Almost every gamer has faced their personal Moby Dick at some point. From the one orc who refuses to die in Shadow of Mordor to a seemingly unbeatable boss in Dark Souls, there’s always that one foe you will stab at from hell’s heart. With that in mind, it’s something of a surprise to think that it took so long for a game like Nantucket to arrive on modern systems.
Set in the golden days of whaling, it’s your job to run a ship hunting for creatures on the ocean seas and prevent your ship from sinking to piracy or mutineers. As you can imagine, that’s a simpler thing said than done.
The game prizes itself on atmosphere and it’s very easy to see why. Between the sea shanty soundtrack, the aged visuals and nautical map, everything here has been set up to create a sense of real immersion. There’s a real sense of beauty in just how well the developer has pulled off this aspect of the game, and thematically it continually works to build up an engrossing quality few other titles of its genre can match.
The game is less one of full fledged exploration than it is logistics and success, as you ply your trade and navigate between a few key ports. It’s less about throwing caution to the wind in favour of glory than it is mitigating damages. Knowing how much you can risk in a venture, where the best spots for hunting are and just what you can get away with are key to success. As the game will often throw random elements and even new threats your way, it creates the sense of an ever evolving world. Anything from new tariffs to crew problems can easily arise, to the point where you need to guess what the developers might have thought of over a few possible mechanical threats.
Much of the evolving nature of the setting is told through its characters, especially your crew. Many key decisions and random events will arise to affect how you are viewed by others. From risks in facing pirates to simply allowing your people more time on land, how they view you and their level of loyalty will be decided and change over time. Surprisingly, there are a variety of effects which can stem from a few key actions, allowing you more variety than a simple like/dislike ratio. This grants the game a great deal of replay value, and an incentive to keep experimenting when you die and restart thanks to its rogue-light elements. It even comes into play when it comes to upgrading your ship and hunting larger whales, or altering your usual patrol routes.
However, Nantucket’s flaws stem from a few unexpected areas. The most obvious among these is how combat is dealt with, as engaging pirates and whales alike boils down to very traditional turn based engagements. While there is nothing especially wrong with the system in question, it sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise unique game, and is often at odds with the carefully cultivated atmosphere. Fights can often devolve into repetitive brawls thanks to a flawed AI system, and it requires a great deal of micro-management to ensure that your own crew do not lead to your own defeat. This is something of a learning curve however, due to a few ill advised choices with the UI, which can easily lead to player confusion.
While the rogue-light qualities are a great strength within the game, the dread of dying stems as much from the battles as simply not wishing to go through the tedious early-game grind again. The initial stages of commanding any whaling ship boil down to repetitive hunts for easy prey with little reward, and it can be a real slog to truly get through. By the third death, you might be wishing there was a simple way to skip the early stages or even a faster if riskier option for success.
Nantucket isn’t the smash hit success story some were hoping for thanks to these flaws, but it is still a worthwhile experience. The elements and ideas surrounding the ship and the handling of crew relationships, business transactions and risks all makes it a worthwhile game despite a few key problems. If you’re a fan of Sid Meier’s Pirates, Sunless Sea or even FTL you will be happily sinking hours at a time into it, but those after faster paced successes may wish to look elsewhere for their naval fix.
NANTUCKET / DEVELOPER: PICARESQUE STUDIO / PUBLISHER: FISH EAGLE / PLATFORM: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW