Coast Guard Review
Apple MacAlso available on PC
Sometimes in gaming you come across a diamond in the rough, other times you come across games which make you wonder why you bothered playing it in the first place. Coast Guard from Reality Twist Games is one that bounces between these two on a frustratingly regular basis. The question, then, is in which category does it reside the most?
In Coast Guard you take on the life of coast guard officer Finn Asdair who captains the Daniel Dafoe. You’re not working alone though, as the Daniel Dafoe has a crew made up of Fatima Morgane, the engineer; Colman Bauers, the chief investigator; and Larry La Bouche, the forensics specialist. The adventure ahead is split into missions taking you through what can only be described as a bad year in Finn’s life. These missions also act as the game's save points. Once you’ve reached the end of a segment you can then save it as a logbook entry. This would be fine if things were straightforward, however, Coast Guard has many puzzle elements to add to its adventure/simulation bow and as such there may be times when you may want to save, put the game down, and come back with a clear head. Unfortunately if you decide to do so between any of the defined chapters you’ll start right back at the beginning of your most recent chapter with all progress lost. Frustrating doesn’t quite cover it. During our first few hours of playing we noticed popups advising of new logbook entries. Thinking these were save points we nonchalantly closed the game only to find, upon re-opening, we’d been tossed right back to the start with hours’ worth of game time lost. The decision not to allow players to save in the middle of missions, especially those of an investigative nature, is a baffling oversight.
Graphically Coast Guard isn’t too shabby, the ships and the open ocean are rendered quite nicely. Whilst there are some bits of tearing and pop-ins overall the game runs pretty well. Textures on the oil rig and other ships you meet along the way are done well and give the impression that a great deal of time and care was taken during their creation. There’s something to be said for taking a ship out on the ocean at sunset in this game, it really does look rather pretty. Even when the weather turns for the worse there’s something rather majestic about it and the developers deserve some credit for their recreation of the high seas. Most of the environments are freely roamable too allowing you to wander around the Daniel Dafoe and get a feel for the ship you call home. Not all areas are accessible however with some parts of the mothership and other environments blocked off though some become available later on. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the characters. It’s like having a beautiful painting of a sunset with a stick figure drawn in. Sure, they’re passable but they just seem ill fitting to their surroundings. Most of them don’t move around and in the few occurrences where they do the animations are awful. Things get a little worse when they speak, with mouth movements all over the shop, rarely being in synch with the dialogue.
There is a story to be told in Coast Guard, however you may find yourself running roughshod over the dialogue as the script is pretty bad. Characters are bland, relationships are hardly developed and when things started to hit the fan later in the game we found ourselves rather indifferent to the story's twists and turns. The speech is laboured with conflicting inflections and tones shifting mid-sentence. At various times it just ends up being rather bizarre and off-putting, breaking any immersion the game has. There are whole blocks of dialogue dedicated to teaching you what a roustabout is or the minutia of a forensic procedure. They seem rather misplaced and overused and we got the feeling that the main reason for these expositions were to act as fillers. This gets worse when you kick off your first investigation and find yourself in a loop, desperately speaking to characters in an effort to find the right conversation path to move the story on.
It’s here that the dialogue and the game mechanics really start to get on your nerves. At several points during the game you will need to find a key piece of information or evidence to move the game, and the plot, onwards. This, however, is easier said than done. Whilst you may have the information you think you need things will not advance unless you go through conversations in the right order. Moreover, you sometimes need to use inventory items but it isn’t always clear when this is the case and they don’t work on every character when you may logically think it’d be useful to get their input. Don’t worry though as if you are stuck your crewmates, who seem to be able to teleport to locations at whim, will give handy advice on where they think you should go next. This is useful as it seems Finn suffers from short term memory loss - he’ll often forget that we’ve already been to the control room and talked with the people up there several times.
The sound issues continue beyond just the awkward voice acting. Whilst walking around the oil rig you’ll likely notice that your footsteps sound and remain the same despite going over different surfaces. Or that the engine sounds of the various boats you meet don't sound quite right. It’s a small details like this that you slowly start to notice and then once you do you can’t stop noticing. Attention to detail is crucial when you drop the simulation tag and if you can’t get the sounds right you’ve already lost those who pick up this game for that reason. Though if we’re honest, calling Coast Guard a simulation is being generous as if the physics of the boats are true to life then we certainly feel for any real life pilots of such vessels.
There are plenty of other things wrong with Coast Guard too. The missions are rather straightforward and bland, devoid of any suspense or fear of failure. With the exception of one mission there’s little consequence in taking your time. Rescue missions are made difficult not just because of any inclement weather but because the “daughter boat”, as the game insists on calling it, is down right awkward to control. Not wanting to spoil the game’s story, to us there were plot developments that just didn’t seem to make any sense and seemed to come out of nowhere. What they’re trying to weave here is commendable, but it just didn’t grab us and seemed overly complicated with some aspects of it given little to no explanation.
Coast Guard has its moments where you start to enjoy yourself but slowly the little niggles start to add up and end up distracting you more and more. The inability to save mid-mission is a huge oversight and puts you in a situation whereby you either sacrifice the time just spent getting to whatever point you’re at or keep on pushing onwards into a deeper spiral of frustration. It seems that many smaller development houses want to jump on board with the simulator craze that has allowed games like Euro Truck Simulator to grab cult status among gamers. However, the game needs to actually simulate the environment at large and with no free play mode you’re forced to carry out only what is included as part of the story. There is no chance to acquire a bigger or different type of ship, take on other rescues or generally be a coast guard. Everything beyond the main environment graphics of Coast Guard gives the impression of a fire and forget game pushed out so that the company can then move on to the next game in the pipeline.