Abandon Ship has been sailing through Early Access on Steam since last year, and after we first heard talk of a game inspired by FTL: Faster Than Light but with a nautical theme and a side order of Cthulhu, we've had it on our radar (or should that be sonar, perhaps?). Now, as of last month, the game is finished, and we've been exploring the seven seas in search of action and adventure.
Abandon Ship puts you in charge of a small naval vessel and tasks you with escaping from an evil cult which once you helped establish. The story is delivered via text boxes throughout your adventure, with both random narrative elements littered around the place just waiting to be discovered, and pre-defined story beats that activate at certain locations. That said, most of the time your main focus will be on fighting pirates and cultists, as well as upgrading and repairing your ship at the nearest port whenever possible.
A big portion of the game is combat. Each vessel is equipped with cannons, mortars, and other such nautical weapons, some of which are good at damaging the enemy's hull, while others are better at dealing with the opposing crew. Your own crew will have to man their battle stations and then it's a case of targeting parts of the ship you're up against and then pummeling them into submission. There are multiple lanes that you sail into, and there are various weapons that complement the different distances you'll be from your enemy, for example, certain cannons are much better at close range, while other weapons won't work if you're too far away.
There's a lot going on during battle, and it can tricky to keep on top of everything in real-time, but a pause feature allows you to take the time to issue calculated orders. Sailors will be thrown overboard and need rescuing, the hull will crack and require repair, enemies will come aboard for some melee combat, and sometimes you'll have to instruct your crew to brace for impact as huge waves crash into the ship. All of these factors, combined with a need to man your weapons and watch cooldown timers, makes for some engaging tactical sequences.
The combat is quite fun, but after a while, it starts getting a bit too easy. This probably has something to do with the permadeath system that has been employed, as you can only save your game very occasionally (although there are extras that can help, such as a lifeboat add-on that you can buy). Death, then, is most inconvenient given how much progress you'll lose, but at least it adds a bit of gravitas to each encounter, which is handy because after a few hours the combat can get a bit repetitive.
Mixing up the combat are story-driven events that you encounter, and other bonuses waiting to be collected, such as food and gold. Again, these nuggets of narrative start to repeat, although the world is rather large and there are lots of places to explore. The map is broken up into individual areas, and each one has a lighthouse that, once discovered, lifts the fog of war and allows you to see where your objectives are. Each area has a number of exits that can only be accessed once a certain number of objectives have been completed, so you're encouraged to explore your surroundings, although that's easier said than done when there are pirates, cultists, aggressive forts, spiders, and a giant Cthulhu-like creature out to sink you.
When the tentacled beast catches you there's a battle sequence where your sailors must hack away at it and then escape. Eventually, however, you can earn the tools needed to take the beast down, at which point you head to a prescribed location and prepare for a battle. Hopefully, you'll have enough power to take them down, but if not it's back to the drawing board, where you have to collect together a new crew and start from scratch (unless you were sensible enough to save just before you start the endgame encounter - alas, we weren't).
There's a fair amount of grind in Abandon Ship and in the end, it started to feel like we were going through the motions, however, the generally gentle challenge and the tactical battles made for an absorbing experience that we happily returned to again and again. We enjoyed the theme and the atmosphere, although the repetitious combat and harsh save system took the edge off. That's not a wholehearted recommendation, then, but if you enjoyed FTL and you're a sucker for Pirates of the Caribbean then we'd advise you to take a closer look because, despite some limitations, Abandon Ship is a polished and engaging adventure.
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