Microsoft's excellent oceanic shooter Blood Wake for Xbox offers players an intense shooting experience over some pretty treacherous waters. The game’s realistic water physics are some of the most realistic ever seen on a console and make playing all the more intense. With the addition amazing almost photo-realistic graphics, super cool power-ups and intensely challenging action, this is one not to miss. Add in a variety of challenging solo and multiplayer modes, and this highly polished release stands as one of the most consistently entertaining and satisfying titles in the early stages of the system’s lifespan.
Coming from PC developers StormFront Studios, you wouldn’t expect Blood Wake to be that big a deal, but as Microsoft proved with Bungie’s Halo, a developer’s past history isn’t necessarily the best predictor of success in the console market. Blood Wake offers plenty of action and a lot of strategy and depth, which should keep it on heavy rotation for quite some time. Blood Wake’s back story is particularly good involving rival gangs of Asian pirates on the high seas. This is told through cool voice-overs in between missions: you’re cast as a renegade pirate in the South Pacific who’s been enlisted in aid of a rebel pirate faction looking to smash a consortium that’s ruled the oceans in the area with an iron fist. As a mercenary however, you’re true loyalty lies only to yourself, not the company you’re supposedly working for. As an expert pilot, you take the controls of deadly speedboats and engage in water based combat missions, which unfold at a good pace. The game’s many modes make Blood Wake shoot-‘em-up guaranteed to keep your blood flowing for quite awhile. Featuring some of the best water combat action you’ll see on any console with multiple power-ups, excellent variety in ships and goals, the game’s realism and intensity makes for quite an addictive experience, especially in the story mode which is really well done.
While many have complained about the large size of the Xbox controller, here the interface seems to be perfectly suited for the interface. Players use the left analog controller to steer the craft and can also use the standard d-pad for this as well. Shooting the standard machine guns and the torpedoes is accomplished using the shift buttons on top. You can also switch views instantly using the buttons on the left. Overall, the configuration is excellent. Overall, the game shines during play because its controls are incredibly smooth and make playing the game intuitive and enjoyable. The ship is quite responsive and seems to glide realistically over the waves giving the player an excellent sense of being at the controls. Switching weapons and targeting the enemies is also well done, making the game play very intuitively throughout. Despite the seemingly simplistic gameplay the sophistication of the controls is impressive; this title is much more than Twisted Metal on water. This is only enhanced because of Blood Wake’s impressive variety of smartly designed single-player missions which add plenty of replay value and are challenging enough to keep the average player busy for quite some time. Additionally, there are battle modes and multiplayer options to give you even more enjoyable blasting action.
For the most part, your objective is to sink the enemy ships without getting destroyed yourself simple to understand but harder to accomplish in practice than theory. You have several types of weapons at your disposal including machine guns, missiles and devastatingly elegant torpedoes which go under the surface to inflict massive damage – while most of the weapons require you to aim them, what’s cool is that the torpedoes auto-target the enemies. The stock of the missiles and torpedoes is limited, so you have to use these strategically and use them on the more difficult enemies. Once a rival boat is destroyed, crates with weapons upgrades and health power-ups appear which you collect by running over them but be careful since rival boats can and will scoop them up from under you in the later levels. There are also sub-objectives in each mission such as collecting treasure chests, destroying enemy installations, escorting or guarding innocent vessels from the attacking forces which adds to the challenge and makes the environments seem alive. There are also some racing levels where the object is to beat a set time. These are simple at first but become increasingly difficult as the game throws more obstacles your way and gives you less time on the clock. As you progress through later levels, the enemies become increasingly aggressive and attack your ship in multiple waves, making survival all the more difficult. Blood Wake is offers plenty of these types of strategic missions many of which are intelligently designed to throw you curves. What’s even better about the story mode is that playing through it unlocks a variety of different boats which gives these missions more variety and also enhances the multiplayer modes, since these can be used there as well.
What really makes the game stand out are its variety of customizable features. Blood Wake’s single player, story and death match modes include many different features that you can set to your liking. Blood Wake’s mission mode is the main meat of the game, with a gradually increasing level of difficulty and a variety of goals that keep the player constantly challenged. The single player game is excellent but the split-screen multiplayer mode is where Blood Wake really shines. This supports up to 4 gamers simultaneously and really makes for some intense action. The multiplayer modes can be played alone against AI boats for practice sessions and you can adjust the number of kills, clock, types of opponents, weather conditions and then battle in 5 different areas which really makes a lot of sense, since players of varying abilities can play against each other with decent handicaps and a chance of winning. The multiplayer mode alone is addictive and doesn’t suffer from the poor resolution you’d expect in split-screen and makes the action all the more visceral and exciting.
As you can tell from the screen-shots, the graphics in the game are excellent and really take advantage of the console’s power. All of the ships in the game look incredible with high-polygon counts lending them an incredible appearance, with small details such as turning motors, turning turrets and spinning turrets, making for a dazzling visual appearance. Blood Wake’s environments are also incredible and some of the best ever seen on console. The engine creates some sumptuous visuals that are stunningly beautiful with realistic water that looks and feels life-like with realistic waves and ripples. What’s cool is that the gorgeous graphics aren’t just for show, since the realistic water physics play a huge role in how the ships perform, with larger waves being much more difficult to navigate. Players will also need to watch out for rock formations and other hidden dangers, including recently sunken ships which can really put a damper on you if you go over them the wrong way. The game’s environments are beautiful with great attention also paid to the land-based structures giving the entire experience a believable grounding in variety. The weapons effects are also quite stunning, especially the torpedoes which look spectacular in their submerged paths towards their targets. What’s even more impressive is the seemingly effortless implementation of light-sourcing, reflections and dynamic lens-flare to are used lavishly, adding to the visual authenticity to the physics models. The seas can be set from calm to stormy for different weather conditions, each of which poses their own problems. The size of the waves buffeting the boats makes a big difference and makes a real impact in the boats’ responsiveness, and can make them almost flip over if you hit them the wrong way. This engine is highly polished, incredibly stable, moves at a consistent 60 FPS and is really impressive. The impressive visual polish in Blood Wake adds an intense realism that most other water based titles haven’t come close to achieving.
Visual splendor aside, it’s the excellent gameplay that will keep you coming back again and again. While Blood Wake seems like a simple game that’s easy to understand, its impressive story mode makes it difficult to put down. With several different types of missions to undertake, and some really interesting goals, there’s a lot of variety here. The game’s intuitive and incredibly responsive controls only add to the enjoyment. What’s great about this is that each ship has its own unique power-ups and controls which really makes the game fun. Add in the impressive wave-physics and sophisticated, aggressive AI and you have an action title that offers plenty of strategic depth. On the surface, this seems like a superficial combat title, but go deeper into it and you find that Blood Wake is a truly excellent action title that is one the Xbox’ most enjoyable and entertaining to date.