Virtual Skipper 3 is the game that takes sailing off the water and into the bedrooms of regular people. Virtual Skipper 3 is a yacht-racing simulator that places you at the helm of different classes of racing yachts at one of six international locales including San Francisco, the Isle of Wight, Sydney, Italy, France and Auckland. Without having played either of the two previous iterations of Virtual Skipper, I can't tell you if version three is an improvement on past efforts or if it adds anything to the game, but I can tell you VS3 seems to have pretty much nailed the art of modern match and fleet racing.
For beginners (that's me), VS3 lets you jump straight in and race without doing much more than steering the thing. This isn't quite as easy as it sounds because even though the computer is looking after trimming and changing the sails, you've still got to keep the boat moving in relation to the wind. It's not uncommon to broach, making you look like a complete chump. It's a good way to learn how the vessel reacts to the elements in preparation for the big moment when you turn off the aids and go it alone.
Controls are simple, requiring nothing more than a handful of keys on the keyboard to operate the rudder and sail trim controls - something joystick-less PC gamers will be happy to hear. A number of different views let you swing the camera around the boat and zoom in and out from helm level to some distance away, giving panoramic views of the race and surrounding coastline. As the graphics are rather decent and the weather modelling so detailed, this turns out to be more than just eye candy as you'll be looking for areas of high wind to try to gain that all important advantage over the opposition.
Racing in VS3 is more than just aiming the yacht into the wind and trimming the sails - ocean currents are also modelled, meaning you must also pay close attention to your instrumentation if you want to become any good. It's something I never quite mastered and, as I foundered miserably among the waves, I suffered terrible flashbacks to last summer's America's Cup finals and the dreadful sight of Team New Zealand filling with water, snapping the mast and generally looking embarrassingly amateurish. Fortunately, you can blot out these memories by downloading one of the many colourful and photo-realistic spinnaker designs available online - Anna Kournikova certainly helped to ease the painful memories, although she's no Catherine Zeta Jones.
Virtual Skipper 3 is a great game - it looks good and, despite the apparent simplicity of operation, will take some patience and a willingness to learn and understand basic concepts of sailing if you want to become competitive.
Score CardVisuals: Superb graphics; skinnable boat and sail designs
Audio: That constant seagull noise is rather annoying
Gameplay: Great gameplay, very realistic
Publisher: Digital Jesters