RPG far outweighs action in Atari’s newest pirate adventure.
Where Sid Meier’s Pirates! title was a no-frills RPG, Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey adds elements of action in the mix, with somewhat of a GTA feel and animation style.
You play as Captain Abraham Grey, a sailor who is accidentally involved in a series of events linked to the U.S. Civil War of 1861-1865. As Grey, you must fight opponents, sail the Caribbean, and earn economic power through a mix of strategy and skilled gameplay. What’s unique about Grey’s character is he is not your typical hero. The U.S. Navy Captain is a schizophrenic and an alcoholic who is constantly guided by his inner voice that explains to him, and you as a player, the course of action you need to take throughout the game. The inner voice is actually more practical than Grey himself and constantly guides the often irrational pirate on his quests.
As you begin, Grey finds himself in a saloon in the village of Havana where his inner voice explains how to purchase alcohol as well as recruit locals to join his crew. With little help from locals in the saloon and only $500 to start with, Grey exits the pub and is greeted by three surly locals who draw swords. This is when the game takes its turn from a typical RPG to an action game as Grey’s inner voice explains the process of battle, which is a fairly simple procedure. The Select button scrolls your weapon inventory, which starts with a pistol and sword but can be upgraded later. After selecting two weapons, the Square button swings the sword or shoots the gun as you use the Left Analog to run around and aim. The gameplay is very simple, and defeating your drunk and disoriented enemies is extremely easy, as RPG elements far outweigh the action in Swashbucklers.
As you defeat enemies your status as a fighter increases, and your inner voice lets you know you are now ready for your first mission. As you navigate the small Havana map, you can enter saloons, gun shops, and general stores, recruiting sailors and purchasing items to stock up your arsenal. You can also go to the harbor where you can buy upgrades like torpedoes and cannons for your ship or purchase a new ship altogether. This is where you can also leave Havana and set sail to travel to other villages, each with their own similarly-structured maps and characters.
When sailing, pushing Up on the directional pad sets your sails to catch wind and Down closes your sails to slow your ship down, while the Left Analog steers it around. This is when you start to discover how big this map is as you sail around the bottom of America, Mexico, and the Caribbean and dock onto ports. As other vessels pass by, you can start battles with them to gain goods, introducing a new kind of boat-on-boat combat to the game.
If you choose to battle a nearby vessel, the game tells you the difficulty in conquering it. If you still want to give it a shot, this is where the fun begins as the gameplay becomes a tad more difficult. You toggle your ship’s cannons with the Right Analog, and steer your ship with the Left. Veering away from oncoming torpedoes in your slow-moving vessel is the difficult part as you are also trying to gain a good vantage point to hit your enemy. If your ship goes down, you have the option to restart the battle, or if it proves to be just too difficult, then you can reload a game from where you last left off. If you get close enough to enemy ships, you can also board their ship for on-foot combat. You will have to battle the onslaught of attacking crew members and then finally defeat the ship’s captain in a to-the-death sword duel. Dueling is slightly different than normal on-foot gameplay as Square is used for a low-powered attack and Triangle for a high-powered attack. Holding X while using the Left Analog blocks. The more attacks you use, the more energy is consumed, making your attacks weaker and eventually useless. However, you will find defeating captains to be fairly simple as well. Upon seizing the vessel, you can decide if you want to use it for your own, auction it off or simply take its cargo and burn it.
Gray can also earn money by picking fights with locals in the saloons and waging money on a boxing match. The boxing matches work very much like a sword duel, using high and low combinations and blocking your opponents attack to defeat him. Akella could have done a lot more to improve the action, as the boxing is even easier than a duel. Usually your opponent just swings blindly at you while you block him and wait for his energy to decrease, then allowing you to counter. Simple stuff.
Akella have attempted to add some elements of action to a primarily RPG-focused game, most likely to appeal to the PS2 audience who are looking for a bit more excitement. Unfortunately, a lot of the action, especially hand-to-hand combat, is extremely simplistic and slow-paced.
Something else that confuses me is all the dialogue is spoken in muffled gibberish, which means you have to read the captions along the bottom to understand what people are saying. Perhaps Akella skimped on the voice-over work, but even the conversation between the physical Gray has with his inner voice isn’t narrated, and the player must read along with the conversations.
Graphically, Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey leaves something to be desired. Character designs and sketched-drawn loading screens give it a strong GTA feel, though less detail was done to surrounding environments and the free-roaming atmosphere. However, the large-scale maps and open-sea sailing capture the essence of the Caribbean pirate lifestyle of the mid 1800s. Akella do a good job of capturing a time when, though technology and nautical inventions were still in an infantile state, heroes battled and sailed the seas with honor, bravery, and an aspiration to travel uncharted waters to new worlds.
While the RPG and action elements aren’t exactly balanced equally, this game may be most appealing to RPG fans who like a bit of excitement in their role-playing experience.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.6 Graphics
Characters are well-designed, but environments leave something to be desired. Choppy animation during hand-to hand combat. 3.0 Control
Controls are extremely simple yet comprehensible, adding a bit of action to an otherwise standard RPG. 2.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Player must read along to on-screen text with mumbled voiceover work, but the game’s ambience captures 19th century Caribbean well. 3.5 Play Value
For RPG gamers who desire a bit more action, Swashbucklers has its moments. Action gamers may want to look elsewhere. 3.2 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.