Simulation games often have a very niche market, with few gamers appreciating or enjoying highly detailed replication of real life scenarios. Perhaps that is why Reality Twist have fused it with another niche genre, to create a criminal-investigation-come-ship-simulator PC game. It’s quite an unusual mix and one that has some potential, but sadly the game doesn’t quite manage to pull it off.
You take on the role of Finn Asdair, a member of the Coast Guard, who patrols the seven seas with his team aboard the Daniel Defoe, rescuing stricken sailors and investigating criminal activity. The Daniel Defoe, which acts as the mothership, is nicely detailed and you are free to walk around and explore the cabins or just helm from the bridge. It’s also equipped with a lab, allowing you to process evidence during your investigations, while the interrogation room aides you in unravelling more of the mystery.
It’s joined by the Luke Fox, which is a smaller and more agile daughter boat that you tend to use for rescues and boarding other vessels. Although you can’t freely move around the daughter boat, it too is nicely modelled with high levels of attention to detail, alongside the nice effects you can see as you cut through the water.
The first couple of missions are fairly straight forward, in order to let you get you used to the controls, but the two ships really aren’t all that complicated. While operating them via the keyboard arrows is intuitive, they lack the intricacies that fans of the Ship Simulator series would enjoy. It is possible to operate the controls from the bridge via the first person view, but trying to click on buttons and adjusting throttles with the mouse often isn’t worth the hassle.
Straying away from the simulation gameplay and down a more narrative-led path, the game is split between being trapped on a ghost ship and flashbacks as to how you got there. As you explore the ghost ship, you trigger memories which you then play out. It all gets under way as you respond to reports of a man overboard, before the victim reveals that they witnessed a murder on a nearby oil rig, leading to pay it a visit in order to search for clues and talk to the people there.
Although I wasn’t expecting much, navigating the dialogue menus can feel laborious, especially when questions need to be asked in a particular order in order to proceed, and the voice acting is poor. Lines are often delivered without enthusiasm, although that could partly be down to the bland script, which is far from stellar. I often found myself skipping through conversations, skim reading for bits of information that would be of any use. It’s a shame, because the other sound effects are far better. The sections which take place on the ghost ship are really quite atmospheric thanks to the creaking hull and other spooky sounds. The music, although nothing special, also does well to reflect the action on screen, whether it’s a chase sequence or slower paced section.
As you proceed to uncover evidence of misdeeds beyond a simple murder, it can often be frustrating not to know what it is you need to do next. Certain points had me wandering for what felt like ages, hoping to see a flashing object to signify a clue or tool that can be added to your inventory. And then once you’ve found a clue, you revisit everyone you’ve spoken too, clicking and dragging the item out of your inventory and onto the character in a classic point & click style, in the hope they have something new to say.
If you’re lucky, and you ask the right questions first time or happen to stumble across a critical clue quickly, then the game does flow quite well. You can always refer to your logbook or radio your crew to see if they have any hints for you, but there were times when even these weren’t enough and I had to resort to video guides and playthroughs to stop me from pulling my hair out.
A handful of bugs can also lead to hair-pulling moments. Some of them are easy to overlook, such as waves clipping through the bottom of the boat as it is tossed about in the waves, but others are far more annoying, such as when the fog effects follow your character as they go inside, making it near impossible to see anything for the few seconds before it vanishes. The character animations are hilariously bad and the lip syncing leaves much to be desired, alongside the already lacklustre voice acting. There were a few more serious bugs where my character would transport several meters backwards, which probably had something to do with the many invisible walls, but I can at least say I didn’t come across any game breaking bugs.
I’ve purposely tried to be tight-lipped about the storyline, not just because spoilers would, well, spoil a mystery game such as this, but because the story is one of the few highlights that I think people might enjoy and make the game worthwhile. Although it’s difficult to tell, there are multiple endings to the story. The first ending that I got finished rather abruptly, which left me feeling slightly disappointed as the credits rolled. It was only as I browsed the achievements while the credits rolled that I notice that multiple endings were possible. Going back in an attempt to get a different ending posed another problem thanks to the terrible checkpoint system. It’s almost non-existent, in fact, and only saves the game when you complete a mission. It doesn’t actually tell you when that is though, so I had to replay quite a few sections thanks to me quitting just after a cutscene, which I assumed indicated the end of the mission, only to find when I reloaded my save that I was very much mistaken.
Although somewhat far fetched, Coast Guard’s storyline can be rather captivating and adds a refreshing layer to the game. However, it gives the impression that it doesn’t really know what it wants to be, without the depth to a full ship simluator and with some lacking gameplay during the investigations. If you’re looking for something to keep you busy for a few hours, this will certainly do just that, but you might be left wondering if you could have better spent your time with a game that focuses solely on the side of the game you enjoyed most.