From Russia, with blood.
Let's fly our flags plain and true: Publisher 1C's forthcoming Captain Blood isn't some mega-hyped, triple-A, boundary-pushing video game on the bleeding edge (well, not that way, at any rate...). In fact, in terms of its presentational wow-factor, it's definitely closer to a hearty, scrappy sloop than an august, burly ship-of-the-line. Nevertheless, it's become weirdly close to our hearts (and livers) over the past couple of years, largely thanks to three key distinctions:
[image1]1. It's been continually spotlighted, in one form or another, at the last three (count 'em, three) annual game-showcases thrown by publisher 1C. Said events were epic, vodka-soaked endeavors, traditionally and inadvisably held at San Francisco's Russian Consulate, which doesn't sound like a great place for a party but it totally is.
2. It's actually remarkably rare that a title that has undergone so much developmental stop-and-start over the course of years actually holds together as a publishable endeavor and even retains rock-solid preview-code playability.
3. It has pirates! And blood! Let's not forget that. Massive, ridiculous amounts of blood. We're talking staggering, "that effed up scene from The Shining" meets "your bitchy sister's special swath of the lunar cycle" amounts of blood".)
Based fairly forgivingly on the Rafael Sabatini novels about the same titular character, Captain Blood is an action-adventure game that follows Captain Blood's exploits in the 17th-Century Spanish Main. (The game was originally slated for release for the original Xbox in 2006, but, you know... rum... wenches.... yeah, so that didn't happen).
[image2]Anyway, Captain Blood's linear story follows a mission-based structure, divided into sections set both on land and at sea. Sword fights and bloody brawls take place on the decks of ships—active, docked and wrecked—in ports and on piers, in towns, on tropical islands, in taverns, in fortresses... and, frankly, just about everywhere else you can imagine.
As the burly, muscled Captain Blood—Brock Sampson has nothing on this guy in terms of Strong, Silent-Type build and demeanor—player can use bladed weapons, pistols and grenades, plus the odd weapon dropped
here and there by a pummeled enemy. Failing those types of armament, the Captain can pick up the occasional piece of the local scenery and start wailing on foes with that; one of the earliest boss-battles also offers the trusty hissing-fused ready-to-throw keg of explosives. The action occurs from fixed angles, and the camera cooperates more often than not.
Very quickly, players will pick up on the unapologetic God of War vibe, and on the value of different assigned/upgradeable attacks and special execution moves. The executions are not only gory-as-hell-bordering-on-inappropriately-funny: If you don't let out a ghoulish giggle the first few times Captain Blood pulls a foe in nice and hip-close for a blood-gouting Crotch Blast, there is something wrong with you. But they can be strategically used to maximize particular types of damage against foes and force them to drop either weapons or gold. (You got to kill 'em all, the right way!) The player's options to upgrade various lethal moves give the game an oil-sheen-thin veneer of role-playing selection.
Occasionally, the gameplay not only focuses on boarding and melee actions that take place aboard ships at sea, but relentlessly oblige the player to run around single-handedly manning, aiming, and firing all said ships' guns—portside and starboard, fore and aft. This is all to take down circling, predatory frigates while fighting off marauding enemy boarding-parties as he's waiting for the next cannon-shot opportunity. It's brutal, and there's nothing more frustrating than getting yanked out of first-person cannon mode (by some foe bashing on you from beyond your peripheral vision) just as you're lining up a perfect, wicked shot to take down an enemy ship's rigging.
[image3]Much of the game's boss battles involve crucial performance in quick-time events. During the first aboard-ship battle, players suddenly, inexplicably control the Captain's bandana-wearing and rather-less-manly friend Walt for a time. Other times, there are protracted, talky cinematic exchanges—heralding clashes with other would-be cutthroats—that never let you forget this is a game of Russian origin.
While remaining mechanically sound all these years, Captain Blood has definitely started to show some age in the visual department; it's on the crunchy side, but still vibrantly-colorful and almost charmingly cartoonish, even with its burly bluster and buckets of blood. Captain Blood is slated to set sail on PC and the Xbox 360 after Q1 2011. We'll keep a weather eye and hoist the GR colors when our full review is ready.