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by Microsoft

Screenshot-06-01.jpg (6949 bytes)Blood Wake is one of those games that you’ll either love or hate. The premise is fairly simple: You play a disgruntled former officer in the navy of some southeast Asian styled country. One day, on routine patrol duty in "Gulf of the Moon" your crew is attacked by your fellow water-based commandos. You are rescued by a pirate gang, and by proving your abilities to them you begin the arduous task of revenge. Blood Wake isn’t winning any awards based on story, plot, dialogue or cutscenes. This game is all about running and gunning with a whole bunch of really beautiful water effects to round it out.

Screenshot-04-01.jpg (6223 bytes)Like everything about Blood Wake, the story is pretty simple. It is relayed through narrative and dialogue spoken over still sketches of the main characters. Perhaps the hackneyed plotline could have become somewhat meaningful if the story had been played out in cutscenes rendered as beautifully as the rest of the game, but no luck here. This style of narration seems out of place on the Xbox, where we’ve become used to beautiful animation and lots of bells and whistles. But most importantly, the lackluster narrative sequences that precede each mission serve to focus the gamer on the real meat of the game – playing it.

Screenshot-07-01.jpg (3942 bytes)Controls in Blood Wake are very straightforward. You use the triggers to fire primary and secondary weapons, the analog stick to steer, and the buttons to toggle between your primary weapons and give you turbo boosts. The screen is barely marred by the radar and health/turbo displays. There’s plenty of room to see what’s going on around you, and that’s important. For a game that has you jockeying boats at high speeds through a variety of water conditions (calm, choppy, day, night), the controls are amazingly responsive. Some gamers have still found room to complain that the controls are too loose, but this is really a function of simulating watercraft. As anyone who has picked up Splashdown or WaveRace knows, piloting vehicles on water is not the same as piloting vehicles on land. What is remarkable about Blood Wake is that after a little practice it becomes possible to execute really amazing maneuvers in your gunboats.

Screenshot-08-01.jpg (4145 bytes)There are five major categories of boats: speedboat, catamaran, gunboat, devil boat, and hydroplane. Each of these categories features several styles, which you’ll use on different missions. At the beginning of each mission you are given a boat and don’t have much choice about which boat you will use. Fortunately, they are all well-equipped with serious firepower. Chain guns, autocannons, rocket launchers, torpedoes, mines, stingers, and wave guns all help you create carnage wherever you roam. Each of these weapons works in very different ways, requiring you to spend some time getting used to each one. This provides a lot of the strategy and technique in the game. Once you’ve mastered driving and shooting you will be an unstoppable naval nightmare.

Screenshot-13-01.jpg (4689 bytes)There are 28 missions in the game, and they are, as a rule, pretty tough. Most missions after the first few will require three or four plays to beat. You are tasked with chores such as patrolling a bay, eliminating a particular enemy boat, protecting fleets of allies, or infiltrating enemy compounds. Although each mission uses a unique map and requires you to figure out a winning strategy, there is a sameness that can get bland for some gamers. If you do not really enjoy driving your boat around and blowing away other boats and gun turrets, you will probably not really enjoy beating Blood Wake.

Screenshot-03-01.jpg (6546 bytes)There is a multiplayer mode that supports up to four pirates dueling, and you can activate enemy bots to fill out your multiplayer battles. The multiplayer plays pretty much the same as a mission, except without the narrative goals. Also, multiplayer adds some powerups not found in the single player mode. Here you can find firepower, speed, shield and accuracy powerups to give you an edge over the competition. This mode can be a lot of fun, especially when going up against experienced Blood Wake gamers.

Screenshot-05-01.jpg (6323 bytes)The technical achievement of Blood Wake is really what makes the game. Never before has water looked so amazing. Sure, there are some really good water games out there that have phenomenal graphics (again, I’d cite Splashdown and WaveRace as two must play titles for water gaming fans), but Blood Wake translates this aquatic beauty to a whole new style of game. There is no racing in Blood Wake, except when you’re running for your life. Explosions are beautiful, and the trails of torpedoes speeding through the water are amazing. The water really affects the game, too. Hit choppy seas with the wrong arsenal and you could be in for a world of hurt. The water is accentuated by beautiful land and sky graphics, too. Lighting effects are gorgeous, and the whole game is just damn pretty.

Screenshot-01-01.jpg (4656 bytes)But even beautiful graphics can’t break Blood Wake out of it’s niche ghetto. It is and forever will be a game for fans of water based combat. It won’t appeal to many gamers. Witness the wide variety of review scores this game has received from magazines and websites and you’ll see that its success or failure really depends on your individual tastes as a gamer. This is true for every game to some extent, but let’s not kid ourselves that Blood Wake is basically 28 missions that are all very similar. You spend a lot of time tracking down enemies and shooting them. While the array of weapons and boat types helps inject some variety, these elements can never overcome the basic goal of the game – kill all bad guys. With an underdeveloped narrative, this killing all bad guys reduces the appeal of the game to whether or not you enjoy the experience of driving your boat and gunning down opponents. It is very possible that you will. It left me a little cold.

splash0001.jpg (4289 bytes)Because Blood Wake is such a niche title, I cannot recommend it for every gamer out there. However, I would suggest that any gamer with an Xbox give it a rental if for no other reason than to gawk at the pretty graphics. Blood Wake will keep even the least interested busy for an evening, and if you really get into this game you could be playing it until the sequel comes out. Well worth the rental, but a cautious buy, Blood Wake is nonetheless a great game to have available on the Xbox system.

Shawn Rider   (02/18/2002)


Ups: Great controls; beautiful graphics; lots and lots of fast-paced, destructive action.

Downs: Difficult; repetitive; definitely won't appeal to all gamers.

Platform: Xbox