Previously exclusive to the PSVR, Bow to Blood makes its way to console under the revised title of Bow to Blood: Last Captain Standing. The game’s takes place within the confines of a fantastical world. One such world that’s hosting a show known as the titular Bow to Blood; a reality show that pits eight airship captains through a series of competitive matches. On paper, it sounds pretty damn fascinating, that much has to be said. Unfortunately in practice, it falls somewhat short of the mark due to the functionalities of its blatantly obvious roots.
The crux of play has you guiding your own airship and crew through the aforementioned matches. Captains with the most points will vote at the end of every match to decide who stays, and who goes, until only one captain is left standing. The kicker? Only one captain from the bottom two on the board is booted, meaning that it’s vital that you stay ahead of the game. The game wastes no time in throwing you into the thick of it, and it does a pretty decent job at feeding you into the basics of play via a brief yet informative tutorial.
From there on out, you’ll make your way through a total of seven matches – roughly lasting four hours at best – as you fight for leaderboard supremacy. It’s immediately apparent that this game came from VR due to its sluggish, slow movement, and it’s somewhat unresponsive aiming mechanics. Whilst this sort of feedback may have worked on the VR, the transfer to console just doesn’t quite fit. The game’s fluidity is out of whack; almost everything feels drawn out, from the combat itself, right up to the basics of ship movement.
The game’s visual presentation is another telltale sign of its origin; full depth of perceptional movement, low-textured graphics, large text boxes, and a UI that feels painfully substandard. Sure, there’s been some slight improvements during the port, but I wouldn’t at all say that it’s come on in leaps and bounds. This is especially true when playing on larger displays. Several times I found myself distracted by blemishes. Whether that be poorly rendered environments, lighting issues, or recycled assets, the quality is merely passable.
It’s a shame, really, because the setting in which the game is based is rather interesting. The game’s world takes you to some diverse locations, many of which are quite distinct in their own way, yet let down by the lack of any real breadth. It would have been nice to see more effort focused here, because if anything, Bow to Blood has some allure going for it. In regards to the game’s story, there’s not much of one present outside of its general premise. In fact, this is where much of the game’s replay value sits at; its randomized runs.
Bow to Blood ensures that no two runs are the same due to the fact that it randomizes encounters, environments, and its quirky cast of characters. The aim of play will always remain the same, but the journey’s structure from start to finish will indeed vary per-run. Mercifully, Bow to Blood is very easy to pick up on. Whilst being the captain of an airship sounds like taxing work, it’s remarkably simple, and to the game’s credit, quite intuitive. Will it be for everyone? Probably not, but it’s nice to see a sense of ease present.
You’ll start each run as a new entrant in the aforementioned show. You’re in charge and are responsible for everything on your airship; from its crew, right up to management and maintenance. Your airship is broken down into a handful of components. Here, you’ll need to divide your crew as you see fit to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your airship’s stations. You don’t have the crew members to manage everything at once, so it pays off to utilize the stations that you need the most in the heat of each and every passing moment.
If you send your crew to a particular station, you’ll get some extra benefits from said station for as long as a crew member is active there. One example of this is that if you send someone to your engine’s station, you’ll be able to get the most speed out of your ship. There’s a small number of stations present, each bringing a neat little buff when manned. You’ll naturally take damage during combat, and the only way to repair said damage is to send a crew member there to repair it. It’s all balanced rather well for the most part.
Should you take full damage (it can happen quite easily) you’ll get to keep your earnings up until that point and will be up and ready to go in the next round. That is, if you don’t get the proverbial chop from those higher in rank. Outside of those mechanics, you can also enjoy some added abilities. These come tied to a tier of slots that allow you to focus your efforts in distinct areas; boost, drone, advanced weaponry, and over-shield. You cant fill every slot at once, so it’s wise to ensure that you’re using a variation that suits your style of play.
Both this and the core station system sit well with one another, ultimately giving you just enough freedom to play as you like, with quick menu dials granting rapid on-the-fly customization. I wont go so far as to say that these systems are particularly deep, but the game does well to ensure that these systems uphold the experience through an entire run. I personally didn’t have the stomach to run this through too many times, but there’s certainly enough value to be found in the few tools on display to justify multiple runs.
Nevertheless, everything plays out in first person perspective. You’ll have full over-watch of your airship, and the complete freedom to look in any which direction you desire. The controls are well mapped and afford you swift access to the options that you need to execute throughout. The game’s events tend to vary, as do the means to obtain the points that you’ll need to keep a high rank. This can anything as straightforward as winning a race or finding loot, to something more structured, such as beating opponents and killing foes.
Whilst that’s all that is needed to complete a round and warp your airship to the next phase, you are indeed free to stick around and mop up some more points via seeking out loot or wiping out enemy drones. Once you’re happy with your earnings, you’ll activate your warp and readily move onto the next round. Though even with that slight bit of freedom in mind, the game still feels very shoehorned overall. That, in part, is thanks to how each level is setup; most of which are quite linear and don’t provide much incentive to further explore.
The game makes a habit of throwing choices your way throughout the course of the game. The show’s other competitors will often approach you with threats or offers, granting you the ability to make momentary alliances. On my second level, my direct competition asked me if I was willing to split the loot of the current event if I won, and if so, they would agree to do the same. The event’s winner was determined by who landed the final blow against a towering laser-firing boss, which was fortunately myself – by sheer luck, I might add in.
Upon the conclusion of the event, the competitor approached me for half of my promised winnings. Here, I was presented once again with a choice; betray them and keep everything, or, honor the agreement and pay up. The same choice would have applied if they won, throwing a constant sense of uncertainty into the mix. These sort of choices are present throughout the entirety of play, encouraging players to run through the game multiple times, making different choices along the way. Choices are indeed randomized each run.
There’s a quite a few make-or-break choices present too, being that you’ll find yourselves faced with the odd choice that may well see you through to oblivion if you take the wrong option. That said, if you’re low on the ladder, it pays off to keep a friend in your pocket. They do have a voice in whether you stick around or not. There’s nothing worse than betraying a captain, or leaving them for dead, to then see them at the top spot whilst you’re last; eagerly awaiting a verdict that you know you’ll have earned through being an ass.
In essence, this means that you can play Bow to Blood however you see fit. Fancy being a grumpy, notorious pirate? Why not. Perhaps you’ll adopt a more caring approach and play the nice guy? You can do just that. Or maybe you like the idea of being a sly backstabber? That option is present too. Bow to Blood is surprisingly open in regards to player choice, but as with any big choice, there’s usually a string attached to a consequence. Moving back to the core concept of gameplay, you’ll be regularly sent to new locations with varying tasks to hit.
The game’s locations, as alluded to above, are quite confined and lack breadth, but each round is designed to be fairly short. You’ll slowly traverse your surroundings in search for your objective, manning your crew and tending to your airship along the way. The game’s combat is horrendously slow, despite the store listing’s statement of the contrary. You’re free to fire at will and in any direction you please, or, utilize an auto-lock feature that will trigger very accurate attacks. Occasionally you’ll need to pull out your meager side-arm.
This is a pistol that’s reserved for drones that get too close to your ship, but it functions in pretty much the same way that your ship’s cannons function; aim, or auto-lock, and shoot. There’s no real depth here, and despite how varied the game’s enemies are, the gameplay loop remains too isolated. Most encounters consist of little more than aiming and shooting, and unless you’re surrounded by swarms of enemies, the difficulty never really poses much of a challenge. I can say the same about the bosses, in which they lack any real strategy.
You’ll soon find that much of what you do here is generate a slow-ass moving airship, blast a few foes, make choices, and earn some wares to show off in your quarters; rinse and repeat. The whole ordeal becomes quite tedious before long, which is only highlighted by how sluggish everything is. Had the game presented a faster pace, ship upgrades, a satisfying combat system, and a plot worth following, Bow to Blood could have been a hit. When all is said and done, the game clearly could have done with some more complexity in place.
Instead, what you’re getting is a ship that never truly evolves, in the midst of a game that never really ups the ante. If you’re a fan of simplistic sci-fi based shooters, and Bow to Blood looks remotely interesting to you, then you’re likely to enjoy this more than most. Sure, there’s certainly some fun to be had and the game deserves praise for its unique framework, but in the face of its setbacks, it’s hard to wholly recommend. Hell, I haven’t even mentioned the game’s technical issues nor its generic writing and voice work.
There seems to be some minor screen tearing present on some of the game’s levels, as well as the occasional drop in framerate. Not at all a deal breaker, but something that happened enough for me to want to make a note about it. Then, there’s the game’s audio presentation, which much like its overall visual design, lacks the care and quality that we’ve come to expect from games in 2019. It’s a serviceable trek (at best) with some commendable features, that I wont deny, but it’s clear that it was destined to be better.
Bow to Blood certainly offers a unique experience, but its transfer from VR to traditional console hasn’t transitioned well enough at all. The game is sluggish across most aspects of play; from its basic movement and maneuverability, right the way up to its combat functionality. Furthermore, and despite some commendable features, there isn’t much depth present, ultimately making for a fairly repetitive journey that fails to maintain its allure.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.