If the name Galleon: Islands of Mystery sounds a bit familiar to you, don't be surprised. It should sound familiar, since the game has been in development for over four years now. Galleon was originally slated as a close-to-launch PlayStation 2 title set for a Christmas 2000 release, but the game has since changed both platforms and publishers and it will finally be hitting the Xbox in the fourth quarter of this year, courtesy of Atlus. After spending some time with a near-final build of the game, we can report that Galleon has shaped up into a pretty playable action adventure game, despite its questionably lengthy development period.
Before we talk about how Galleon plays now, let's back up for a minute and discuss the game's pedigree. Confounding Factor is a group put together by former members of Core Design, the company who created Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise. Galleon was announced way back when the Tomb Raider games were considered among the crème de la crème of third-person adventure games, so expectations for Galleon were understandably pretty high. These days, the Tomb Raider name doesn't carry quite the influence it once did, but thankfully, Galleon still seems to be a game designed with that series' strengths and weaknesses in mind.
Galleon places you in the role of Captain Rhama Sabrier, a dashing and generally good-natured swashbuckler who is summoned to the island of Akhab by Dr. Areliano. The good doctor requires Rhama's expertise in the appraisal of what he first describes as a mysterious artifact, which later turns out to be a strange ship that's conveniently docked in a secret port underneath Areliano's house. Discovering the origin and purpose of this ship and its cargo provides the impetus for Rhama's adventure, which will have him setting sail for many varied locales on the high seas, meeting interesting characters and battling all kinds of pirates and strange creatures.
Galleon's controls are pretty standard for the third-person action genre. Although, when you first begin the game there are a couple of things you'll have to get used to. For one, you're technically controlling the direction of the game's camera rather than that of Rhama himself; he'll simply change his direction to go wherever you're pointing the camera, so there's a slight delay between your direction change and his. Rhama can also run very swiftly, but he'll need about 50 in-game meters to reach his full speed, which means you'll have to make proper use of open terrain to complete certain jumps and so on. The game is pretty forgiving about letting you get through obstacles like narrow walkways, since Rhama also has a sort of "safe" walk mode that will prevent you from falling over ledges as long as you don't move too quickly.
As the hero, Rhama is, of course, a pretty capable fighter. You can perform standard melee attacks on any enemies that get in your way (you can chain these attacks together into combos). As you fight, you'll build up combo points that let you access even more complex moves so you can do more damage (and also look cooler). You'll also have access to moves that let you hit multiple enemies at once for those situations where the lousy cutthroats are ganging up on you, though these moves will cost you a little bit of your health. Rhama, thankfully, will automatically block any attacks that come at him from the front, unless he's already engaged in an attack. Finally, you'll be able to grapple with enemies and knock them silly or perform a throw move to put them down quickly.
In addition to the combat, Galleon has some adventure-game elements that help to give the game extra variety. You'll complete puzzles now and again that have you hitting switches, looking for items, and so on. One notable puzzle had us combing a beach for the missing parts of a giant golem who, when reassembled, would help us battle a giant hydra that had taken up residence on the island. You'll also have help from Dr. Areliano's daughter, Faith, and a fighter named Mihoko in some instances, and you can issue commands to control their behavior through a handy pop-up menu.
Since Galleon started out so long ago and on a lesser platform than the Xbox, it's safe to say that by current standards the game looks a tad dated. That doesn't mean it looks bad, since the game's characters do have a uniquely cartoonlike appearance, with exaggerated facial features and some pretty expressive animations. Rhama is quite the archetypal square-jawed hero, for instance, and his buxom companion, Faith, is not surprisingly proportioned in the style of Miss Croft. The game's backgrounds are solidly constructed and have a fairly organic look to them, although there's not as much geometry as you'll see in most Xbox games. The game's sound design is somewhat minimal but seems to get the job done, and there's some nice voice work to give character to the game's cast, including some actors you may recognize from various past games and animated series.
Though it's been a long time coming, Galleon: Islands of Mystery seems to have cohered into a solidly designed and pretty entertaining action adventure. There's also the fact that this is a game with lots of pirates, who we tend to think are woefully underrepresented in video games. Anyone looking to set sail for adventure (sorry, we had to say it) should keep an eye out for Galleon when the game hits stores in the fourth quarter of this year. We'll bring you more on the game before then.