For someone who gets severe sea sickness whenever he steps on a boat, I do sure love tall ships. Something about the graceful ballet of wooden behemoths brimming with cannons trying to drive each other to the briny depths always gets my motor running… or sails unfurled, in this case. Abandon Ship does a lot to scratch my Melville-ian itch and throws in a layer of Lovecraftian horror cults for good measure.
The gameplay is going to be immediately familiar to anyone who played the indie sensation Faster Than Light from 2012. You begin as a member of the aforementioned Lovecraftian horror cult about to summon some horrific tentacled beast but, in a last minute burst of sanity, you turn away from the cult and are imprisoned. You get the chance to escape and grab as many prisoners as you can, who become your starting crew.
Each of your crew members have a class and stats, which directly influences how well they can man the various stations on your ship. The gunner is good at manning the cannons, the marine is good at crossing swords with your foes during boarding actions, the navigator is good on the helm, etc. Ship on ship fights are simplified affairs where your ships are always lined up side-to-side and you can control distance. While a more robust movement system would be appreciated, the simplicity of ship movement allows for a lot more complexity in your crew actions without also worrying about wind direction, currents, and other factors that would influence a more complex sailing system. Fights were frantic and enjoyable and I felt a real sense of accomplishment when I managed to take a ship intact. It was much easier to just blow a ship out of the water, but taking them intact meant bigger payouts.
The game also includes an exploration map for moving around between encounters. It starts off fogged over but can be revealed by sailing into the fog or finding lighthouses to reveal large chunks of the map. I feel this is a weaker part of the game, since you have an arrow pointing to the nearest point of interest and the chance of secret or random encounters seems low to non-existent. There is a timer however so spending too long on a given map causes the cult’s kraken to come looking for you which leads to a survival encounter where you must fend off the kraken long enough to run away. It’s not that the exploration map is bad, it just feels unnecessary due to the hand holding from point to point.
Your ship can be upgraded with a wealth of armaments and enhancements. Since I tend to try and take ships intact, I started equipping things like acid mortars that damaged crew while leaving the hull intact and hiring more marines to board the enemy ship and cut down their crew. Other than that, you can add upgrades to the weapons themselves to decrease their reload time or increase their damage. You can also put ramming spikes on the side of your ship, since ramming is done via sideswipe. There was a lot of depth to the upgrade system and I only really scratched the surface during my play time.
Abandon Ship is a good game for anyone with a love of sailing ships and Lovecraftian monstrosities. Anyone who put a couple dozen hours into Faster Than Light will find themselves quite at home on Abandon Ship’s choppy waters while those who missed out will still find an enjoyable game with a lot of strategic depth. Even with the somewhat lackluster exploration aspects, the combat is meaty enough to keep me coming back and firing broadsides at vile cultists.
~~S. W. Jackson~~