Captain Blood Preview: Errol Flynn He Ain’t — But He’ll Do

The popularity of pirates is waning as the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise gives way to Twilight and Harry Potter – but Captain Blood aims to cash in on the tail end of the pirate craze.

Loosely based on the Rafael Sabatini books that spawned an Errol Flynn movie and possibly a 2011 remake by director Phillip Noyce, Captain Blood follows the adventures of a doctor sold into slavery who later becomes a pirate. Developer SeaWolf picks up the story between the time when Captain Blood is no longer a slave and the time when he settles down with Olivia de Havilland.

What Is It? Captain Blood is an action-adventure game for the Xbox 360 and PC. Players navigate Blood through linear levels on foot and through open water in his ship, the Arabella. The on-foot parts involve hacking and slashing rival pirates with a series of cutlass combos and occasionally shooting them with stolen pistols or muskets. The open water parts involve aiming cannons at attacking ships and clearing the deck of rival pirates that manage to board.

What We Saw I played one boss fight about five times without being able to beat it and then quit out to the main menu to play a boat level where the goal is to sink four or five attacking ships.

How Far Along Is It? Captain Blood is due out this winter. Publisher 1C says the game is still in alpha and there are some significant changes to gameplay in the works. It looks like the major gameplay elements are in place and the graphics look a lot further along than alpha.

What Needs Improvement? Hack, Hack, Slash, Slash, Rinse, Wash, Repeat: A lot of hack ‘n' slash games get a little repetitive and Captain Blood is no exception. Part of that comes from the weapons Blood had on him during that boss fight; as you progress through the game, you're supposed to be buying better and better weapons which can be upgraded for more combos. Unfortunately, Blood only had the one cutlass with him and just two combos that never quite seemed to do enough damage. Worse, a lot of the animations repeated themselves during the boss fight – like a mini cut scene where the boss pulls a weapon out of his treasure chest.

Blood Falls Backwards: During the boss fight, the bad guy pirate would lob firebombs at Captain Blood. Whenever he'd get hit by the fire, Blood's injury animation would cause him to fall backward into the fire. This would cause him more damage and he'd keep falling backward deeper and deeper into the flames until he died or the fire went out. I hope this is one of those "significant" gameplay changes the developer is still working on.

Rage Mode Doesn't Do Much: There's a special Rage Mode that the player can trigger with the right bumper which supposedly makes Captain Blood do more damage. All it did for me was turn the edges of the screen white and fuzzy and make the controller vibrate.

You Can't Control The Camera. Ever: Boo!

What Should Stay The Same?

The Boat Levels: It certainly sounds repetitive to run back and forth across the Arabella's deck, trying to get to different cannons to fire on enemy ships. However, because the firing of the cannon requires actual skill, it's pretty exciting. Each cannon has a limited range of side-to-side movement and its arced trajectory is realistic. A misfired shot might go over an enemy ship to land harmlessly in the ocean on the other side, or it might graze the sails and render the enemy ship sluggish in the water. Distance and timing are key in this part of the game. Small, fast ships can zigzag up to or circle in on the Arabella and rake her while dropping off boarding parties. In the time it takes them to get there, they rarely present a target for more than a few seconds. Even when they do, it can take Captain Blood a long time to get from one side of his ship to the other what with all the deck clutter and frantic crew members in the way.

The Graphics: The colours in Captain Blood were pretty vibrant and the water looked amazing. Surprisingly, the environments reduced the repetitive feel of the gameplay – and since you spend about half the game on a boat or near a boat, water appearance is all-important.

Dodge Roll: It's mapped to the right stick which is really helpful for getting out of bad melee situations and fire that you might fall backwards into.

Quick Time Events: I actually don't mind them in Captain Blood, perhaps because they're not necessarily required for boss fights or opening doors. If the captain gets knocked off a ledge or a cliff, he'll grab onto the edge and a QTE will determine whether or not you succeed in climbing back up – but the timing is forgiving. Also, instead of just mashing a button over and over again to encourage Captain Blood to try harder when climbing up the side of a cliff face, the sly dog will do cool things like parry a cutlass slash or grab a guy's leg and fling him over the side as he climbs up, making the whole QTE both useful in thinning out mobs and way more entertaining.

Final Thoughts Captain Blood reminds me a lot of THQ's Conan from 2007 – it's a simple action adventure game based on a popular (if way-old) book series. Oddly, Captain Blood is less bloody than Conan; but it still has this over-the-top violence that makes the linear levels feel more fun. So it's like the pirate flavour of a game that was based on a book which was the barbarian flavor of Sabatini's pirate adventures. Awesome. Go check out that Errol Flynn version if you haven't already.


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