We were unaware of just how much we needed a reality show pitting sci-fi pirates against each other in an arena filled with dangerous drones and unusual environments, at least until we jumped into Bow to Blood: Last Captain Standing. The first-person single-player arena game developed by Tribetoy, features the use of floating galleons as the vehicles for combat in a tournament where there can only be one victor. Throughout the game, success is relative to how you approach each fight. Aggression shows short term rewards, however, playing smart and choosing your battles may just ensure that you last long enough to claim the title of champion. That is unless you make too many enemies and fall victim to the vote.
We play as a captain known as The Freelancer, a character whose identity is concealed behind a mask and a generic name which can only lead to speculation. The first thing we experience as we load in is the short introduction scene where we meet our crew; two people who will help operate the moderately large vessel. Both are charismatic and feature quirky futuristic designs, but you get the sense they are just here for the ride, sort of like an unplayable sidekick in a platformer. Once this is done and out the way, we're thrown into a tutorial that covers the basics; how to steer your floating ship, how to move up and down, how to stop, etc. It's a bit of a handful to really manage all of these elements at once, and a button mapping feature or a little bit of customisation could've fixed this issue and greatly improved the feel of the controls.
Pulling our pirate-themed ship out of a narrow chasm into a huge open area with a floating set of monitors in the centre, we realise that we're entering something approaching a game show. That's until some potently charismatic announcer appeared sporting blonde hair in the style of Ron Burgundy. This overly flirty host managed to put us through all the best parts of being uncomfortable as he repeatedly changed poses and gazed right into our souls. It was really intense. However, once the horror show had finished, it was time to start the actual tournament.
It is worth saying, due to the nature of the rather poor tutorial, that things aren't crystal clear at the start. Over two stages you earn points that position you on an overall leaderboard, and the lowest ranked characters on that leaderboard are then voted for by you and your fellow AI-controlled captains, with the character with the fewest votes being expelled from the tournament. These two stages can be considered akin to combat trails and differ between rounds, and each tournament is made of several rounds.
Morever, being thrown straight into combat thinking you have both the skill and ability to tackle whatever is coming at you, usually results in irreparable damage and in some cases failure. Understanding the damage your ship will take as the stages/rounds progress is not something they prepare you for. Also, the fact they don't really give you any information with regards to how combat works, or how the actual tournament functions, is a bit daft. Still, after a few rounds of getting punished, things start falling into place and manning your ship becomes second nature.
The more advanced aspects of the game, however, are a different beast. You're tasked with constantly directing your crew around via a pop-up radial menu, and that can be frustrating and stressful. If that wasn't enough, you also have to reconfigure the energy of your ship so certain parts work more effectively, this time via a second radial menu. For example, when in combat, it might be an idea to redirect the energy which was heading to the boost function over to advanced weaponry or the overshield instead. It sounds simple but when loads of drones are tearing your ship apart and you're sitting there messing around in a menu, things don't always go to plan. Likewise, as the captain, you are in charge of shooting down any drones which breach your ship. This means whilst managing to deal with all these other issues, you have to whip out a pistol and gun down some mini drones clogging up your view. Oftentimes during combat, these can blend into the background and can be forgotten to the detriment of your vessel.
The art style of the game itself was generally really impressive. By utilising a similar sort of cel-shaded look Borderlands utilised before it, everything looks as though it was designed for a comic book. Bow to Blood never failed to impress in this aspect and this style really adds to the experience as the explosions and way the weapons look when you fire them makes for crazy entertaining combat. A personal favourite of ours is seeing the giant robot eyeballs fire mega laser beams at us - it was genuinely awe-inspiring.
Another interesting part of Bow to Blood is the way the voting system works. During every round of the tournament, the captains with the lowest scores are subject to a vote where one is eliminated from the tournament. This makes for some strange interactions as you can make friends with other captains to ensure they vote for you, or the polar opposite can happen, so beware. Whilst this does add to how the game is played, sometimes it falls into a trap where a captain may have half the points as the next lowest captain and survive for several rounds, which can lead to very frustrating circumstances if you get voted out before they do. Likewise, this cause and effect system also limits how aggressive players can be. For example, if you decide to destroy another captain's ship in a match, you will most likely make an enemy of them and their allies, meaning should you be in the next vote, it'll probably be your last. Should you be voted off, players can simply just start a new season, where different captains and arenas will be waiting as the tournament system is different each time, this due to the game's randomised encounters and a rotating cast of characters.
Overall, Bow to Blood: Last Captain Standing is a really unique game with interesting mechanics that does a great job of putting you in the shoes of a sci-fi pirate. Whilst some elements can be frustrating, the majority of the experience on offer is enjoyable, which is great considering the amount of replayability they've managed to build in.
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