In an industry suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly overcrowded by boating games; an industry where even Bioshock veterans aren’t able to achieve a return on investment with their games; will indie contemplative sailing simulation Make Sail distinguish itself enough to make a dent in that hell-hole that is the Steam store?
Make Sail is a deep but casual sailing simulation where players are asked to build and relaxingly sail their own boats. The procedurally generated fantasy, deserted sea, sprinkled with interesting islands and rock formations, provides the perfect backdrop for the experience. In early access, Make Sail is effectively a sort of Kerbal Space Program of sailing minus the goofiness.
This is where Make Sail distinguishes itself most notably. It doesn’t shy away from the cathartic and reflexive experience of sailing. There are no enemies or deadly dangers. At most, our boat gets destroyed, but the components used to build it are never lost. The developers have built the whole game around the calm that floating, dragged on by a gentle gust of wind, evokes on the occasional sailor.
Popcannibal, building on their experience on Elegy For a Dead World, were able to craft an accessible experience capable of retaining all complexities of sailing. This is possible thanks to a series of remarkably accurate simulations. Wind, cloth, buoyancy, physics, water all work together to make an extremely realistic representation of the sailing experience without drowning in the complexities of real-life sailing. With just a pinch of boat-fail fun in the process.
Where the experience falls short, though, is in the main campaign. Players are asked to collect chimes from islands around the map and deliver them to the central island. Doing so will clear part of the storm that makes islands farther away nearly impossible to reach. Here players will find new chimes, boat components and blueprints to collect.
But while the errand boy mechanics are by some considered the scourge of gaming, in Make Sail it just highlights the best part of the game: lazily floating from one island to the next. Exploring and fantasying about a lore only hinted by ruins and old, crumbling statues.
Let’s Delve Into The Mechanics
The game shines the most in the act of sailing itself. Boats are very easily controlled by ordinary WASD controls, with W and A used to adjust the sails, and S and D to turn the rudder. At some point players will start finding some more mechanical components, which will need to be activated with F. But, sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any controller support yet.
Boats float and move seamlessly, asking for just the right amount of attention from players to make it relaxing but not boring. Players need to avoid rocks and islands, account for the wind’s direction, and some boats might require more work to keep them balanced then others.
Most sails and components are easy to understand, although require a bit more work to master. The only notable exception is, possibly, the Thief Sail, which is a bit of a doozy to properly control. The game comes with additional components, that, while not strictly realistically sail-themed, certainly contribute to make the experience more varied and somewhat wacky. Throughout Make Sail players will have access to tethers to grapple the flying fishes that populate the game’s sky and hitch a ride. They will have access to all kinds of energy based components; from jets to simple motors, and the slightly more preposterous but particularly enjoyable to control energy sails.
Not Just Sailing
One could hardly sail without a boat. The game features an editor that allows players to build a virtually infinite amount of boats. This is accessed through docks found in most islands in the game.
Here players can snap components together with no limit, other then the availability of said components. Although, if one is not careful that everything is properly attached together and properly balanced, this might quite likely make for very fragile boats.
The systems is quite solid, but not without problems. First and foremost it can be annoying to try and make components snap to the correct point. Which adds up, if one tries to build a whole ship from scratch. But luckily the developers included a set of blueprints (found around the map) that make for really varied experiences. While I could never bring myself to build a whole ship, modifying an existing blueprint allows enough experimentation to make the experience worth-while.
Another mechanic that could definitely do with some work are the controls of the main character. Players are free to swim around, walk on islands, and, most notably, walk around the boats itself. The controls work well enough, but feel somewhat clunky, making them an obvious mean to an end, rather then something enjoyable to do in itself. The mechanic is quite essential on occasions; if your boat gets destroyed because of a reckless approach to an island, players can just swim the way left to the dock. Furthermore, all components are on islands, and can only be collected by boat-less characters. So, while the character control is usable and essential, its possibly hasty implementation somewhat breaks the elegance of the rest of the game.
All and all, I would definitely recommend the game if you’re looking for a slow and relaxing afternoon spent sailing in an interesting and fantastical sea. The game could be considered a staple of slow game design. It features only the right amount of challenge to keep players engaged, but never relying on their obsession for player retention.
The game could do with some more content and smoothing out some rough edges. However, I would highlight how the game is still in early access, and already a really enjoyable experience. The devs intend to add extra content after the release date, but I’d say Make Sail would be worth buying even in its current form.
This might not be a crowd pleasing product that will go on to obtain viral-level financial success; but its intentions are pure enough. The mastery of the developer’s craftsmanship is visible in every second of the game. Make Sail has the potential to satisfy the craving for relaxing, reflective sailing experiences that are nearly absent from the current market.