Imagine you and your spaceship are stranded on a strange planet, with no one to help you repair your ship. What do you do? You build an entire community around your ship, exploit the local resources and research new technologies. And maybe fix your ship at some point… At least that is how Shipwreck, developed and published by Shmellyorc, approaches this situation.
While it may look like a survival game at first glance, Shipwreck is a city builder at heart. After your spaceship lands in the randomly generated starting area, you can’t go back into space any time soon. Fixing the ship may be be Shipwreck’s end goal, but the road to those repairs is long and stony.
On the way, you have to cover the isometric, tile-based world of Shipwreck in various structures. To begin with, a forester will do — this grants you access to lumber. Then, in order get the timber economy going, you need to raise houses for your workers. Said houses need wells to keep them from burning down. Wells are made of stone, so you’d better construct some mines too…
This principle — constructing X to get access to Y, which in turns allows you to build Z — determines the flow of Shipwreck, and there is a lot to construct. Initially, more than half the structures are unavailable and have to be researched. The same is true for resources. Lumber, stone, herbs and ore can be found on the map, but energy, workers and money can only be generated by specific structures.
The resources in the immediate proximity of your spaceship dictate how fast your village progresses. You need huge amounts of lumber and stone to get anywhere. Starting next to only a single grove of trees slows you down to the point where you should consider restarting the game to get things going a little faster next time.
Speaking of speed: Shipwreck is a slow-paced game. A very slow-paced game. Even on the highest speed, it will likely take you hours to build your first power generator or to research more than a handful of buildings. Most of the time, Shipwreck does not require your attention — exceptions like picking cotton aside. It is one step away from being an idle game in this regard.
It gets worse when the ever-expanding map does not provide you with the resources you need to progress. Equally frustrating are the random events, such as forest fires or space pirates. Luckily, these events are rare and you don’t need to unlock the buildings needed to deal with them.
Interestingly, some resources are a complete non-issue. Stone can be harvested in surface mines. While these run dry eventually, you can simply rebuild them — even on the same tile. Money, initially hard to acquire, flows into your coffers once you research taxes. At that point, you are likely to have enough citizens to keep you debt-free forever.
Shipwreck lets you avoid too much frustration by allowing you to customise your game. It has three difficulty settings as well as an extensive options menu. If you just want to enjoy your little space colony and watch it thrive, give yourself a big bag full of starting goodies and turn off crimes and pirate raids.
These custom options mitigate some of the game’s shortcoming, but do not make it less opaque. Shipwreck provides you with a brief tutorial, but never tells you what you even need to fix that ship of yours. The entire tech tree is visible from the start, but the relationships between buildings are not. Why do I need to research deep mines before I get access to the horticulturist?
While it can be fun to research random buildings just to see what they do and which technologies they unlock, it can also be discouraging considering how long research takes. Even if half your village consists of research laboratories, expect any science projects to progress with the same glacial pace as the rest of Shipwreck.
Those who do not mind the slow pace are rewarded with a really cute game. The graphics and their deliberate low resolution are nice to look at and feel like a reminder of old city builders and god sims such as Populous. Shipwreck only has a single tune, but that is okay, because it happens to be the most soothing piece of elevator music ever created.
For those with the patience to watch games unfold at an unhurried pace, Shipwreck is an entertaining little city builder to play on the side. However, if you are looking for anything even remotely fast, this is not the game for you.