SeaBlade, by Simon & Schuster Interactive, is an air and water-based shooter that, despite a nifty graphical presentation and excellent SeaBlade (that’s what the game calls the various ships you can control) designs, is ultimately a tragically lackluster experience thanks solely to the fact that the gameplay is busted. Now, although they’ve had a few gems (Outlaw Golf for example), Simon & Schuster has never really been known for churning out AAA titles or anything, but they are starting to gain a reputation of overall shoddy digital workmanship. SeaBlade merely fortifies this argument.
The story in SeaBlade is just a loose and lame set of circumstances that basically attempts to justify the gimmick of a game whose main draw comes from the fact that you control a ship that is capable of both land and air maneuvering. It’s the 24th century and the world’s major ice caps have melted, causing significant flooding across the globe, like Noah’s Ark or something. War is constantly being waged between the north and south hemisphere. Why? Who knows, who cares – who needs a reason to blow stuff up? I guess that was the developer’s reasoning behind the game’s non-specific plotline because nothing is ever really explained, and if it is, it is to quickly brief you on your brain-dead-simple objectives that almost always revolve around locating and saving hostages or simply flying through multiple location markers.
It’s really a shame that SeaBlade wasn’t given a worthy objective system because the rest of the game is actually pretty good. The various SeaBlades that you can pilot all control admirably. Your craft maneuvers around tight areas, turns sharply, and dives into and out of water all with the greatest of ease as you accelerate and brake with the R-analog stick, strafe with the D-pad, and change your trajectory with the L-analog stick. Strangely, you aren’t required to submerge your SeaBlade that often. Most of the action takes place above water – so the title “SeaBlade” is sort of misleading. Nevertheless, whether it be in air or water, the fact remains the incredibly tedious nature of objectives and overtly difficult level of enemy fire that you must deal with makes playing the game feel like an exercise in frustration.
The combat system in SeaBlade is technically functional but is rife with little quirks that can quickly wear on your level of docility. For example, the guidance arrows that are constantly displayed on-screen point to the place you need to go and the location of nearby enemies, but the level of translucency of these arrows coupled with their miniscule size often makes it difficult to know which way they are pointing. To make matters worse, the auto-lock tracking system makes it needlessly tricky to actually shoot what you are aiming at, forcing you to shoot at roving enemies instead of the power generator you need to destroy to proceed. These issues make for a game that is frustratingly challenging.
The multiplayer mode of play is hampered by some of the same problems, but since you don’t have half a dozen turrets constantly firing on you and hordes of aggravatingly nimble enemy ships constantly dogging your every move, it does succeed in being entertaining, if only for a few hours. There are three types of multiplayer games: Chaos Reigns, which is basically your typical deathmatch scenario, Moving Target, where the first player to take out the target ship wins, and Tag, which involves trading a target with your opponent until the timer runs out and the ship who is left holding it blows up.
Visually, SeaBlade looks good, if a tad generic. The various SeaBlades steal the show with their intricately detailed designs. The game’s three-dozen-plus stages tend to repeat though, often re-using entire past levels with the only difference being the objectives (which also often repeat). The character models are generic too. They all look like plastic action figures with bulging muscles for the male characters and absurdly exaggerated upper bodies for the female characters. Don’t expect any fancy schmancy graphical techniques that the Xbox is more than capable of producing. Some pixel shaders and bump mapping would’ve been nice, but sadly it just wasn’t to be.
SeaBlade actually sounds pretty good and in contrast to the rest of the game, it stands out sharply. The music is comprised of suitable orchestrations and never sells out to the recent techno craze that most developers seem to fall back on. Voice acting is respectable as well, though far from impressive. The sound effects are diverse with multiple aural representations for the myriad on-screen action. The sound of missiles, machineguns, etc. are all distinctly above average and even realistically resonate when you are submerged.
SeaBlade is an original, if not innovative idea that just wasn’t executed to the fullest of its potential. The novelty of being able to dive into and out of the water at will quickly get old because there really isn’t much reason to do so in the first place. The one-trick-pony objectives that have you flying from point A to point B around similar, if not identical environments are what ultimately relegates SeaBlade to mediocrity. The between level animations (and I use the word “animations” loosely because they are actually just a collection of stills) do nothing for me and there is rarely any incentive to trudge on. That is, unless you need to write a review for the game.