Lifting the veil of mystery surrounding ‘Abandon Ship’
By MICHAEL S. DARNELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 20, 2018
The tide is beginning to turn for Early Access titles.
Once a wasteland of games destined to never see the light of day, broken clones and even out-right scams, Steam’s most controversial storefront has evolved to become the place to look for new and innovative titles.
While there are still a ton of Early Access games not worth the electricity spent to launch them, others like “They Are Billions” and “Astroneers” are outright better than most of the games cluttering up Steam.
While it’s still too soon to tell how it’ll shape up, “Abandon Ship” by Fireblade Software has all the markings of the next great Early Access success story.
This nautical strategy/exploration mashup takes cues from games as diverse as “Sunless Sea” and “FTL,” with an added dose of Lovecraftian overtures muddled into the mixture. In it, you’ll take over the helm of a ship, stolen from a cult that worships an evil lurking beneath the ocean’s surface.
Your mission is simple — don’t die.
“Abandon Ship” eases players into the world with a quick-and-dirty intro to the game’s mythos. You’re escaping from the doomsday cult and have hijacked a schooner on the way out of the door. You’ll have to select the members by unlocking their cells (presumably leaving the unlucky sods not chosen to a grisly fate) and dragging them with you.
Once aboard the ship, you’ll be walked through the game’s various mechanics before being set loose to explore at your own pace. The game is seen from a slanted top-down perspective and the map is broken down into bite-sized chunks, not unlike “FTL.”
The game is comprised of three major components: exploration, combat and choose-your-own-adventure-style choice selection. When in exploration mode, you’ll be dropped into a square section of map blanketed by a fog of war.
There are gates situated to the north, south, east and west that remain locked until certain conditions are met. Right now, those conditions seem to be largely about encountering enemies, but there is a lot of room for growth in this mechanic.
Controlling the ship is handled with the mouse, either with click to move or by holding down the left mouse button. The world is pretty empty at this point, but with the amount of space Fire-blade has to work with, even at this early stage, there is a lot that could be done to populate the maps with unique encounters.
Right now, though, the biggest draw of “Abandon Ship” is what takes up the bulk of the encounters — open-seas combat. On nearly every map lurks pirates, sea monsters and other ne’er do wells that must be defeated. In combat, the view switches to a close-up of the ship and its enemy.
If you’ve ever played “FTL,” you’ll feel right at home with the battle system. If not, it breaks down as follows. Your ship has different sections — the port and sideboard cannons and guns, the helm, mast and medical station. Eventually you’ll be able to upgrade your ship to add new areas.
While in combat, you’ll have to assign a crewmember to each section for it to work properly. For instance, without somebody manning the helm, the ship will be unable to perform specialized maneuvers or escape combat.
Having somebody man the guns will begin to fill up a meter that, once full, will allow you to fire off a volley. Selecting a gunner over a navigator for the job will decrease the amount of time it takes to fill up that meter. The same goes for repairing your ship on the fly, manning the bilge pumps to remove excess water and so forth. Having the right crew composition is key.
There is also a bit of strategy in how you position your ship in combat. You can choose to move farther away to try to avoid close-range weapons or attempt to get close enough to send out a raiding party.
Hand-to-hand combat needs a little work still — remember, Early Access — as it’s fairly basic. You select your fighter, click on the bad guy and pray for the best. Having a Marine on board helps (doesn’t it always), but for the most part your fights are best handled from afar.
Defeated enemy ships drop loot and supplies, which can be cashed in at port to hire new sailors or upgrade your ship. The tech tree at the moment is linear, but there are still hard choices to make. Do you spend your doubloons on a tougher hull, or better guns? Choosing incorrectly can lead to a swift, briny death.
Eventually, I’d like to see more branching paths in terms of upgrades and more varied encounters, but those are all things that can be added as development on “Abandon Ship” progresses.
What impressed me is that for a (at the time this article was written) pre-Early Access title, it’s a very technically solid game. When playing betas and other pre-launch titles, I expect graphical glitches, poor optimization and other bugs. I found nothing like that in “Abandon Ship.”
What I found instead was a game that, as it stands now, is not unlike a really excellent cheese pizza. While a bit plain in some parts, it has a lot of room for added ingredients that could make it truly delicious.
If the chefs over at Fireblade are diligent and continue to build on the great foundation they’ve put into place, expect big things for “Abandon Ship.”
Platform: PC (Steam Early Access)