The longer I review games, the more I realize that I have been missing out on a lot of great titles over the years. In the years that I played games, I always stayed very close to the mainstream because I didn’t want to spend my hard-earned cash on something that I was unsure of. As a result, I wallowed in the titles available at your local Wal-Mart or the like. In that universe, my simulation exposure was locked in the Microsoft Flight Simulator trench with a few budget titles thrown in for variety.Those days are over. As a matter of fact, in the last year or so, I have experienced some absolutely fantastic sims that were both jaw-dropping in the graphical department, and mind-bending in the difficulty department. Many simulations I played took a dozen or more hours just to begin feeling comfortable with the interface. I was beginning to think that simulation games were reserved for the die-hard fan who had nothing but time on his hands. Thankfully, Lighthouse Interactive has published Ship Simulator 2006. In truth, I am not sure if this is the first in the series or just an update. What I do know is that this is a simulation that literally anyone would be able to pick up and play while the more skilled player is challenged enough to make it worth his while.Ship Simulator is essentially a collection of goal-driven mini games that involve sailing one or more ships through a timed series of events. Most of the events are not interrelated and, although the more difficult and interesting missions are initially locked, there is not a strict order of missions through which you must progress. This makes for a very enjoyable initial experience in which you can take your time becoming familiar with the waterways in which you will move and the various vessels you will command.Ship Simulator allows the user to pilot 7 different vessels ranging in size from a tug boat all the way to the legendary Titanic. It does not take long to realize that the developer had a clear understanding of physics when producing this title, because each vessel has a very unique feel and the larger ones have a distinct weightiness.The interface is incredibly simplistic. As a matter of fact, I would wager that a complete computer gaming novice could find his way clear to set sail without ever cracking the manual or looking for help. The approachable atmosphere makes for a very pleasant experience and the gradual learning curve and open-ended mission structure really give this title a boost.Unlike airplanes and helicopters, ships essentially have two basic controls, namely the throttle and the steering. The control set-up is modeled after the real-world counterparts of each vessel and is almost too easy to use. Fortunately the challenge in the game comes from environmental awareness and foresight on the driver’s part.Unlike most other vehicle, save trains, ships are slow to get up to speed and equally slow to stop. As a matter of fact, I would be curious to find out, pound-for-pound, whether it is easier to stop a train or a ship. In addition, since ships do not travel on a track, turning right or left, I mean starboard or port, does not completely stop the forward motion. This game would be an excellent addition to a physics classroom when studying any of a variety of topics including momentum and the laws of motion.The missions take place in relatively small locations and involve the movement from one place to the next with a few additional chores along the way. In the more challenging adventures, you must actually pilot multiple vessels to achieve your goal.The environments seem to be modeled after real world locations, although I have never visited the specific ports mentioned. The most challenging areas involve inland waterways which are buzzing with other ships that you have to watch out for. Unlike Flight Simulator, there is plenty of traffic that can actually hamper your performance.Ship Simulator 2006 is not without its problems, not the least of which is the inability to save mid-mission. I visited the publisher’s message boards and found that I was not the only person frustrated by the long missions with no option to save. Some challenges can take upward of an hour, and one small misstep, such as having another boat ram you, means you have to start over again. This becomes frustrating at times. I understand the desire for realism, but developers need to keep in mind that gamers have lives and they are not always able to sit for hours on end with a piece of software. In addition to the save issue, I experienced a few crashes and some unexpected slowdowns. In general, there is not much to complain about.The graphics in the game are very good. I would have liked to have seen a bit more customizability in the graphics department, especially with the aliasing. I am sure this can be tweaked, but I did not find an easy way to do so. The ships are modeled well, but I spent most of my time in a bird’s eye view of my ships so I could monitor the immediate surroundings. I was happy to find that it was possible to walk the deck on the Titanic. I even went so far as to stand on the bow in the DiCaprio “King of the World” location.I am curious to see what, if any, add-ons are made for this title. I was able to get through the missions in a relatively short period of time. That only left trying to complete them quicker as the replay motivation. I do not care how good a game is, once you have completed a mission several times, it just grows tiresome. I would like to see some new models and missions generated for this title to give it the push from good to must-have.Ship Simulator 2006 is probably a title that a lot of folks will miss. That is unfortunate, because I think the simulator would be enjoyed by almost anyone who gave it a five minute look. Once they did, they would have to kiss hours goodbye, because it is a title that keeps you wanting to complete just one more mission. Bon voyage.