of the missions after the ship or crane I was working with refused to respond. I should add that the version I tested was still in Beta, so these issues might have been fixed by now.
After every mission you are sent back to the shipyard to inspect your ship. If you had a faultless mission then you can just start the next mission; but for every bump you had, chances are something will need to be repaired or replaced. When this happens, you're presented with a list of all the equipment on the ship along with indicators showing the status of each. Now you are forced to select each damaged piece of equipment and to click on the repair button. You lose a bit of money but never enough to make any impact, so being careful during a mission is only motivated by the urge not to have to spend time fixing everything. Honestly, I don't know why there wasn't just a "Fix All" button so you could get on with the next mission since you can't continue with even a single damaged part anyway. There's also an option with some parts on the ship to either regenerate or repair it. Regenerating is less expensive but once again you can't carry on with the campaign until those items have been repaired, so I fail to see the point of this feature.
I was ready to hate Ships 2017. I couldn't imagine why anyone would create a game where you simulate industrial ships and essentially just had to play a giant mechanical janitor or courier. After getting the hang of things though I started enjoying myself and happily carried on to the next mission, and the next one after that. This game shouldn't be fun, it should be boring and dull, but somehow the developers have created a few gameplay mechanics that work incredibly well and make each simple job a fun challenge.
The game has its faults, though. The lack of a map makes some missions very frustrating, and having to fix every single component on your ship after a mission is tedious, to say the least. However, the entertaining gameplay, great visuals and variety of different missions added some happy hours to my life and I found myself disappointed when I finished the campaign; which only took around 4 hours. After a few bugs have been fixed and a lot more content has been added, Ships 2017 may just make some waves.