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Virtual Skipper 5: 32nd America's Cup - The Game (PC) artwork

Virtual Skipper 5: 32nd America's Cup - The Game (PC) review


"32nd America's Cup is a sailboat racing simulation, and a sailboat racing simulation by its very nature is pretty much the exact opposite of the white knuckle speed-thrill games (for comparison, the top speed I've seen in this game is around 45 km/h. Noticably slower than 2,000). So, instead of simply holding the accellerator down and making the proper turns, America's Cup requires planning ahead, a healthy understanding of weather conditions, constant knowledge of your position relative to your opponent's, and proper jib manipulation. "



Racing. It's all about speed, to get to the finish line first, you have to go fast. In a good number of recent racing games, this has become the dominating feature of gameplay. Games like F-Zero and Wipeout push the envelope by creating vehicles that blast along the track at 2,000 kilometers per hour. Fairly daunting. However, what if instead of going fast, a game derived its tension by instead giving you a lot to do?

32nd America's Cup is a sailboat racing simulation, and a sailboat racing simulation by its very nature is pretty much the exact opposite of the white knuckle speed-thrill games (for comparison, the top speed I've seen in this game is around 45 km/h. Noticeably slower than 2,000). So, instead of simply holding the accelerator down and making the proper turns, America's Cup requires planning ahead, a healthy understanding of weather conditions, constant knowledge of your position relative to your opponent's, and proper jib manipulation.

Anyone who's not intimately familiar with the rules of the sea would do well to head straight to the game's expansive tutorial mode. Apparently, captaining a ship is complicated, and if you're anything like me, skipping the tutorial will result in a lot of embarrassed floating dead in the water while your opponents move along their merry way, leaving you to wonder just how the hell they're doing that. The tutorial, thankfully, is deep enough to bring even a total newbie up to speed, and is presented as a series of simple objectives, so it never really gets overbearing. This is good, because the world of competitive sailing is an arcane thing, and learning it in its entirety is going to take up a good deal of your time.

So, you've done the tutorial. You know the difference between the jib and the spinnaker, know when to sheet your sails, what tacking is, and the rules of priority, it's time to hit the circuit. Again. Perhaps with a little more success this time. And success you may have, because now you know that you aren't supposed to cross the starting line until the pre-race phase (a sort of jockeying for optimal starting position) ends. You understand the rules, but that's half the battle.

There is a big difference between knowing what the different sails do, and understanding exactly when to change sails so that the wind is catching the right one as you round turns. You may understand why tacking, the practice of slaloming to retain optimal position relative to the wind, is a good idea. However, that's a long way from being good at using it to your advantage. It's important to remember that tacking adds distance you must travel, and at some point the cost of added distance outweighs the benefit of higher speed.

This strange tilt of the scales in the opposite direction of most racers is one of the game's greatest strengths and weaknesses. It's good because it's different, the game doesn't feel as though it's merely a racer. However it can be stifling, there's so much going on, and tiny mistakes can cost you dearly. There's no easy way to make up lost ground.

In some ways, America's Cup feels like a fighting game more so than a racer in that there is a huge gap between being able to play the game, and being able to play the game well. If you make a small mistake, such as deploying the wrong sail even a few seconds too soon, it's very easy to end up trapped in one place for ten or fifteen seconds trying to straighten it out. It's rather daunting for a racer to be so complicated and unforgiving. At the same time, it's interesting in its own way, because it breaks the mold so thoroughly. The more you play, the more you just intuitively feel what you're supposed to do and when. It's not something that can be explained very well, you just 'know'.

On the simulation end, the game does a fabulous job of presenting the world of sailing as well. Ships rock and bob as the forces of wind and wave interact realistically with the ship. Water glistens in the sunlight as far as the eye can see, and whenever you issue a command, a crew of guys in visors scurry about your boat like ants to make whatever adjustment you called for. The physics themselves are completely convincing, the boats slowly gain or lose speed depending on turns, or tilt to the point they nearly capsize if you catch the wind the wrong way with the wrong sails up. In a simulation, especially one where races can last up to a half hour, these little touches are important, contributing much to the game's immersion factor.

32nd America's Cup is very good at being what it is. A hardcore simulation of modern competitive sailing. If that excites you, then this game will not disappoint. It's well made and well presented. Even if it might be a touch frustrating. Racing fans in general will also find a refreshingly deep and unusual experience to be had here, especially once you learn what you're doing.

Rating: 8/10

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Freelance review by Josh Higley (May 26, 2007)

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