E3 06: Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey Impressions

It's like a grittier, more action-packed version of Sid Meier's Pirates!, set during the US Civil War.

RELATED Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey

LOS ANGELES--Though best known for its PC strategy and role-playing games, Moscow-based developer Akella will soon be hitting the PlayStation 2 with Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey, an action role-playing game set during the Civil War. In the game, players will assume the role of the burly Abraham Gray, a ship captain trying to make ends meet during a tumultuous time in America's history. He'll get to sail between the Northern Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico in search of riches, alliances, and adventure in a game that's clearly inspired by the recent Sid Meier's Pirates!. However, while Pirates! presents a rather lighthearted look at the privateer occupation, Swashbucklers packs in some bloody, no-holds-barred sword fights and gun battles. We got a chance to see the hand-to-hand and ship-to-ship combat as well as some of the other elements of play in the work-in-progress build shown at E3.

Despite the gritty combat, Swashbucklers isn't going to replace your history books. Its stylized character design is reminiscent of World of Warcraft, and you can look forward to seeing some interesting creative liberties on display in the game. The story seems to involve some experimental weapons being manufactured to tip the war in favor of a particular side, so everything from Gatling guns to powder rockets will eventually be available, in addition to the six-shooters, sabers, and cannonballs you'd naturally expect.

The game will feature many of the same elements as Pirates!, in that you'll get to engage in ship-to-ship battles on the high seas, meet other characters and conduct trade at local ports, customize your ship with improved weapons and defenses, and so on. The ship-to-ship combat looks quite similar to that of Pirates!, though the greater variety of weapons and a few other touches may add more depth. It's still simple, easy-to-control combat that should be easy to pick up. After you weaken an enemy ship's defenses, you can move in to board it, at which point Captain Grey will have to take on the remaining crew, followed by the enemy ship's captain. The combat has the look of an action RPG, but smooth animation and plenty of gore make these sequences seem pretty intense. It's particularly satisfying to see Captain Grey rapidly empty all six chambers of one of his pistols to blow away an opponent.

Another difference between this game and Pirates! is that Swashbucklers seems to have heavier RPG-style character development elements. In a nod to the classic Fallout, Captain Grey gains perks, or special abilities, as he gains experience levels. So it'll be up to you to decide whether to develop him as a fearsome fighter, a skilled navigator, a silver-tongued trader, and more. Some of these grant bonuses, while others give Abraham Grey completely new abilities. Expect about 60 different perks in all.

Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey has been in development for a couple of years already and seems to be like a promising combination of tried-and-true elements with a unique spin. Its open-ended structure should inherently make for some good replay value, so we're hoping that all the disparate elements get all the time they need to be properly tuned and cleaned up in time for the game's release on the PS2 and PC later this year.

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