Review: 'Bow to Blood: Last Captain Standing' (Switch)

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All hands on deck for airship combat!

Bow to Blood: Last Captain Standing puts you at the helm of a futuristic airship. One part reality show, one part naval combat, and strangely enough, one part social simulator, you must balance the alliances within the arena as well as you balance your crew if you want to become champion.

The first layer of this strange little game is, of course, the ship itself. You command two crew members who can man the cannons, drones, shields, sensors, or engines, both maintaining them against enemy attack as well as enhancing their abilities. Your job is to go up against several other colorful sci-fi, Mad Max-esque captains in naval (aerial?) combat against fleets of drones, occasionally collecting treasure along the way.

As you go, you forge alliances with other captains, a useful thing as at the end of every match there is a reality television style elimination, where one of the bottom two scoring competitors are voted out by the rest of the group. Do favors, share points, or maybe just back stab someone to shift their views of you, but beware: they have friends, so no deed ever just affects a single relationship.

The game is visually appealing, and the space captain aesthetics really work for the game play. Unfortunately, the controls take some time to get used to. Even after the tutorial I found myself forgetting not just what buttons did what, but why I would want to use any of them. Furthermore, the objectives in many rounds seemed vague and, only after successfully completing the round did I understand what it was they wanted from me at the start.

Apparently this game started as a Playstation VR title, and that makes some sense with the controls. One stick controls the ship itself while the other controls where you, the captain, are aiming, something that would be much easier to maintain in VR. Too often I found myself losing which way the front of my ship was while I desperately slid through menus trying to reassign my two crew members to one of the six positions. And that, alone, might have turned me off this game.

There's a bit of a learning curve early on. Getting used to what systems are useful for which situations, figuring out when you should swap your crew around, and even just getting used to targeting and shooting take longer than you might like, but once you figure it out there is a decent game to be found.

Another thing I felt lacking was the depth of the game. On my first play through I felt little incentive to actually want to win the competition. There's no real overarching story beyond "win the Championship!" You compete in events that, in the end, boil down to shooting a lot of enemy drones and mining some minerals for points. It'd be nice if maybe they added a race or obstacle course; anything to add some variety beyond "go here, shoot this, don't die."

As far as the characters, I'm split. Your actual crew is a delight. I appreciate the fun banter between them and the useful information they feed me in a crisis. They feel reasonably fleshed out for a game that has no real story and I think a good part of that is the voice acting, something the other characters don't actually have. Enemy and allied captains communicate solely through text and often repeat the same lines of dialogue, verbatim, from captain to captain, making them feel very flat in comparison. Their visual designs are obvious nods to what kind of morals they hold, but in the end, they still seem like little more than cardboard cutouts.

Another hassle is your inability to skip a lot of the mindless narration between events. When you're at the bottom of the list and know you're about to be voted out, dragging it out for five minutes while fake sponsors' prizes are awarded to the top players is incredibly frustrating. Furthermore, the game seems to not distinguish, character-wise, between you doing excellently and you doing poorly. When I was second on the leaderboard, the other captains treated me exactly the same as when I was consistently on the bottom, which is to say, like I was some ace pilot and a threat to everything they loved. I suppose I don't mind that when I'm number two, but when I ran a season where I never left last place, it felt really awkward to have everyone treat me like I was some mysterious, amazing captain.

The game is also relatively slow. If you're looking for breakneck dogfights, this isn't your title. The ships plod along like their real-world counterparts; no barrel rolls, tight turns, or fancy flying. It's really just naval combat with an extra dimension. And to that point, I think the game could have greatly benefited from some kind of upgrade system for your ship. Make it faster, make it stronger, make it hit harder. As it stands, if you perform particularly well, the "Overseers" may grant you a boon (as provided by the aforementioned sponsors) but beyond that, you're sunk. What this generally means, for me at least, is that if you're in last place, you're not getting out.

If you give this game a little time, you can find the charm that's hidden beneath the surface, but a cursory play through might be off putting. If you really enjoy the strategy that's involved in naval combat and are good at multitasking, this game might be for you. But if you're hoping for Star Fox, you're in the wrong ship, my friend.

Final score: 6.5 out of 10

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.

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