So my latest game review is up at dlh.net. Click HERE to check it out, but make sure you come right back! Why? Because I have a strict word count I have to adhere to on DLH. Here, however, I can rant forever, and trust me, Abandon Ship is a game that deserves a little ranting.
First, I have to get the comparison out of the way. Have you played FTL? Yes? Then you'll love this. It's basically that game, but pirates.
So you command a crew of scurvy sea dogs across a rather expansive map (especially considering the game is early access right now) making choices about encounters, fighting battles, and over all trying to defeat a deadly group known only as The Cult. You play the Captain, a man or woman (your choice!) who used to be part of the Cult, but along with a small crew, stole a Cult ship and escaped. You are quickly hunted by the group along with their pet Kraken, a vicious sea monster that attempts to tear apart your vessel when it catches you.
The controls are fairly simple; left click to select your crew member, right click to assign them to a station. Left click the station to select, right click to assign it's target (if it's a cannon or other weapon.) You, as the captain, are adept at most tasks, while other members have specialties, like surgeon or gunner. Regardless of class, simply working a station can increase experience in that field and make them a more reliable crew member.
Each section of the game map is a large, canvas painting that fills in as you move through the "fog of war." Along the way you'll encounter events in several forms. Some are related to your food, which you need to keep crew morale high as you move from map section to map section (think of it like fuel,) treasure, ship to ship events that may or may not lead to combat, rescue events, salvage events, and of course Cult battles. Depending on the choices you make during these events, you may gain money and provisions, lose a crew member, or gain a strategic advantage in battle. In order to move on to the next map section, you'll need to open gates at the four sides of the maps, each of which requires a certain number of accomplished events to open.
You can stop at ports (if your current area has any) to hire new crew, repair, and enhance your ship. Weapons help you decide your combat strategy. Do you stay far away and blow them out of the water? Do you come in close and kill of the crew and salvage the ship? Ship upgrades, such as a life boat, harpoons, or a crow's nest, give you other advantages in and out of combat. In fact, much like FTL, a lot of the random events you encounter can be instantly won if you have the proper ship enhancement, such as using a life boat to investigate wreckage rather than risking your entire ship.
The game isn't without problems, though. Navigation is a bit tedious, especially if you've already explored an area and just need to get to a port. The game lets you navigate by clicking or clicking and holding on the screen, your ship following after. Unfortunately, you can only designate your destination on the close up screen. The game has a full map for the section you're in, but won't let you move in that zoomed out view. You have to zoom back in, click, zoom out, double check you're headed the right way, then zoom back in and click again. Ad infinitum. This gets especially tedious when the game's story makes you go to opposite ends of the world back and forth. You must first discover that you need a certain upgrade, then go to the opposite end of the world map to purchase it, then return to use it. It pads out the game time a bit, which can be frustrating, even with fast travel as an option. Being able to set a course and let your ship go would be a good addition to consider in the full release of the game.
My other problem is the crew limit. While the game gives you enough to man all the important stations, having even ONE MORE crew member would be immensely helpful. As it stands, the game limits you to six crew members, including your captain. This wouldn't be so bad but the enemy ships often have upwards of 12! If I have a full decked out ship, I'll be one crew member short of manning all of them. Meanwhile, the enemy ships will have someone at the helm, one person on each of the swivel guns, two people on each of the main cannon banks, and at least one surgeon running around healing them all. Oh, and occasionally, cultists will have Halephron, fish people that can swim over to your ship and occasionally explode in acid when they're defeated. So, yay...
I'm tough on this game, but I promise it really does have far more positive traits than negative. I'm tough because I can see how good it could be with just a bit more polish. For an alpha stage game, it has a ton of content. The game play is addictive and allows for all kinds of customization in tactics. Sailing outside of the prescribed target area is fun because just exploring is fun in this game. I love catching an enemy off guard or figuring out the perfect configuration of weapons to take out enemies. The different maps have different climates, with everything from storms, to icebergs, to volcanoes!
It even has a Battle Campaign, a much more pick-up-and-go version that cuts out the exploration and just has you battling with limited trips to ports. This, while fun, has a lackluster story to it and doesn't let you save at all! Still, even with these flaws, the core game play was so fun on its own that I kept trying and trying until I beat the Battle Campaign (use acid bombs!)
Overall, the game play is great, the options for your ship are amazing, and I can honestly say that after beating it, I still wanted to play more (the campaign isn't complete yet, but I'm looking forward to what comes next.) The graphics and sound are simple, but effective and work for the genre. Listening to the battle music gets me pumped to fire cannons. Watching the map get painted on as I sail never grows old. If they can just work out a few of the little details by the time the full release is available, this is easily going to be a great game.
Don't Forget to be YAR-some
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.