At the boom of the arcades in the early to mid 90s, I probably spent enough quarters to do laundry for a decade. Coin-gobblers like Street Fighter II, NBA Jam, and Mortal Kombat grabbed the attention of myself as well the gaming public, creating a boom for both the arcade business and the wonderful hobby of gaming. But over the last few years, arcades have suffered a decline as more powerful home consoles negate the need to spend small fortunes in quarters. As arcades lose their influence, the games that might ordinarily dominate arcades—simple games that emphasize action over variety and detail—end up going straight to home consoles. Case in point: Blood Wake, Microsofts gunboat action game, has arrived on the Xbox with all of the elements that distinguish arcade games from home games, but with a focus on detail that blurs that distinction and makes it feel right at home on the Xbox console.
Blood Wake is a game in which players take the control of "gunboats," which are heavily armed speedboats, and wreak havok on enemy ships, shoreline fortresses, and other such cannon fodder. Gamers are given objectives to complete, but its about as simple a game as one could ask for: point there, shoot that. This isnt like Halo or Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty, where gamers must constanly adapt to unfamiliar situations and outsmart wily artificial intellengce. The game establishes its premise early on and stays on the beaten path throughout. This exactly the kind of game that, had it appeared in the arcades, would have been responsible for many frivilously-spent allowances. However, in light of the depth of modern console games, it seems a bit shallow to be held in the same esteem as its conteporaries.
The objectives are well varied—you may be required to destroy targets on land, protect friendly ships, or hunt down certain enemy gunboats—but the gameplay never offers much beyond point-and-shoot. Although theres a modest variation in the strategy required to complete the objectives, the basic idea is to pound the fire buttons and try not to get hit. Is this sort of arcade-derivitive gameplay lacking? I think not. To appreciate Blood Wake, it must be viewed simply for what it is: a fast, simple, action-oriented game. Given the constraints of the style, developer Stormfront Studios has done a solid job of making the game enjoyable and interesting. There is a respectable variety of weapons and gunboats that mandate different approaches to combat. The waves give the gameplay a unique dynamic that has never been explored (most likely due to the power constraints of past home consoles); the gunboats all have a solid feeling of weight and inertia, and the buoyancy of the water creates a sense of randomness and unpredictability. So despite its relatively simple premise and straightforward design, Blood Wake has enough variety and ingenuity to make it stand out from similar games such as Twisted Metal.
Futher attention to detail, again showing that Stromfront has made the most out of its meat-and-potatoes formula, shows through with a reasonably complex and well-told story. Frames of hand-drawn artwork tell a story of betrayal and revenge, packed with plenty of ambiguity and double-crossing. Great dialogue by professional voice actors lends a feeling of sincerity to the storys B-movie sentimentality. However, despite the polished, professional presentation, the plot is ultimitaly just filler and rather disjointed from the game itself. It may be point and shoot for a reason, but its still just point and shoot.
Blood Wake is not a game that will engage gamers wits or captivate them with its story. It is a simple, easy to play, easy to enjoy arcade-style game that holds up well for a short time but, unfortunately, crumbles under the simplicity of its design. Its great for what it is, but what it is prevents it from being truly outstanding. Perhaps it seems unfair to criticize a game for being what it was intended to be, particularly when it does such a fine job of it. However, as games evolve, the kind of simplicity that was passable eight or nine years ago seems rather shallow and outdated. In a vacuum, Blood Wake would be an excellent game. It is only because premier console games such as Halo, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Dead Or Alive 3 offer so much more to gamers that Blood Wakes simplicity prevents it from being a truly compelling release.