Monday, November 06, 2006

Virtual Sailor 7 Review

Virtual Sailor 7, developed and published by Quality Simulations.
The Good: Flexible game engine, good wave graphics with low system requirements, easily modified (with lots of user-made content already available), relatively low price
The Not So Good: Not much default content, no explicit tutorials, small audience
What say you? A decent simulation that will appeal to boat enthusiasts: 6/8

Ah, sailing. The wind in your hair, the salt in your veins, the iceberg off starboard: it’s a wonderful activity for the entire family! While there have been plenty of flight simulators, train simulators, and car simulators, there haven't been very many boat simulators, although this is another area ripe for a quality simulation. Speaking of which, Quality Simulations serves up their seventh iteration of their Virtual Sailor series, coincidentally titled Virtual Sailor 7. While not displaying the notoriety or publicity of other simulations, the game hopes to deliver a solid replication of boating and sailing.

Unlike competing simulations, Virtual Sailor 7 features buttery-smooth graphics that also look fairly decent. Since most of the simulation takes place at sea, you would expect the waves to be realistic, and they are. Virtual Sailor 7 includes a great engine that produces realistic (if not repetitive) waves in the ocean, from small 2-foot waves to imposing 55-foot monsters. The ship models are also well done, looking quite like real seafaring vessels. The coastal areas are generally bland for a lot of the time, although some basic textures representing docks and cities may be present in more developed areas. The skies and weather effects are also well done and quite convincing, creating an environment that is quite competitive with top-of-the-line simulations. Best of all, you can crank up the settings to the maximum; a system that ran medium settings in Flight Simulator X at 12 frames per seconds can display Virtual Sailor 7 at the highest settings (and a better resolution) at a consistent 30 frames per second, even with a lot of objects on the screen (and with sophisticated reflection and refraction of light in the ocean). The developer should be commended for making a simulation that looks good but also runs well on most people’s computers. The sound is as good as it’s going to be for a boat simulation: the wind howls and the boats make sound. Virtual Sailor 7 offers competitive graphics and sound that can be displayed on much older systems. The game may not have a high level of detail, but you’ll be staring at the water for most of the time, so as long as the boats and ocean look good (which they do), you’re in fine shape.

Virtual Sailor 7 lets you grab a boat, place it in the water, and sail around a bit. The game includes a small number of missions (called “cruises”) that usually involve sailing to a specific location. The default content is not very extensive: just one area to sail in and a handful of boats. However, there is already lots of downloadable custom content created by users for previous versions of the game that is still compatible with Virtual Sailor 7; these extra boats and scenery files expand the range of the game enormously and shows that Virtual Sailor 7 is pretty easy to edit. You can set the weather of your cruise using a number of pre-sets or defining wind speed, wave height, visibility, and cloud cover yourself. You cannot download real-time weather conditions from the Internet, although creating the conditions yourself is part of the fun. In addition, you can manually change the weather during the simulation, instantly watching your alterations; watching the ocean swell from 4-foot to 25-foot waves in one second is pretty entertaining. The game also allows for a range of realism options, such as allowing for capsizing and sinking. In addition, you have the option of fixing your view to the horizon, which takes all of the vomit-inducing fun out of boating.

The game is pretty easy to control, as the controls can be as simple as steering and setting the engine speed. Virtual Sailor 7 can automatically adjust your sails for maximum speed, or you can adjust all of the rigging yourself. Most of the objects in the game can be directly clicked in addition to using the keyboard commands. Virtual Sailor 7 does not include a tutorial to teach you how to sail, so aspiring seamen should consult an outside source. The game does feature all of the modern (and not-so-modern) tools used in marine operations: telescopes, compasses, sextants, maps, radar, echo sounders, and GPS are all included. Virtual Sailor 7 also supports the use of weapons, which allows for the development of military vessels for use in the game. There are a number of different activities you can undertake in the game, such as towing other boats, blowing up boats, traveling to a distant isle using waypoints, or looking at the marine life. Virtual Sailor 7 also supports multiplayer: you can join in on the fun with your buddies as you sail around the ocean blue.

While Virtual Sailor 7 includes most of the features you would want in a sailing simulation, it lacks the overall appeal that would make the game viable to a large audience. The number of default missions are limited and they won’t keep you interested for very long, and frankly sailing around the world is not as interesting (at least to me) as flying around. Being tied to the ocean takes away some of the allure of seeing recognizable cities pass underneath you or driving on real-world tracks: it’s just ocean. Granted, approaching a port city is a good end to a long journey, but the game is really geared towards people who really like sailing. The game has quality graphics and support for a large range of features; it compares favorably to Flight Simulator X (especially with the much lower price), but I think the fact that people are much more likely to drive a boat than pilot a plane makes the game less attractive to the masses. Nevertheless, those people who are obsessively interested in a marine simulation should look no further than Virtual Sailor 7.