This Game Is Taking On Water… And Fast!

HIGH A delightful questline about dealing with a mischievious spirit.

LOW Every moment spent out of combat.

WTF Why name this after one of the most famous arcade games ever?

There’s a small number of gamers who, likely because of childhoods spent with Sid Meier’s Pirates, will play anything that offers ship-to-ship combat in the age of sail. There’s only one great in this genre — Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag — but fans still try anything that offers galleons to sink and treasure to plunder.

As a proud member of this cohort, I’ve been known to be overly-forgiving when dealing with pirate-themed games, so please understand that I am the exact target audience for Tempest. And with that in mind, please trust when I say that it is a complete mess.

A pirate adventure built in the Sid Meier style of trading, sailing, and cannoneering, Tempest is set in an alternate world where only pirates exist. Rather than setting the adventure in the Spanish Main as so many titles do, Tempest‘s developers have created a strange world made up entirely of archipelagos and ships.

After losing their boat to a kraken attack in the game’s opening seconds, it’s up to the player to rebuild their crew from scratch and uncover the secret of why sea monsters plague the shipping routes. At least I think that’s the plot — technical issues kept me from being able to complete said questline.

Gameplay is broken down into three distinct categories — sailing, in which the player picks a destination and watches their ship move around the map. Ship-to-ship combat, where massive vessels fire broadsides at one another, and on-foot exploration, which is an unmitigated disaster.

I’ll start with Tempest‘s one good feature, as the ship-to-ship combat is entertaining. Players control their flagship, and other than a few instances where a story has them siding with allies in a larger battle, they’ll generally be on their own against 1-3 enemy ships. Combat is simple and satisfying as players choose what kind of shots to use — chain to shred sails, shrapnel to soften crews up before boarding, or standard cannonballs to send ships to Davy Jones’ locker. The key is managing distance and trying to minimize the ship’s exposure to enemy firing arcs while attempting to line up and fire at the moment of an enemy’s maximum vulnerability.

In addition to the basic ship combat, Tempest has magical and steampunk elements, as players can buy additional equipment to power up their ships. Whether they want to call sea monsters to lock their opponents in place, strike them with lightning bolts, or just perform a quick 180 to bring their second row of cannons to bear, there’s a piece of tech for almost any playstyle.

The sailing and docking mechanics range from passable to broken. It should be simple to move from island to island doing jobs for various factions and selling goods stolen in combat, but the menus aren’t up to the task.

Tempest was clearly built with tablets in mind — plenty of big round finger-sized buttons all over the screens and items that are meant to be dragged from place to place are dead giveaways. Only a minimal amount of conversion has been done to make it playable on consoles, and the menus suffer due to the lack of effort. It’s nearly impossible to assign officers to shipboard tasks and the game’s journal is so badly designed that when I accidentally took on too many missions at once, I was told that I’d have to flip to the next page to check on them. However, there is no button that exists to do it.

On-foot combat is Tempest‘s worst feature, and it’s so awful that it would serve as an automatic dealbreaker for anyone not obsessed with pirate games. I considered quitting more than once as my character floated weightlessly through a jungle, ineffectually hacking away at pirates and skeletons while getting caught in traps and blown up by randomly-stacked gunpowder barrels.

A tiny bright spot is the writing, which manages to offer some interesting and mysterious plotlines to justify the combat, but even this element isn’t free from the game’s general shoddiness. The writing is badly inconsistent with regard to whether it wants to feature pirate-themed language or not, and has fairly egregious typing and translation errors. One error was so bad that it nearly caused me to fail a mission — I was told to head to an objective on ‘Sea Eagle Island’, but no such place existed on the map. This is about as bad a translation error as it’s possible to make.

Despite all of this, I love pirate games so much that I would have stuck with Tempest right to the end if it hadn’t locked me out of completing one of the main quests. In order to research krakens, I was told to go to an island and buy some of their ink. I obeyed and headed straight there, only to find the resource couldn’t be purchased. I had plenty of money and space in my hold, and the ‘buy’ button was lit up, but no matter what I tried, the game wouldn’t let me complete the objective.

I tried to meet Tempest more than halfway. I was willing to meet it 99% of the way, but in the end, it couldn’t even do that much for me.

Rating: 2.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by HeroCraft. It is currently available on PC and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 30 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game was rated T by the ESRB and Use of Alcohol and Violence. For a game about drunken sailors battling skeletons, the content is fairly tame! There are a few references to slavers that have to be defeated, but nothing else particularly mature. Even younger teens should be fine!

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the majority of the game without sound and encountered no difficulties. I noticed no audio cues. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. The left thumbstick is used to control the boat’s direction, the right controls the camera. Shoulder and face buttons are used to select and fire various weapons, as well as changing the ship’s rigging.

Daniel Weissenberger
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