In the 24th century, the world has become a very different place. Natural disasters have left much of the world buried underwater, and humanity has split into two factions divided by the equator. In the southern hemisphere, society is at peace, thriving in blissful harmony. In the north, however, war is rampant, thanks to the antics of three tyrannical warlords. This is the world of SeaBlade, a flight combat game from Simon & Schuster that aims to take the concept of futuristic combat shooters to a new level, with advanced weaponry, exciting fly-and-shoot action, and the ability to fly through both the air and the sea. Unfortunately, little of the promised combat or excitement seems to have made its way into this game, making for a pretty dull experience.
As the story picks up, you're a member of an elite squadron of Southern Alliance pilots known as SeaBlade. Stationed aboard a large battleship called the Argosy, you are given assignments to help aid in the destruction of the evil Northern Warlords. The vast majority of these assignments are in the vein of reaching checkpoints, dropping off equipment, or rescuing hostages/civilians/scientists who are loyal to your cause. Amazingly enough, that's about all there is to do in SeaBlade. There are 39 missions in all, but they rarely stray far from these categories, and when they do, the variances tend to be very small, such as combining equipment drop-offs and rescue missions, or making some of the hostages inaccessible behind force fields that must be destroyed.
Along the way, enemy ships and fighters will attempt to foil your plans, though not with much in the way of effort. Much of the combat in SeaBlade leans more toward frustration than actual difficulty, as controlling your ship is a pretty harrowing experience. Your ship is handled by using both the controller's analog sticks together. One is for acceleration and flying backward, and the other is for steering. This scheme by itself would be fine, but your ship's handling is ridiculously loose, leading to tons of missed turns and power-up items in times of desperation. Even if handling weren't an issue, the game's combat would still be pretty bad. Enemy ships are pretty easy to dispatch, and they rarely ever surprise you, thanks to an arrow system that appears onscreen to warn you when and where ships are going to attack. Unfortunately, there are also a number of ground-based guns and missile launchers to contend with, and the arrow system doesn't apply to these, making it extremely easy to suddenly find yourself being pelted by missiles from out of nowhere and not having nearly enough time to get out of their range.
The most disappointing thing about SeaBlade's gameplay, however, is the one thing that should have set it apart from other flight combat shooters--the ability to fly through both the air and the sea. It's a very cool gameplay element, but it ultimately falls short in the execution. Save for times when you have to go underwater to fulfill the exact same types of mission objectives as you typically would above ground, there's really no point to going underwater. Rarely do you ever find any hidden items or power-ups down there, and in all actuality, your ship is even more difficult to control underwater than it is in the air. The only other purpose this aspect seems to have is to occasionally duck enemy ships before they have a chance to spot you, but this cheap stealth mechanic doesn't help the game in the slightest.
SeaBlade doesn't do much to win you over in terms of graphical presentation, either. Everything in the game looks extremely bland and washed out, with lots of drab color schemes and sloppy-looking textures that give the whole game a very rushed feel. Though it boasts six massive levels, they all look pretty much the same, with some minor differences and a few different set pieces here and there to try and dress them up. The underwater areas are a total joke, with a few scattered buildings and only a minimal level of relative depth, giving the impression that you're flying through a small lake, rather than a massive ocean. Most offensive to the eye, however, is SeaBlade's story sequences. Rather than animated sequences, all the mission briefings and cutscenes are played out through still-shot images of the game's characters that change every couple of seconds to represent different facial expressions.
The game's sound is probably its strongest feature, which really says something about how bad the overall product is. The sound effects are of the fairly standard variety, with lots of explosions and weapon sounds. In fact, many of the effects associated with the game's weapons are pretty good, including some fairly realistic-sounding machine guns and missiles. Some inoffensive but repetitive music plays during gameplay and behind the menus. None of it is especially memorable, but it does the trick. The voice work is largely relegated to mission briefings and other video sequences. As its main purpose is to instruct you on your mission, most of it is fairly straightforward, but there are definitely some cheesy, laughable characters who really ham it up.
SeaBlade has a couple of other features, such as a basic multiplayer function and additional ships that can be unlocked in the single-player mode--but really, none of this can make up for the game's sloppy execution and boring gameplay mechanics. In a more action-oriented game, the concept of an air-and-sea combat game might have been something worthwhile, but as it stands, SeaBlade is just too light on action, production quality, and overall gameplay to make it a worthwhile purchase.