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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Action / Adventure

 

Publisher

Atari

 

Developer

Akella

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

Q4 2007

 

 

- Accidentally neat targeting system for ship-to-ship combat

 

 

- Almost directly rips off Sid Meier's Pirates!

- Badly dated graphics

- Uninspiring sound and music

- Historical inaccuracies and anachronisms get in the way of gameplay

- Practically meaningless and underpowered RPG system bolted on

- Tremendous amount of load screens and extraneous effort needed to navigate throughout the game

 

 

Review: Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey (PS2)

Review: Tropico 2: Pirate Cove (PC)

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean (PC)

 

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Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey

Score: 4.0 / 10

 

As a kid, my favorite time of the school year was when history class turned to cover the American Civil War.  It's probably the most interesting period in American history, even more so than the American Revolution.  The military, scientific, and social repercussions of the War Between The States (or the War for Southern Independence , depending on who you talk to) are still being felt even today.  During the Civil War, with the South at an extreme disadvantage in terms of raw materials and manufacturing capacity, plus a minimal number of railroad lines, supplies had to be obtained by smuggling them in through the Union blockade of Confederate ports.  And it is into this scenario that  Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey puts you in the boots of Captain Abraham Gray, a sailor and would-be blockade runner.

 

swashbucklers          swashbucklers

 

On the visual side of things, Swashbucklers looks chunky, something that might have been semi-decent six years ago, but now just looks hopelessly out of date.  While the water effects during sailing are nice, they're not jaw-dropping.  Characters are blocky, though their animations are fairly smooth.  The interface screens have a distinctly faded color palette which only makes the information presented look dull and uninteresting.  Moreover, at least one visual element for a gameplay mechanic known as Perks looks suspiciously similar to the art style found in Fallout.  For some reason, Akella chose to use a wildly anachronistic visual style for the bulk of the game.  Almost everything in the game bears more resemblance to the Old West of the 1880s than the Deep South and Caribbean of the 1860s.  Sid Meier's Pirates! might have gotten away with cribbing from Errol

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Flynn pirate movies, but Swashbucklers looks just plan silly trying to borrow Clint Eastwood's look from The Outlaw Josey Wales.

 

Sound is another area where Swashbucklers seems to engage in similar cribbing from Pirates!, specifically in terms of voice work from characters, which is to say, there isn't any.  Whereas Pirates! had NPCs talking in a

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form of simlish that at least sounded like it had the right accents for each nation's representative, Swashbucklers just has uninflected and unimpressive simlish grunts which do absolutely nothing to help keep one interested in the game.  The music isn't bad, but it's not exactly awe-inspiring, either.  Certainly not enough to get you into the mood for boarding ships and dueling Union Navy crews to the death.  Likewise, sound effects are equally uninspiring.  How it's possible to make the roar of cannons so thoroughly bland, I'll never know.

 

From a gameplay standpoint, Swashbucklers plays a lot like Pirates!, but with some considerable differences and enough anachronisms to fill a Union frigate.  There seems to be a great deal more work to be done to make your way through pretty much every activity that you have available to you.  Trading goods is a pain and not particularly exciting since the prices are fixed throughout the game world.  Moving around a town requires you to hit the Spacebar every time you're at the edge of one section of town.  Ship-to-ship combat is somewhat faster than Pirates! since the vessels in question are usually steam powered ships, and the use of a spyglass as a targeting reticle is a neat little touch that almost seems accidental given the rest of the gameplay.  The boarding sequence where you basically fight off the remaining survivors of the enemy ship's crew are very much a clickfest which serves little point other than giving you XP for the simplistic roleplaying system and a bit of cash for repairing your ship and paying the crew.  And when you've finished with the crew, you swap over into a completely different system of combat to take on the captain.  The fact you have load screens at virtually every stage prior to another segment of combat is enough to drive even the most forgiving gamer to the nearest bottle of rum.

 

swashbucklers          swashbucklers

 

What really kills the game for me is the load of historical inaccuracies and anachronisms.  I know, games are supposed to be fun, games are not supposed to be exactly like reality.  But games like the Total War series have proven that you don't have to sacrifice historical accuracy to make a fun game.  Swashbucklers starts with a flawed premise, historically speaking, and goes completely off the rails.  The average blockade runner during the Civil War was an officer in the British Royal Navy who'd "gone on leave" to be a government approved but easily disavowed smuggler.  He wasn't trading shots with the Union Navy on a regular basis but rather outrunning and outsailing his opponents, using speed and guile, and usually getting away with it a fairly good number of times.  By their nature, blockade runners couldn't smuggle in the volumes of basic necessities that the Confederacy needed, and thus they went for reasonably compact cargoes that could fetch good prices, but it was still a trickle compared to the previous volume of trade that Southern ports had enjoyed prior to secession.  All of this could have been the basis for a really good game.  There could have been adventure on the high seas, dangerous political intrigue, and incredible tension not only bringing the ship in to port unharmed but afterwards as well, dancing the night away with Southern belles before duels at dawn with their offended beaus or brothers.  Instead, Swashbucklers gives us an ugly, cliched, and hopelessly anachronistic mess of a game that will have you saying, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

 

- Axel Cushing

(March 18, 2008)

 

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