This year, there are two major nautical themed titles coming out that you’ve no doubt heard about. One of these is Sea of Thieves by Rare, which is arriving in March, and then there’s Skull & Bones from Ubisoft due to land this Fall. Both looking to tackle different elements of being a sea-farer. Sea of Thieves bringing exploration to the main hull, and Skull & Bones manning the cannons for more combat focused gameplay. The real question is though, have you heard of the third nautical themed title coming out this year? Abandon Ship.
Fireblade Software lowers the sails and set off with their PC exclusive title, Abandon Ship bringing the management of a ship to the hands of wannabe Captains. Abandon Ship is a singleplayer only title and takes heavy inspiration from FTL: Faster Than Light, and Sunless Sea. How I’ll explain in a moment.
Abandon Ship’s main storyline focuses on escaping from a Doomsday Cult who starts off the campaign by chasing you after you escape from them. You grab a selection of three crew members and leave the island stealing one of the ships nearby. All of this action is all told through either full-screen artwork with text unfolding the narrative in the lower thirds, or through pop-up paper sheets that allow you to click an option at the bottom to progress depending on the choice.
The exploration mode allows you to travel across randomly generated maps to get to any of the gates on the edges of the maps. These gates are initially locked and require a certain number of tasks to be completed before they allow you passage.
You can activate tasks throughout the world by selecting them, they’ll either drop you into combat against Haliphron, or maybe a passing ship you can attack or leave, or maybe a sunken ship you may wish to explore.
The areas you sail through in a similar style to, Sunless Sea come with random weather elements that can drastically change the tide of the battle when in combat mode. Heavy rain can help you with extinguishing fires, lightning can stun your entire crew, and ice-burgs shatter across your hull.
Moving onto combat, this is where the game requires maximum player interaction that goes beyond just clicking to the next story sheet and speedily cruising the seas looking for tasks. In combat, the player is able to pause the gameplay and strategically assign crew members to various tasks before returning to real-time mode to watch them carry out the commands.
Abandon Ship is an incredibly fun game to play that fills you to the brim with excitement as you sink an enemy ship, or grabs your ankles and pulls your under the stress when you’re falling victim to enemy flak
When in battle you’ll have to click individual -or drag and select multiple- crew members and assign them to weapons, repairs, navigation, and healing. With an almighty smash, you can slam the side of your ship into the enemy’s, causing massive damage to their hull and allowing your crew the chance to jump on board their ship and attack them.
Either that or pull back after impact and unload a bunch of cannonballs into their side and watch as it explodes to a sunken pile of enemy regret.
Crews can be as big as six members, with one Captain, which is yourself. You need to stay alive in order to continue with the game. You could find yourself losing a battle, as a result, your ship is blown to smithereens. But as long as the Captain is alive you stand a chance of survival, either by running to a lifeboat, or grabbing hold of some debris and floating to a nearby shore. Maybe you’ll be picked up by a passing ship and gain a new crew member, who knows!?
These moments are shown by the pop-up papers I mentioned earlier overlaying an animation you’re unable to really see. Sometimes though, for example, if you’re hanging onto debris, time will pass with your health slowly depleting, and sometimes you don’t make it resulting in a Captain death, which in turn results in Permadeath and your save file is deleted.
During the main campaign, you’re not only escaping the Doomsday Cult, but also a giant slimy Kraken that seems hellbent on tracking you down. To start, your ship can’t handle the writhing tentacles of the beast so you flee and try to remain un-tracked by completing tasks around the world to keep the detection meter down until you gain the resources and research to take it down.
Sometimes crew can just stand around if they haven’t been assigned to do anything, but an option to queue up commands would be great
Eventually, you may have upgraded your ship enough to annihilate them all, and these upgrades can be applied by visiting various Ports around the world. From these, you can visit the Shipwright who will repair your ship, assign new weapons, rearrange weapons, and upgrades. There’s also a tavern that allows you to hire new crew depending on stats and cost.
There’s a “Combat Story” available to play which really tones down on the reading by focusing on just throwing you into battle, after battle. The story that comes with this mode is that your sister has been captured, and you set sail to retrieve her, but years pass and you’re put into various battles.
You’re only allowed to return to port five times in total to visit the Shipwright and the Tavern, allowing you to repair your ship or assign new crew members.
Abandon Ship is an incredibly fun game to play that fills you to the brim with excitement as you sink an enemy ship, or grabs your ankles and pulls your under the stress when you’re falling victim to enemy flak. You’ll mostly find yourself pausing a fair amount, although more frequently when you start to really struggle.
The pausing system is implemented very nicely but I’d be happier seeing camera control to zoom in and out on the ship whilst keeping the enemy in viewpoint at the top of the screen. This option to zoom in would come in particularly handy for when you’re fighting against Haliphron, or other crews as it’s hard to select individual members amongst the mess of fighting bodies.
The areas you sail through in a similar style to, Sunless Sea come with random weather elements that can drastically change the tide of the battle when in combat mode.
But thankfully for now, the bottom left crew circles allows you to individually select members easily without changing the FTL inspired viewpoint, but the ease of access with being able to see closer would be great. I’d also love to see the pages of text minimised so that we can enjoy the game animations behind them more clearly.
The art style of Abandon Ship is certainly one that is memorable from the off. Firstly, let’s focus our gaze onto the combat scene first. It’s played from a sort of top-down, side profile viewpoint, and has a fair amount of buttons that blend into the overall hue of the game.
A murky brown, greenish theme. The ship models and water textures are detailed but seem to hold a sort of, oily texture. This is more understandable when you come out to the exploration mode to realise that you’re actually part of a painting.
The “fog of war” that surrounds your ships unexplored areas is signified as a blank canvas, revealing the area hidden as if dispersing a fog when you pass through it. The edges of the map are in fact the frame of a painting and as you sail the oily canvas, the painting is alive, with waves crashing against themselves in a smooth wash.
This art style is inspired by Fireblade’s adoration for nautically themed painting from painters such as Ivan Aivazovsky, and Willem Velde. The classic traditional style of these has been incredibly well captured and brought to life through the game, although it’s really only during the exploration mode where this shines.
The audio introduces a dramatic soundtrack that plays subtly throughout the dramatic combat moments, but the exploration mode often finds you embracing a calm silence. The main audio work is the sound effects that deliver an impact, and bring destruction right up against you.
The occasional voice acting calls out during Abandon Ship’s battles, such as the Captain shouting, “Brace for impact!” as you smash the side of the boat into the enemy. Swords clash, waves rush past, and Haliphron gurgle away. instead Abandon Ship is almost like an interactive novel, perhaps similarly compared to Inkle’s, Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! Titles.
With an almighty smash you can slam the side of your ship into the enemy’s, causing massive damage to their hull and allowing your crew the chance to jump on board their ship and attack them.
The permadeath element really does make you strive to do your best, especially when you’ve progressed incredibly far and you know that once you die, you have to take part in the entire story all over again to get back to where you were.
The difficulty levels are also incredibly hard if you don’t play strategically, even on easy setting. Bumping up the difficulty can lead to you gaining penalty’s and of course, it becomes harder in general.
There are some things I found odd about Abandon Ship, such as there being a gender choice during a limited character selection process, but the female gender button didn’t seem to work. There also seems to be a lack of brightness controls in the in-game options, and control schemes have to be assigned pre-launch which can be annoying.
Also, the timer for when the Cult, Kraken, or Haliphron begin to hunt you down seems to be fairly short and happens a bit too frequently for my liking. I also felt like the crew could have benefited from some form of AI to do stuff themselves.
Sometimes crew can just stand around if they haven’t been assigned to do anything, but an option to queue up commands would be great, allowing me to shout at a gunner to go and fix a hole then return to the cannon after.
It’s a game I intend on returning to frequently to try and progress my story, but I certainly feel like the story is too linear and after several playthroughs, I can see myself becoming more detached from the story and just blitzing through.
It’s a nice single-player PC title that really challenges the player, and the management system has been perfected. Abandon Ship’s inspiration from FTL and Sunless Sea make for a beautifully, well-thought-out world, but the permadeath might be too unforgiving.
A code was provided to complete this review.