The sunlight shone through ragged sails as cannonballs fell across the deck. Up above our ship, twin stone towers sat atop jagged cliffs, showering our craft with their projectiles. I order the mortars to target the furthest structure as I hang hard on the helm, rotating the ship to bring the guns to bear on the closest tower. As the ship’s keel strains under the fury of the angry seas, the gunners acquire their target and the cannons roar alive a second later, spewing forth their load; hit by the sheer power of a full broadside, the closest tower exploded into ruins.
The pieces fell into the ocean, splashing water all across the deck as the guns rotate towards the furthest tower under mortar bombardment. Already heavily battered due to the constant artillery fire, all it takes is one salvo of the cannons to reduce the fortification to a smothering pile of debris. The crew relaxes, the battle won, and look at me while the raging sea continues to rock the ship.
But before any further order could be given, a gigantic mass emerges from the ocean at starboard. The men scream in terror as its gigantic eyes lock onto us, impossibly massive tentacles rising out of the sea around the ship, enveloping the hull and crashing into the masts. Shouts fill the air, mixed with smoke from gunpowder as the cannons roar, pummeling the creature’s green flesh desperately, but it is for nought; ten seconds later, the whole ship rests at the bottom of the sea.
Tempest is the latest addition to the terribly sparse pirate genre. With clear inspirations from Sid Meyer’s Pirates! and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, it tries to change things up by adding more roleplaying and magic, but it unfortunately boggles up its execution before making it work.
Tempest is an indie game, and very much feels like one. Its attempts at storytelling are mostly passive events, text pop-ups that appear on screen with descriptions of developments that really should have been experienced; it is a fatal flaw in a game that focuses so much on story and RPG by offering only a campaign and no free play mode.
The campaign’s story begins with the tutorial acting as a prologue, when your character’s father dies and leaves you a 28-gun frigate. You set out to avenge some of his debts, and at the end of the tutorial get ambushed by a Kraken. Said tutorial is clear, yet extremely restrictive -- it doesn’t allow any freedom at all while taking you through the paces -- while the main campaign itself starts rather abruptly, as your guy magically finds his way back to a harbour and into the command of a 12-gun sloop. No mention is made about how he managed to escape the attack of a legendary gigantic sea monster, nor how he wound up halfway across the map and got a new ship so quickly, even though his previous craft sank near rock formations in the middle of the ocean.
Tempest’s biggest issue, however, is that it just isn’t engaging enough. The ship battles are boring affairs made worse by truly sluggish controls -- it manages to capture none of that fast paced atmosphere that made Black Flag such an amazing pirate game -- though it still was a terrible Assassin’s Creed title. Boarding is a minigame focused upon watching your terribly animated crew shoot another equally terribly animated crew, while sea battles revolve around pressing buttons when bars fill up. No significant amount of aiming or tactical solution is present in the game, and as a result battles feel like spreadsheets played out in a graphical fashion.
The peaceful aspect of the game is equally uninspired. Harbours are boring static constructs, as is the world map and even the real world sailing system. While some interesting events happen once or twice like waterspouts or meteors, they are too rare and disjointed from the universe to cause any effect. Docking into a port involves pressing a button then clicking through menus, and all the harbours look dreadfully alike, even when they’re not.
The quests are their own category of bad. They’re not at all interesting and the game doesn’t explain a lot, but what it does explain is thoroughly borish. They are at their best battle focused and at their worse entirely passive, and I’ve yet to encounter any that isn’t badly written or downright nonsensical. The “Ghost in the Ship” random quest is a prime example: once sailing through the world map, I got a pop-up telling me sailors were speaking about a white figure appearing on the weather deck during nighttime. That is interesting stuff right there, but I wasn’t required to do anything -- the quest updated via text pop-ups every few minutes of sea voyage in the map and progressed all by itself to a terribly dull and stupid conclusion; I was never required to pick a course of action or press a button or in any other way take part in it -- the quest was absolutely and completely passive.
On a technical level, the game is clearly well intended but still fails to deliver. The UI is unclear and sluggish, with an utter lack of flow and being unnecessarily obtuse. The controls are not intuitive either, feeling limited and needlessly restrictive, while the graphics barely classify as serviceable by today’s standards. The sound design is average leaning into pleasant, though, with musics and cannon fire not drawing any criticism, but hardly any praise, either. Overall, the game feels very much like an Early Access.
Unfortunately, Tempest is a tough game to recommend right now. I’m a man, so I share that boyish obsession with pirates most of us have, and also love history and ships alongside a crazy interest in mythological creatures -- even though I was bored by the end of the tutorial, the surprise appearance of a Kraken renewed my interest in the title. Unfortunately, that proved to be the only surprise it had in store, and Tempest remained thoroughly unengaging and lost me again soon after. If you’re on the hunt for a new Black Flag or Pirates!, I’m afraid you’re out of luck with Tempest. It boosts a huge potential - and I wish the developers the best of luck in fleshing it out - but as it is, it is hardly a shell of a good game, and it has a long way to go before it manages to fill it.
Tempest (Reviewed on Windows)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
An extremely unengaging gameplay and bad graphics mine what could be an interesting addition to the pirate genre.