by Marko Susimetsä
reviewed on PC
The many hazards of an unknown world (cntd)
You also get missions telling you to go to various places, but not telling you where they are or how to get to them. One time, I was looking for something called “Eastern Waters” and finally found an icon on the map with that title - only to find that approaching it actually took me to an entirely new map showing the eastern parts of the island kingdoms. I fail to understand why the entire map is not visible at once and why you have to travel to these specific points in order to move from the middle map to the eastern map etc.
Sir, we can only fire full broadsides!
The developers have stated that they wanted to focus on what is the most fun in pirate games: sea action. Hence, I’m willing to forgive their lack of focus on welcoming players to this new world by explaining something about the factions or why I can carry out some of the missions over and over again. After all, these are just excuses to throw you into sea battles.
And, truth to be said, the sea battles are kind of fun. They are very fast-paced with the ships moving about relatively fast, turning around and firing broadsides at each other. You can choose from several types of ammunition to focus on cutting down the crew, taking down the rigging or just punching holes into the hull of the enemy ship. You may also have special weaponry in the form of mortars and flamethrowers.
The sea battles can take place in different kinds of environments - sometimes by an island where the sea is littered with mines, sometimes amongst rocks etc. giving them nice variety. You can take part in battles taking place between two factions, interrupt or join in pirate attacks or pick on merchants. The enemy ships can sometimes come in bigger groups, especially on missions, which will make you think twice about your plan of attack. Using your telescope to study the enemy ships or towers will give your cannons an attack bonus(!), but that will not save you when you attack a clearly superior force. Especially if they have an artefact that they can use to call upon a giant squid-like creature to dismantle and sink your ship.
Still, there are some strange design choices here as well. For example, you cannot force an enemy ship to surrender. Even when you beat them down with your cannons until they can be boarded, you will have to fight the crew separately in a deck-to-deck battle if you want to capture the ship. The action here is very confusing and the game does little to help you understand the best way to fight a boarding battle. At one point, I attacked a ship and the power bar was about 95% for me - but then my 5 shooters kept making 0 damage while the two enemy shooters made 2-4 each turn until all of my shooters were down. I began to resort to merely sinking the ships. Strangely enough, if you just sink a ship, you will be able to pick up their cargo as it remains floating on the surface of the sea (even if it consists mainly of cannon balls), marked by a handy beacon of light. Another point is the inability to fire your cannons until they are all loaded and in full broadsides. Even if your enemy is one hit short of sinking, you will have to wait until the full broadside is ready until you can take them down. Still, I do appreciate the fact that I can adjust the horizontal angle of the cannons by a maximum of 18 degrees for better aiming.
Arrr! Where’s the rum?
The biggest weakness of Tempest is definitely the scant help it gives to the player in coming to know the game world and the idiosyncrasies of its UI and gameplay design. When I found myself exploring the menus and trying out this and that, I was mostly reminded of my teen years and playing games on my Commodore 64. Back then, gamers were very willing to spend time just trying to figure out how a game was supposed to be played. These days, gamers expect more hand-holding and easily give up on games that do not lead them directly into the meat of the gameplay.
Once you do get to understand the game mechanics and begin to know some of the factions, the game becomes more enjoyable. I still avoid boarding like the plague, however, and I hope this part of the gameplay will be tweaked in the future - even a duel between captains as in the old Sid Meier’s Pirates! would be preferable to what we have now. It would also help flesh out the RPG aspect of the game, which is somewhat underrepresented at this point (your captain is little more than a picture on one of the screens). Nevertheless, as you continue playing, you begin to see that there’s a good storyline amongst the various generic missions and enough complexities in the gameplay to keep things interesting. In fact, for the low-cost game that it is, Tempest is a very delightful game that offers fun and action that you can enjoy in as small or hefty doses as you like.
Fast action, pretty graphics, pirates!, sail ships!
Bad lead-in/tutorial and UI, occasionally mystifying gameplay design.