Virtual Skipper 4

A sailing sim may not be everyone's cup of tea, but nor is running round a dungeon with a rocket launcher or a giant axe (though to be fair, the majority of gamers favour the latter). Offshore racing is a thoughtful, highly tactical sport; best suited to those who aren't necessarily in a hurry to get to the next level.

Virtual Skipper 4 reflects this well, allowing you to set sail in four different vessels ranging from the nimble Melges 24 and Offshore Racer through to the hefty ACC monohull and Open 60 trimaran. You'll travel through 12 different arenas, including Naples, Marseilles and Qingdao, and experience an impressively wide range of courses, racing conditions and competitive trials.

While Nadeo has done its best to make the game as accessible as possible - there is even a mode that trims the sails for you - non-sailors may still find selecting the right sail and best racing line for each leg of the course rather tricky. Even with a radar view that provides the "safe" navigating region and 16 tutorial missions, this is still not a game that the novice can pick up in seconds.

For the more experienced, Virtual Skipper is pretty true to life, requiring a constant eye on wind direction, course adjustment and, of course, your competitors. There's hectic jostling for position behind the starting line and frequent crowding around markers. The computer keeps a close eye on regulation infringement, so know your starboard rule or be prepared for a 360 penalty.

Unlike most games, Virtual Skipper provides you with plenty of time to take stock of your surroundings. So it's just as well these are beautifully rendered, with gorgeous seascapes and skies and smooth animations of your crew. Sadly, the computer AI doesn't live up to the visuals, often allowing you to take advantage of an opponent that would rather miss the mark entirely than drop behind you. Also, while wind conditions do change out on the water, you don't appear to be able to "steal" an opponent's wind, which is a serious omission in a racing simulation.

The online component (with world rankings) takes the AI out of the equation, and new models and races have already been made available by fans of the game. Overall, Virtual Skipper 4 is entertaining enough, but more time should have been spent on game mechanics instead of eye candy.

Click here to view a screenshot.

Verdict: In the face of zero competition, Virtual Skipper 4 is the best sim-sailing game out there right now. It's beautiful to look at and accessible for the landlubber, but sadly it lacks in the artificial intelligence department.
Score: 3 1/2 out of 5
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
URL: www.virtualskipper-game.com
Price: $69.95

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Laurence Grayson

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