Reviewed: December 6, 2007
Released: November 7, 2007
Game developer Akella was founded in 1993 and is one of Russia’s leading developers in PC and console games. They are known for the games Sea Dogs, Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales and for the Action/RPG Pirates of the Caribbean. As you can probably tell, by the titles, Akella is one of the leading naval games in the world. So it is no surprise that they are behind the game I am reviewing, Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey for the PC.
Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey is a third person Action Adventure RPG set in the times of the Civil War, but there is more to Swashbucklers than that. Mixing a naval game, a fighter and some hack-slash action together Swashbucklers is a cool idea at first glance. But does it have what it takes to become another hit for Akella. Read on to find out.
You play as the schizophrenic Naval Captain Abraham Gray as you plight and plunder ships, duke it out in hand to hand combat and yes even being a delivery boy. You soon will have to choose which side of the Civil War you will take and unravel the mystery of the English Ironclad in Liverpool. Along the way you are mentored by a more practical version of yourself and are lead in the right direction when you lose your way.
Swashbucklers’ interface is pretty much streamlined and often kept to a minimal. There are actually several interfaces in swashbucklers because of its mixed game style. While roaming around port cities, there is no HUD system at all. But then again Roaming around the towns are easy. Everything is marked by a floating symbol of what the important buildings are. You move around the world, both in town and on the high seas, by using the WASD keys. At first the controls were a little awkward, especially when sailing, but I got used to them.
Whenever you are in a fight, be it with sword, guns, fists or cannons, you always have a personal stat bar in the upper left hand corner. For example if you are on foot during land battles you have a two part HUD system. On the Left side of the screen you have a picture of yourself and two status bars. The topmost bar is your health of course, and the bottom bar is your energy bar. The energy bar is what really matters in a fight. Every time you swing your sword you use up energy. You in turn use up even more when you use a super attack, so no energy no attacking and you’re pretty much a sitting duck. The box in the upper right hand corner is your information bar. Experience or important information you gain is shown here while in fights.
While in Naval battles the HUD is a little different. When on a ship in battle you navigate the waters by using the WASD keys. To make you boat move you must press the R key. Pressing R again will increase the ships speed and the F key will stop it completely. You have a speed indicator in the bottom right of the screen along with the Steam Engine Temperature Gauge and Special weapons and Ammo slots. If you have a steam engine equipped on your vessel you can use it in naval battles by pressing and holding the Shift key. If you use it for too long the engine will over heat and become unusable. And unless you repair your ship at shipyards, the engine is irremovable and unusable.
While in a naval battle, and you will have a lot of these, your health bar changes a bit. In the lower left of the screen you have a circular navigation icon with three colored bars encircling it. The Navigation circle let you know where the enemy ship is at all times. The three colored bars are your Crew, Hull and Sails Condition indicators. If you take so much damage to all three areas you lose the battle. The final two HUDs are reserved for the one on one fighting modes. The first is your standard fare fighter with swords. You have your Health Bar and Your Energy Bar, pretty simply really. The second fighting mode is boxing. How they fit boxing into a Civil War pirate game is beyond me, but it is fun. I guess it has something to do with the fact that Abraham looks like a cowboy half the time and a pirate the other.
The HUD is the same as the straight up fighter mode, but with an added progress bar at the bottom of the screen. So basically you get to do some three-round Mike Tyson action sans the ear biting. After each round the person who has inflicted the most damage fills his progress bar. The first one to fill their bar wins.
Since Swashbucklers is an RPG you have a stat building system in place for Abraham. When you are fighting on foot every enemy you kill gives you experience. This is pretty much your only means of leveling up. You have three main attributes to level up: Fencing, Shooting and Defense. Every time you level up you are given one or more skills points to use on these three areas. Besides the Skill Attributes, you have access to character Perks. The Perks vary from On-Foot Active perks such as the highly useful Dodge perk to the On-Foot Passive perks such as health, energy, and damage inflicted increases. But these perks are not limited to land battles but are available for naval battles and navigation. One of my favorite Global Naval Perks is the one that restores my crew after a battle. I was also pleased with the stat boosting of my ship in the naval battles as well.
In almost every town there is a General Store, Tavern, Shipyard, Weapons Store, Sheriff, and depending on the city a Mayor’s Office. The General store and Weapons shop are pretty much self explanatory. The areas that I really want to go into more detail about are the Shipyard and Tavern. The tavern is your source of information, as usual, and where you go to box or take on more crew for a price. The Shipyard has to be one of my favorite places to visit. Here you can buy a new ship at the Auction house, upgrade or repair your ship at the Shipyard and do some trading at the Port Storage. You will spend quite a bit of time here doing jobs or upgrading you ship as parts become available.
The NPC interaction of Swashbucklers is pretty limited. You can only talk to people that are of any use to you. So you can’t talk to the villagers outside of the 6 main locations available. Although you can’t talk to the villagers it is fun to run into them and watch as they swat you away.
The controls do get a little awkward at times, especially when you are in a naval battle. It is a little hard to steer a ship and tap keys at the same time with your left hand.
The graphics of Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey are actually pretty decent. The world of Abraham Grey is done almost completely in cel-shade. The only parts that don’t really hold that look is the water while you are navigating the seas. You can see the different depths of water as you sail across them as well as your ships reflection in the water. Little details like the moving flags on the ships to the seagulls flying in the air and the moving clouds are all beautifully done.
I was also impressed that the ship actually left a trail in the water as I moved it around as well as the white spray for water as the ships front moves through it. The character models were also done very well for being cel-shaded. There was however small mistakes in the graphics, like a thug drinking alcohol though a bandana. I did however like the beginning movie that you see every time before you get to the Menu screen.
The sound of Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey has me torn apart mentally like the Captain himself. The soundtrack was really good and I particularly like the Shipyard theme. I was also appreciated all the sound effects that went into Swashbucklers. Everything from the sound of a cannon ball missing its target and hitting the water with a splash to the sound of sword clanking together is very well done.
However the voice acting or the harsh version of it really got to me. Instead of doing proper voice acting they went the way of mumbles and grunts. About five minutes into the game I wished that there was a way to disable just the voices. But since there isn’t, you just have to drown them out mentally.
Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey has a lot of things to do but in the end it is the same things done again and again. The somewhat off kilter storyline doesn’t seem to help much. At one point, you are given the choice to join the North or South and you could play again and pick the other path if you want to, but it pretty much the same either way. Once you pick a side you can no longer attack ships on your side. A lot of your time will be spent running errands for various people and trading goods from you own supplies or from one port to another.
Probably my favorite part of Swashbucklers has to be the Shipyard function. I found it quite enjoyable to buy new ships, sell my old one for cash, and turn around and arm them with Howitzer cannons. Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey retails for $20 dollars and honestly I wouldn’t pay more than that.
All in all, Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey is a decent game. It has several features and modes that I enjoyed. I particularly liked the soundtrack and the sound effects. I did like the Shipyard the most out of the entire game. Sadly the voice acting could have be a LOT better. Since the game retails for $20 dollars it would be a decent title to pick up on a whim. If you like naval games then I think you will like this title. The battles range from easy to hard depending on the ship. I recommend renting it if possible, or you can buy it for $20 dollars.