On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Her Majesty’s Ship will challenge you and at times punish you but in the end, do you have what it takes to rise through the ranks of the admiralty? More importantly, will the investment be worth it in the end?
“Dark clouds on the horizon”, should serve as a warning for both the sailors under your command and you as a potential player. Her Majesty’s Ship from developer Every Single Soldier, tasks you the player with rising through the ranks to ultimately be named Admiral of your nation’s fleet. The trials and tribulations along the way will be plenty in what can best be described as a board game under the disguise of a resource management sim. Using that as our intro into the game why don’t we take a deeper look at the nuts and bolts and see if it can handle the stress of the high seas.
Set sail for the seas!
Initial playthroughs of HMS will give you a basic tutorial, that can be replayed, and gives you a decent working knowledge of how the title works. Unfortunately, a game with this many moving parts needs a deeper tutorial to fully grasp the concepts and the importance of specifics tasks required of you. These tasks are decimated by what the game calls “orders”. They appear as flags descending down the guideline with your goal to address them before they reach the bottom.
Problem number one, the quick popup menu gives you a brief description of what each flag means but unless you take notes, a picture, or have a working knowledge of nautical affairs you will be relying on the cutout view of your ship to highlight the area for you. This is fine in theory, except there are times when you may have an area highlighted that is not available. The medical bay is a key example of this as you may receive orders to deal with it but not have a crew member that needs any attention. Completing orders helps raise your crew’s morale but also adds points towards your progression. Failing these orders has the expected opposite effect which causes problems when you are unable to attend to them at no fault of your own.
This brings us to the controls. Her Majesty’s Ship screams PC. There is no way around the obvious. Navigating around the diorama-esque ship is fine and tied to the right thumbstick. From this view, you can highlight certain areas and execute orders with the A button. Holding the R trigger brings up a sub-menu that allows the transition from ship command to flags where you can then address the orders independently. Unfortunately, and we are going to say that a lot, this is pretty useless outside of Admiralty orders.
When these are executed the ship will set its own course and everything is put into autopilot for you. The remaining flags do bring up a description of what is requested of you, however, they are often hidden behind the flags making some unreadable. While sailing you may need to swab the deck or dining hall which is handled by highlighting the area and pressing A. In fact, all your on ship duties are handled this way. Raising and lowering your sails can be done from the ship’s bell or individually. The ship’s bell will be key and is an example of another area the tutorial lets you down. When combat arises, and it will often, you are given around 20 seconds to ready your crew. If you try and draw up your sails individually and move members around to the canons you may not have enough time to properly attack. Using the bell can call all hands to deck or all hands to battle stations.
Combat is boiled down to managing your gunpowder and crew members.
The bottom of the screen will give you a percentage chance you have of winning the engagement which fluctuates based on the number of cannons in use. There is a magic number that seems to work the majority of the time, but we won’t spoil that here. As mentioned before your crew’s morale plays a big role in the game. In order to avoid a mutiny, they need to be happy. This can be achieved by navigating your way to the rum barrel so you can drink with your men. This is well and good supposing you maintain an adequate level of barrels in your limited hull.
Adjusting their food rations to a more pleasant level also makes for a happy crew but again is limited by your carrying capacity which can only increase as you are awarded larger ships. The only other noticeable way to maintain their happiness is by allowing them to sleep at night which can be a conflict if you are pulled into battle or need to go ashore to recover food. Outside of the ship view, HMS also has a world map that can easily be navigated with the left thumbstick to move your course marker, A to execute. The right thumbstick moves the entire map. On the whole, the controls are just not up to snuff. Building forts to control portions of the map is key and this requires you per on-screen prompts to hold the X button and Y to view and then X and A to execute. This, unfortunately, also brings up the score which is mapped to X. Instances of not enough inputs for actions plague what would be an enjoyable experience on something like a PC with a keyboard and mouse.
Visually, HMS is passable. The previously mentioned ship’s view is where you will spend the majority of your time. The crew is lively and moves around the ship following your commands with ease. The ship itself looks fine but lacks some finer details given its static nature. The variety of ships is minimal but is done well enough to differentiate between different classes. The individual areas of the ship can be confusing as some really don’t have a standout feature to set them apart, while others are easily recognisable regardless of the level of zoom used while viewing.
Unfortunately, there’s that word again, all the islands you hop around generally look the same. The water breaks on the front of the ship when all of a sudden a backdrop of land shoots into view behind your ship. While jarring at first it does serve its purpose. During your travels, you will stumble across islands that you can take over and build forts/towns and others that have banana trees (fitting) that you can send a longboat ashore to gather rations. Towns that you set anchor in are again, very much the same. There is what amounts to a fruit stand that serves as your munitions shop with a little city block that serves as your recruiting area for new crew members. The battle segments involve two static ships that after the timer expires fire upon each other in a cloudy of gunpowder. Your ship does take damage but it is only noticeable in the sails. The enemies when defeated due erupt in flames before comically vanishing beneath the surface to be devoured by the sharks. Well partially true, the sharks do exist as fins but don’t play any role in the game.
Audio-wise, there are no gripes to be had. There is some voice work done to help add to the minimal level of immersion. The ambient sounds help paint an auditory picture of what it would sound like at sea during a time of exploration and expansion. Hearing the crew rejoice after victory or when they are offered rum helps breathe life into what at times can be a dull experience.
Her Majesty’s Ship has some lofty goals. The setup is much better suited for the PC as it is just not optimised for the Nintendo Switch. Had the title been properly optimised however, the lack of true depth would run its course after a few sessions. There is a real false sense of progression and importance as you ultimately sail around a fake map on never-ending quests to do nothing. Sail here to fight these pirates, sail here to escort this ship there is nothing below the surface to help bring this title to the next level. Unfortunately, last time, this ends up being a title that should have remained docked as it’s just not seaworthy.
Review code provided
Platform: PC, Nintendo
Release Date: 15/09/2020
No. of Players: 1
Category: Action, Simulation
Developer: Every Single Soldier
Publisher: Ultimate Games
Download link: US eShop / UK eShop