Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Days of Sail: Wind over Waters Review

Days of Sail: Wind over Waters, developed and published by immersionFX Games.
The Good: In-game help is very useful and makes it easy to learn how to sail, races can be exciting
The Not So Good: Only a handful of locations and races greatly reduces replay value, low resolution graphics with bad object pop-in issues, random placement at the beginning of races predetermines the winner, poor collision physics, no multiplayer
What say you? A sailing simulation that is severely limited by its lack of variety: 4/8

Ah, sailing. The wind in your hair, the salt in your veins…wait a minute, didn’t I just say this about a month ago? I guess that’s what happens when you review two sailing games in quick succession. Anyway, sailing racing games have the potential to be pretty interesting: the strategy involved with harnessing the wind in the most efficient way possible while still going towards the goal can result in some fascinating sailing action. If it’s good enough for the Olympics, it’s good enough for me! Days of Sail: Wind over Waters features time trial and competitive races around the Greek islands. Will this nautical adventure sail into the horizon of greatness, or sink to the bottom like a rock of ineptitude?

The graphics of Days of Sail: Wind over Waters are pretty bad. First off, the game features a low resolution that can’t be adjusted, making the game look very old. Secondly, the game has severe object pop-in; it makes the game frustrating to play when you run into a land mass that wasn’t there two seconds earlier. The textures are also poor, as you can clearly see the different sections in the ocean textures. The game is also very clearly played inside a square box, as the corners of the world are plainly visible. I realize that the game is developed by a small company, but if you are making a 3-D sailing simulation, one of the draws of the game is at least decent looking graphics. The poor quality and especially low resolution of Days of Sail: Wind over Waters makes the game hard to look at. The sound is much along the same lines. The background music is very random and doesn’t seem to be nautical in any fashion. The sound effects are hokey and generally consist of moving sails and less than impressive collision effects. Players used to experiencing simulations like Flight Simulator will be severely disappointed by the graphics and sound of Days of Sail: Wind over Waters, and the game doesn’t even favorably compare to nautical wargames such as Distant Guns and Dangerous Waters (both of which are also published by small companies).

Days of Sail: Wind over Waters lets you command a sailboat in either time-trial simulation mode or races against AI boats. The entire game takes place around a small portion of the Greek isles (interestingly also the location of Virtual Sailor 7), and the game only includes 5 levels for simulation mode and 4 races, including one available in the free demo. This is not very much content at all, and since each scenario only takes around 5-10 minutes to finish, you’ll quickly exhaust all of the available options. You can change the wind and weather, but these are relatively superficial alterations.

Steering a sailboat is pretty easy, and the game does do a good job in explaining how to sail correctly. Essentially, you will be turning, adjusting the mainsail (firmer for wind coming towards you), and raising the spinnaker when the wind is coming from behind. There are some interesting tactical decisions on how to get to the finish line faster: is it better to tack back and forth to move the fastest, or go in a straight line at a slower speed? The one thing you don’t want to do is sail directly into the wind; races involving this wind direction can result in some interesting tactics. Unfortunately, the races involving the AI have multiple problems. First, your initial heading is completely random. In several races, I was facing away from the finish line, while three AI boats were pointed directly towards the goal: guess who won. The game also does not let you activate the map until the race start, so you can’t figure out how to correct yourself until it’s generally too late. Talk about frustrating. This is completely inexcusable and baffling as to why the developers would make it unfair from the beginning. It’s not very good strategy to be facing the other way when the race starts, and the winner of each race is predetermined based on their initial heading and placement. Days of Sail: Wind over Waters also features poor collision physics, as boats can pass through each other and there seems to be a prejudice against the human player: while you are slowed to a stop when wrecked, the AI goes on its merry way to the finish line. There is a heath rating of your boat to discourage accidents, but if you wreck the number of time necessary to sink your vessel, you’ve already lost. The AI can be a good opponent, using some advanced tactics such as blocking, but your rivals can also ram you for no particular reason. A lot of this would be avoided if Days of Sail: Wind over Waters includes multiplayer, but it sadly does not. I will say that, if you are evenly matched from the beginning, some races can be quite exciting. I’ve pulled off some pretty good moves to win in a close margin, and the different available strategies can make for some interesting results. It’s too bad you can’t test them against human competition.

Days of Sail: Wind over Waters could have been a nice little sailboat racing title, but the game has too many problems to be a worthwhile title. I’m not really concerned about the graphics (I put more value in the gameplay), but Days of Sail: Wind over Waters is pretty ugly at the game’s fixed low resolutions. And the graphics are not just ugly; they affect the gameplay with the game’s horrendous object pop-in. The races of Days of Sail are the most compelling part of the game. Thus, it is unfortunate that there are only four in the entire game and there are so many things wrong with them: random placement of ships at the beginning of races makes winning a race more luck than skill, and the AI has the propensity to collide into you. There is definite potential for Days of Sail as a regatta simulation, but the game needs more race locations, the addition of multiplayer, and the elimination of a number of glaring problems before it’s a recommended title.