Going into Bow to Blood: Last Captain Standing, I honestly didn’t have high expectations. Not that I was expecting a bad game, but the moment I saw that its predecessor was a PS VR title, and this game has optional VR, I was confused and skeptical. How can the previous title need VR, but now it’s optional? Was the VR functionality simply bolted on for the sake of being a VR title, of did it actually add to the experience? Was the game designed to be a VR title, but conventional controls added afterwards? Or, at it worst, was this a title existing merely to increase the PS VR’s library?
Boy, was I surprised. The game has its issues and the tropes and flaws of virtual reality are evident from the get-go, but Bow to Blood: Last Captain Standing is a surprisingly deep and entertaining single player experience. Yup, in the era of multiplayer “live services”, developer Tribetoy made a bold choice. Whether this was the right one is debatable, especially if you consider the basic premise of the game.
In a strange, far fetched future, an ominous group known as the Overseers is putting on the greatest show in the universe. In typical battle royale mode, eight airship captains compete in various “Bow to Blood” arenas, stages and worlds to determine who will be the last captain standing. As the latest entrant into the competition, you need to captain your airship in different events in order to accumulate enough points to avoid the culling. The season of the show involves seven different events, each incorporating a couple of different challenges, such as discovering loot, destroying enemy ships, or beating a rival in a race. At the end of each event, the highest ranked contestants vote to eliminate one of the bottom two players. There is no traditional campaign, and the “story” is randomized.
This mechanic is therefore ideal for multiplayer battle royale, and not including it is definitely a missed opportunity. Especially considering that, despite the variety in worlds, there isn’t much variation in gameplay. It is mostly fly here, shoot there. That said, managing your two person crew among the different stations of your vessel provide an interesting challenge. Shields for instance can only recharge when the crew is attending to them, and moving one of your crew members to the engines will provide you with more speed. And believe me, this is crucial. Not only for survival, but these ships move a glacial speeds. In fact, most of the controls seem sluggish and maneuvering your ship does get tedious. This is not surprising considering the game’s origin, and unfortunately making the jump to the non-VR realm brought some other control challenges along with it. The interface takes some time to get used to, as well as finding the correct command in the heat of battle.
Looking past its flaws, however, there are certainly fun to be had. As you fly around collecting points, AI players will approach you with offers to forge alliances, or issue threats based on the decisions you make. These encounters are randomized and range from offers to exchange points for favors and splitting the reward from collected loot, to assistance on the battlefield. Making the correct decision is the difference between surviving the culling and moving on to the next event, or “going home”. This mechanic adds a nice strategic layer to the game, which I quite enjoyed. You can either decide to ignore this mechanic and play your luck, or make strategic investments in your alliances. Those brave and good enough can throw caution to the wind and simply ensure never to end at the bottom of the log. My only criticism is that these interactions have no real depth. It is limited to a textbox on the screen, and the effect of your decision is pretty clear. There is no real tension.
The campaign lasts between three and four hours with each event lasting about 30 minutes. The random elements and variety add enough variation to drive the story and player enthusiasm forward. Unfortunately, this is not enough to warrant multiple playthroughs. That said, many of my criticisms are rooted in the fact that I didn’t review the game as a PS VR title. I have a strong suspicion that my score might’ve been higher if I did. In fact, the Metacritic score for its predecessor, Bow to Blood, confirms this. Unfortunately it doesn’t excel as a non-VR title. Nonetheless, its a solid game with solid mechanics, and exceeded my expectations. If you have PS VR, this is definitely a title worth looking into.