I’ve always wanted to sail off in a boat. Sailaway: The Sailing Simulator takes sailing towards a realistic approach and is one step closer to me living out my sailing aspirations. I was eager to play the game due to my positive memories of sailing the seas in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker in search of adventure. The game requires a lot of effort to fully grasp its systems. In a way, it’s exactly what it says on the tin as it is a sailing simulator through and through.
The game has you sailing across the world for the sake of sailing. Sailing enthusiasts will certainly get a kick out of the attention to detail that Orbcreation put into the mechanical technicalities of sailing. The game applies a strong degree of realism in the actual sailing. It even goes out of its way to explain to you the actual science behind sailing within its many tutorials. The game knows its audience and caters to them with pinpoint accuracy.
Controlling the sail by mouse is rather abysmal. It almost put me off playing beyond the game’s easy mode. Luckily, the game allows the player the freedom to rebind their hotkeys. It was a godsend to be able to maintain the boat using the keyboard. The precision and efficiency of the keyboard increased the playability tenfold.
The tutorial is shockingly clunky. Learning the systems of the game was a steep experience. There was so much packed into the tutorials that I felt it necessary to take out a notebook and start taking notes. The gameplay mechanics are densely loaded with complex nuances due to the nature of it being a simulator game. The game explains a load of details, but it failed to teach me in a way that sufficed when thrown into regular gameplay. Compared to other games, Sailaway’s tutorial is both crucial as well as poorly made.
The game allows the player to play on the auto-sail skill level preset, which reduces the player’s input to just steering the boat. This is a solid implementation, but it also makes it feel like learning the complicated boat mechanics are not all that necessary. I definitely applaud the game for essentially having five difficulties, with each increasing difficulty acting as a step towards mastery. However, rather than limiting player input through difficulty settings, I feel like the better approach would have been to provide simpler, yet still engaging systems for beginners to get their toes wet. As it is now, the lowest level doesn’t really make me want to improve as a sailor.
One big issue with the game lies in the fact that it is always online. I hate that one day, the servers could shut down and players would be unable to enjoy their favorite game. It left a bad taste in my mouth when I couldn’t even log in because the game had trouble recognizing my Steam account. The problem persisted until I reinstalled the game. One justification for this always online requirement is the due to the game using real weather data, but I doubt it would be that hard to include preset or randomized weather during offline mode.
As a casual boat enthusiast, I had a big problem with the game's lack of objectives. As I played, the harder it got to justify playing. I was left questioning the point of the game. Initially, I was hoping for Sailaway to have some sort of incentive or tangible reward for playing the game. It didn’t have to be anything spectacular, just something as simple as getting rewarded rank points for traveling specific routes.
The more I played, the more I felt like Sailaway wasn’t my kind of game. It seemed to be more for the diehard boat lovers looking to emulate the sailing experience with all its technicalities, warts and all. That is all well and good, but as it is for me, it is simply a game that isn’t all that satisfying to play. It passes on a technical level, but as art, it leans far too heavily on realism for its own good. Sailaway is worth recommending to boat enthusiasts willing to put in the time and effort to fully grasp the sailing experience, but it requires far too much for any casual player.