Bow to Blood
Game designers will tell you that when designing a game, you should identify the “gameplay loop.” That is, you should figure out what fundamental interaction is going to take place between the game and the player, and ensure that that interaction, repeated ad nauseum, is entertaining. Most games accomplish this by keeping a simple loop. In “Doom,” you see an enemy, you shoot and enemy, you reload, and repeat. It takes great amounts of skill, however, to take a complicated gameplay loop and maintain its freshness without frustration. I’m happy to report that Tribetoy, then, has great amounts of skill.
Controller: Move Controllers, Dual Shock
Game Length: 8-10 hours
PlayPSVR Score: 8.5
“Bow to Blood” is a difficult game to describe, even on paper. In one sense, it’s a flight-sim, wherein I was flying my ship around a beautifully foreign 3D environment, over, under, and around floating structures that were as fun to admire as they were to navigate. As “The Freelancer,” I commanded a craft through a series of challenges that involved quick flying, quick shooting, and sometimes just quick thinking. Some challenges had me hunting for hidden eggs and other challenges had me blasting my way through hordes of enemy drones. But all challenges tested my dexterity as the pilot of a lumbering craft, with movements that had to be appropriately deliberate but undoubtedly quick. While the DualShock controller provided comfortable, traditional flight controls via the analog sticks, the Move controllers provided more complicated flight controls, with one hand controlling altitude and the other hand controlling yaw. It’s not initially intuitive, but the controls with the Moves make the gameplay and flight mechanics feel more realistic in terms of being at the helm of a seafaring ship. And being at the helm of a seafaring ship feels even better when conducting the ship-to-ship battles, where positioning determines the weaponry at hand. Attacking with the front of my ship yielded lasers and crew-controlled turret fire. However, turning the broadside of my ship toward enemies unloaded an array of cannons, dealing death and destruction to a satisfying degree.
In another sense, however, “Bow to Blood” is a resource management, strategy game, wherein I was commanding a crew of two assistants to different points of my ship in order to enhance stats, repair components, or add extra offensive functionality. Being able to think on my feet and make quick decisions with regard to “who goes where” was paramount to my success in battle. Having a man on my shields gave me an extra layer of protection. Having a woman on my guns gave me an extra mode of attack. And when the crap hit the fan, having either one on my engines gave me an extra third-gear to kick it into whilst trying to get out of Dodge. And aside from commanding crewmembers, there are also “life force” allocations to distribute. Small blocks of my “life force” could be applied to each of my ships parameters: Shields, Weapons, Probes, and Engines. With each block allocated, an extra, regenerating bonus was applied. Each block in my weapons system provided me with a set of lock-on missiles. Each block in my engines provided a short but effective turbo-boost. These could be swapped around mid-flight to optimize my ship’s capabilities to suit the realities of the current mission. And although its awkwardly explained in the game (and likely here as well), understanding this mechanic will make or break certain battle outcomes.
Games like “FTL” have shown that simply being in command without direct control can provide an engaging experience. But Tribetoy has combined the “Bridge Crew” aspects of command with the direct combat controls of a flight-sim, and in doing so they have interwoven two gameplay mechanics into an entertaining mixture. It’s stressful, it’s hectic, but it’s a helluva lot of fun when it all comes together. Being able to think quickly, move quickly, and shoot quickly provides a real sense of accomplishment when the sheer number of enemies makes it seem like the odds are stacked against you.
This mixture is on its own a fun experience, but Tribetoy has cleverly added another wrinkle to the game. In what feels almost like a dating sim, “Bow to Blood” takes each mission and places it within the context of a “reality show” of sorts. Every mission is part of an “event,” and each “event” is part of a season. As a contestant in a season of Bow to Blood, my goal was to accumulate enough points in each mission to maintain my position atop the rankings with respect to 8 other characters. At the end of each event, the “Culling” takes place, where each contestant votes on one of the bottom two ranked contenders to determine who will be sent packing. And just like a reality TV competition, there are alliances to be made, and backs to be stabbed. At many points before, after, and during missions, messages will come in from other pilots, affording you opportunities to help out or rebuff contestants. For example, a pilot named Silas has stolen points from a top-ranked contender named Karnov, and can split the points with me, helping keep me out of the bottom rungs. However, if Karnov or other pilots find out, their disposition towards me might drop, making them more likely to vote me out if the situation arises.
While at first it seemed easy to keep myself in everyone’s good graces, it wasn’t long until I had to make some hard decisions and burn bridges in order to keep myself ahead. In the end, there can be only one winner, so its smart to not hitch your ride to another’s horse for too long, so to speak.
While “Bow to Blood” provides only single player action, the multiple facets of the gameplay combine with the randomness of the context to provide a long-lasting and repeatedly enjoyable experience. I can think of nothing more thrilling than an 8 person online ship-battle with all of the requisite back-stabbery of the competition, but the lack of online multiplayer is understandable given the limitations of the game’s design.
But I don’t doubt that if given the chance with a sequel the clever designers at Tribetoy will be able to pull it off, just like they did with their gameplay hat-trick in “Bow to Blood.”
PlayPSVR Score: 8.5