Rock the boat.
The sea is an enchanting wonderland filled with beauty and mystery. Beneath the surface lies a wealth of life as well as mysteries as old as the Earth itself. Then again, the sea is also home to guys like this, this, and this. With horrors like those lurking in the deep, good ol' Jacques Cousteau should have installed a few heavy duty torpedo launchers and depth charges on that Calypso of his.
Well, the folks at Microsoft decided to go the distance when it comes to oceanic carnage in the form of Blood Wake, their new aquatic combat game. Similar to Activision's Vigilante 8, Blood Wake requires you to send your enemies to Davey Jones' locker while careening through a Southeast Asian seascape on a watercraft loaded with things that go boom. The action is fast and furious, but none of it will really knock your socks off.
You play as Shao Kai, a former naval lieutenant with the Northern League, who was betrayed by his comrades and left for dead. Rescued by the notorious pirates known as the Shadow Clan, Kai becomes one of the clan's fiercest warriors whose ultimate goal is to exact vengeance on those who had betrayed him.
You start off in a small speedboat called the Barracuda. It's only outfitted with four chain guns, but it's more than enough to complete the first mission. As you progress, you'll be given command of new ships with an assortment of weapons such as cannons, stingers, and wave guns. This leads to several boats that possess an awesome combination of firepower and speed.
The only real annoyance is that you absolutely cannot choose which craft to use. Each mission requires you to take a specific boat, leaving no room for personal preferences. Very lame.
Control of the boats is a bit loose, but it won't take you very long to adjust. The key is to get used to the game's wave physics, which are pretty much dead on. Smaller boats will bounce around like kids on a trampoline and the larger, slower boats often have problems making tight turns. Just get to know your boat's characteristics and everything will be fine.
The gameplay is pretty basic, featuring simple mission objectives such as 'destroy all enemies', 'protect the convoy', and 'recover this item'. All you really need to do is to head for the waypoint and either blast or run from anything that gets in your way. You've seen this game before.
Without a doubt, the best part of Blood Wake is its graphics. From coastal towns to the many scattered islands, there's always something well-rendered to look at. Each of the boats is highly detailed and comes complete with moving engine parts. There's also some subtle damage modeling to add some spice to the ride.
But what would an ocean combat game be without some fantastic water? For the most part, the H20 looks great and really brings the visual experience together, though it does have a few noticeable flaws. The wake looks like something that came out of a can of Cool Whip. It also seems to only come from the sides rather than the propeller end. Plus, if you stop dead in the water, the waves do not recognize the boat. They'll just pass under as if nothing was there.
The audio experience runs along the same lines as the visual. Sound effects are done to spec and the voice acting is definitely a cut above average. A bit melodramatic, but it sort of works with the story.
A bunch of unlockables have been included to extend the life of the game. There are 21 available boats, a few extra single and multiplayer modes some new arenas to go with them. Not a shabby offering, but it's still really disappointing that you cannot use your unlocked boats in the main Story mode.
If you've got a group of friends to play with, the Blood Wake multiplayer does not disappoint. From the 'Capture the Fort' style Domination mode to the average Deathmatch/Team Deathmatch modes, this game continues the trend of good split-screen multiplayer games from Microsoft. It's no Halo, but it's still pretty fun.
Blood Wake turns out to be a nice looking game with familiar gameplay that will keep you entertained long enough. There's nothing in these seas that will blow you out of the water, but it does what it does well.