We're told that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so Firemint should consider itself quite flattered by Imangi Studios’s new chaos management game, Harbor Master.
While this is quite clearly a clone of Flight Control, to be perfectly honest I don't have much of a problem with this - so long as it still makes an effort to work in a few unique gameplay traits, which it happily does.
As the name suggests, you're placed in control of a busy cargo port. Boats, ships, tankers and all kinds of seafaring vessel await your orders to bring them into the jetty, unload their stock as quickly as possible and get back out to sea.
The challenge comes from the fact that your harbour generally doesn't have enough docks to accommodate the number of ships ploughing toward the coastline (and each other) without care.
Guiding these ships is a matter of drawing a route from the vessel, around the harbour, and to the port at which you’d like it to dock. Navigation has to be handled carefully so as to avoid any collisions between the increasing number of ships sailing into your territory, which quickly becomes a frantic task.
The smaller ships are much faster, but they can only carry a small amount of cargo. This means they can be unloaded much quicker and vacate the dock sharpish, making room for the next vessel powering its way toward the land. The larger ships, however, are laden with capitalist treasures and must spend more time in dock while their goods are brought ashore.
As the game progresses, you move on to new maps and new challenges. Besides the increasing number of ships, you also contend with natural bottlenecks as the land encroaches on the waterway, while certain coloured cargo needs to be delivered to a similarly coloured ports.
Harbor Master is quite forgiving in that you don't particularly need to worry about ships crashing into the dock walls, for instance. That said, the majority of the ships you deal with are powerful and fast-moving. Sending them on a winding route around the harbour while you attempt to free up the docks is damn tricky, especially when cyclones are twisting their way about the screen.
Indeed, at times it feels as though the screen is deliberately bombarded with small ships simply to increase the difficulty level, which ramps up the frustration considerably. Yet it's easy to forgive Harbor Master these few indiscretions.
Yes, it's a blatant clone of Flight Control, but Harbor Master still has a strong identity all of its own and can provide a very welcome break from its inspirational game when you're fed up of crashing planes and feel like driving ships into each other instead. It's hard to go wrong with this game even if it's always going to play second fiddle to the original.