I’m a big fan of the idea of spending time on the open seas, although I’ve only been sailing a handful of times. The idea of manning sails and cruising around, which Popcannibal LLC has brought to life with the Early Access title Make Sail, is incredibly appealing even without an abundance of content. With ship design and building also being components of gameplay, Make Sail is even more attractive — but unfortunately it doesn’t live up to its full potential quite yet.
The primary activities in the game are building and sailing. That’s pretty much the extent of your experience. These activities are centered around a story, which is beautifully told on the fabric of an immense sail of a sentient and light-giving tower. People enjoyed their time with the tower, but, as people are wont to do, they got greedy and took the chimes from the tower and traveled to distant lands. This made the tower sad, and so it created a devastating storm, as towers are wont to do. Once the people realized what they did, they tried to venture back to the tower to return the chimes, which shows how dense these folks are because the chimes are not for what the tower truly longs. The fleet was destroyed, save for a single individual with some meager supplies with which to gather the chimes scattered across the islands and return them to the tower.
When you wake you’re on an island and the storm is still raging, but you’re nestled safely in the eye of the storm near the tower. Once you build your first ship and sail to the tower to return the first chime, the wind and rain recede a bit, revealing the location of even more chimes. Venturing out, you will no doubt be interested in building a larger more elaborate vessel, and at that moment the shine will fade from your eyes, and the beauty and calming music in the game will part, and you’ll finally be able to see what is truly there. Somehow you missed the volatility of the starting vessel on the intro screen bobbing about on the waves like a lunatic. While small, this is indicative of the very physics you will be using in the game. Your dinghy, if it even stays together, will tend to flip over incredibly easily or run with half the hull entirely underwater. You will venture from one island to another, but you quickly find that there’s never a straight path to your next objective. You will either continuously be fighting the wind or doing massive laps around the increasingly large area of the sea. The storm is moving the wind in a continuous circle, so there is only one path to follow. Thus, the primary mechanic of sailing begins to break down almost immediately.
MAKING BOATS AND SUSPENDING DISBELIEF
What mainly separates Make Sail from other seafaring games is that word in the title: make. Building or making your ship holds a massive appeal. When done well, the ability to create can provide hours of entertainment for a player. Unfortunately, this aspect of the game needs improvement, as it’s all too often that pieces will immediately fall off of your ship. When assembling parts, it's unclear what is attached and what's merely next to another part. Not every piece will have buoyancy, either. A simple structure resembling a boat with a small bow, stern, rudder, and small sail should be enough to get you from point A to B, right? Apparently, everything you know about water physics and surface tension is a lie. Nothing floats other than barrels and your character — and even that doesn't float for long. These parts are separated into categories of “structure” and “lift” but it doesn’t make a lot of sense. A basic longboat will sink to the bottom of the sea unless barrels are lashed to it. This instability may be due to poor hull integrity, which makes some sense, but you're already suspending your disbelief enough to believe you've got thousands of pounds of ship parts hiding beneath your beautiful tunic. At least we could build an equally beautiful catamaran without having these obnoxious barrels hanging off the side.
The objectives of the game are to travel around the islands and pick up chimes. Your other motivation for continuing through the world is to collect ship parts and more advanced blueprints. Once you’ve gathered all the pieces from the islands to assemble a ship, you can select that from the menu at the build station. These stations exist on every island, so you may as well ram your boat directly into the island, because there’s no incentive of keeping the ship safe, as you can rebuild it and immediately leave the island to crash into the next one. At this point, you’re relegated to continuing this cycle until you can get the blueprint of your dreams, get frustrated, or grow apathetic to the plight of the protagonist.
The Verdict: Flawed
Make Sail is a beautiful game that initially is calming, but the primary features, which are building and sailing, don’t hold up and swiftly lead to frustration. You’ll spend your time building ships, over and over, that immediately fall to pieces or flip over because the physics don’t add up. Sometimes it would be faster just to swim between islands, but you’ll tire and drown within a short distance. Make Sail may be a title to keep an eye on as PopCannibal continues to improve and add content, but there’s not enough there at the moment to satisfy for very long.