Pirates are surprisingly untouched in video game history.
Aside from Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, can you think of more than five good pirate games without resorting to Google? I mean, there’s Sid Meier’s Pirates, Monkey Island and the Shantae series, and that’s pretty much it when it comes to it. We’re seeing a mild surge of pirate games as of late, with Sea of Thieves and Blackwake setting sail (Sorry.) for releases soon, and now we have BlackSea Odyssey, here to sail the seven galaxies. Wait a minute..
BlackSea comes to us from Team Blacksea Odyssey (Great name), a team of three who’ve been working on this for some time, from what I can see. But that’s from “what I can see”, for all I know, they’ve could’ve been doing Multi-Team on Black Ops 2 for the past five years, and it’s possible that might be the case, as we’ll dive into the monster mouth and dissect the craziness.
You are Old Man, a young boy obviously, who lost his arm to an intergalactic terror known only as The Titan of The Stars, who is believed to stretch across galaxies and “can consume black holes”. No pun intended, but I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that this creature would never exist. Nevertheless, it’s the once-a-decade tournament called the Blacksea Odyssey, and 4 huntsmen are competing for ultimate victory.
You’ve got 9 rounds of constant battle against the terrors of space, and you gain more points based on just how lethal the monsters in question are, with almost all of them based on bugs but with a few more appendages. Butterflies, frogs and insects all get cosmic variations and you’ll be fighting them and their daddies throughout the universe.
Really, what this is, is a sea-hunting extravaganza set in the endless and ambiguous valleys of space. You browse around a small space, checking your sonar for possible monster activity, harpooning random beasts, and it’s a roll of the dice as to whether or not the boss of the area will be residing in that exact part of space. There’s also incredibly cryptic variations of monsters that take WAY too much damage to kill, especially for starting monsters.
The enemy variety is pretty solid across the board, with all of them employing different strategies for your spaceman Moby Dick. But if there’s one variation I can do without, it’s the incredibly small monsters that are a major struggle to hit. In any other top-down game, this would be fine, but they rarely swarm and offer a slow but nevertheless well-earned victory, and they move way too fast for this kind of precision combat.
Speaking of precision, there’s no real gimmick when it comes to BlackSea Odyssey. It simply shows you its hand and lets you approach in any way possible. The main attraction is the Dead Space route of ripping off every single limb that’s available on the monsters. Wings, arms, legs, mouths and tongues can all be ripped off with your trusty harpoon. What follows is pretty satisfying, if unrealistic. They all have tactile telekinesis, which means despite ripping off the entire left side of an alien body, it’ll still move around normally, instead of spinning around endlessly.
They weren’t kidding about the bosses being huge either. From the Belch Brothers to Cthulhu, Moonpiercer to Puff Daddy, these beasts are massive and want nothing better than to rip your fleshy body apart. They’re all designed in a basic format, but are varied enough to make you feel like you’re fighting something new every time. Out of every boss that came across my harpoon, the best to fight was probably Moonpiercer, a massive hammerhead shark-looking behemoth that definitely made it felt like you were wrestling with this thing.
For the most part, the areas you enter will be desolate hell-holes filled with long stretches of rock, but somehow full of life as you’ll see tens of monsters flying around in the background, which is actually really impressive. Most developers wouldn’t have bothered to put the time in to make these space behemoths feel like an actual threat, and it just adds to the overall atmosphere. A crippling shame that the attention given to this wasn’t given anywhere else.
Yes, the massive blow to the knee-caps that leaves Blacksea.. Sinking in quicksand, is that the performance of the game is unbelievably atrocious. Screen tearing almost always occurs if you’re too fast, the sound design is magnificently broken, leaving most fights sounding like an Atari 2600 game dipped in water. The entire game looks like a Happy Wheels mod made by a raccoon.
It’s a weird mess, one that is almost unplayable since the game cannot handle the galaxy-spanning monsters nearly as well enough as it promises, and the entire presentation of this game looks unfinished and muddy. Your player character is way too small for the screen, making bigger fights a nonsensical mess, and the interface blends in with everything else, making it look like your screen has sun-spots.
I just have no idea why this game performs so bad. It’s bad enough that I’ve got to put on the Flash Gordon score in order to retain immersion but now I’m sitting here trying frantically to play this thing and even Freddie Mercury won’t save the day. Maybe it runs better on PC, but my god, the Xbox One version is a monument of technical incompetence.
However, despite the accidental ruination of a promising sleeper hit, there is still something that draws me to the game, and has kept me coming back, despite my dashboarding-rage. Maybe it’s the absurdity of it, the sheer stupidity on display, seeing this old amputee run around the universe looking for the sweet revenge he deserves.
There’s enough content to make it feel like Blacksea.. is worth it, but there’s not enough polish or focus on any one mechanic that makes the journey worth it. It’s certainly unique and is one of the standout titles to come out of Xbox’s Summer Spotlight, but when you look at what’s been released, it’s not saying much. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Blacksea.. Just isn’t good enough for a recommendation. Maybe a few months down the line, and a few patches come out to clean this bad boy up, but right now, it’s a mess.
If you can get past the technical shortcomings that plague this title like a bad omen, then by all means, get Blacksea.. Because there’s nothing else like it on the market. However, if you want a more appealing veneer, then stick to something like The Binding of Issac or Neurovoider, two titles with the madness, but not the charm.
Something completely different and charming, that cannot perform to the best of its abilities.