The mobile phone is the one constantly connected device no functional member of society can leave home without. For this reason, the cell phone would be the ideal platform to deliver a truly persistent massively multiplayer online experience. Up until now, however, no one has really managed to realize this vision--at least not on US networks, with our pitiable download speeds and draconian file-size limitations, which would necessitate the dynamic streaming of server-side content. Our early look at Swashbuckler, by Floodgate Entertainment, suggests that this will be the game to overcome those technological hurdles and make good on the promise of mobile as the perfect MMO environment.
Swashbuckler's gameplay could be described as a massively multiplayer take on Sid Meier's Pirates!, a critically acclaimed PC game of last year. Swashbuckler features similar vehicular combat, in which you and a seafaring opponent fire cannons at each other without the aid of depth perception, but with the mutual benefit of badass eyepatches. In fact, that sort of pirating accoutrement will increase your reputation status in the world of Swashbuckler. You can buy peg legs, hook arms, and even colorful parrots from the Caribbean. All of these items help to differentiate your character and earn you props with the motley crew of scurvy seamen you'll encounter at your local tavern.
If you're not up for an all-out brawl with your rival pirate, you can challenge him to a manly game of axe-throwing. This minigame is controlled with a single button, the first pressing of which sets the x-axis, the second of which sets the y-axis. This game is, of course, played for wagered gold coins. To distract your opponent, you can enter a number of preordained taunts.
Swashbuckler won't be out for another year, but it's already performing exceedingly well over standard 2.5G networks. Floodgate has developed a latency-reduction technique worthy of industrywide notice. Our own high-seas confrontations ran almost without visible lag--a tremendous achievement in a mobile action game, running in real time. In the retail version of Swashbuckler, players will be broken into instance groups, to avoid massing. A similar system is used to allow players lag-less, griefer-less dungeon experiences in just about every modern massively multiplayer online role-playing game on the PC. Early estimates from Floodgate indicate that 16 to 32 players will be allowed in each instance, of which there may be thousands.
Our hands-on experience with Swashbuckler was all too brief, and our stumpy limbs are just itching for more playtime. We're not ready to pronounce Swashbuckler the mobile game equivalent of Cortez's lost gold--yet. Here's hoping this game continues to look so prodigiously promising.