‘Bow to Blood’ hands-on preview

Sci-fi pirate sim 'Bow to Blood' may be our most anticipated VR game of 2018

"Bow to Blood" blends a lot of great spaceship and naval combat mechanics into a fresh and exciting sci-fi flight sim.
"Bow to Blood" blends a lot of great spaceship and naval combat mechanics into a fresh and exciting sci-fi flight sim.
"Bow to Blood" blends a lot of great spaceship and naval combat mechanics into a fresh and exciting sci-fi flight sim.

Highs

  • Intuitive combo of motion and gamepad controls
  • Combat is snappy and fluid
  • Feels familiar and fresh
  • Reality show relationship system
  • Gorgeous, colorful aesthetic

Lows

  • Some might struggle with nausea in VR

Bow to Blood is a game that wonders if you’d be any good at captaining a sci-fi airship that looks a bit like a flying pirate galleon. It’s also a game about whether or not you can be trusted.

The upcoming PlayStation VR sci-fi flight sim made its first public appearance at PlayStation Experience 2017, and you’d be forgiven if you didn’t know what to make of it at first. Eye-popping and colorful, the game has an aesthetic that evokes the cover of a 1970s sci-fi novel, awash in yellow skies, pink hills, and green, buzzing lasers. You control the captain of a flying airship, competing on a fantasy gladiator reality show, in which you battle other ships, giant robots, and whatever else the show’s creators think might be interesting to watch.

Space Pirate Master

As the captain, your job is to stand at the helm and steer the ship, but controlling your space boat gets a whole lot more complicated than just adjusting the throttle and turning a wheel. Bow to Blood borrows ideas from other ship-centric games — sci-fi and otherwise — to add extra layers of control and complexity to the battle. Through a nearby control panel, you control your ship’s shields, guns, sensors, and engines, dictating how much power of your limited power goes to each system. You’ve also got robot crew mates to boss around, sending them to man certain systems to boost their efficiency, or to put out fires and keep everyone from exploding.

Functionally, Bow to Blood feels like a combination of the naval combat from Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the system management ideas from sims like FTL: Faster Than Light and Star Trek: Bridge Crew, the humor of something like Smash TV, all wrapped in an aesthetic not unlike No Man’s Sky. And that’s all smashed into virtual reality.

Mechanically, Bow to Blood feels both familiar and wholly different from traditional flight sim combat. The game mixes traditional and motion controls: You steer your ship with the analog sticks of the DualShock 4 controller, and point the controller at specific rooms when you want your robot crew to man stations or fix things. You adjust your ship’s power levels by quickly pointing and clicking the panel to move resources around. If robot boarders show up on the sides of your ship, you can reach down and grab a sidearm and trigger in a quick, familiar VR shooting session.

Combining fairly intuitive controls with the immersive perspective of standing on the deck of your ship makes Bow to Blood feel fresh. Compared to other VR flight sims, which relegate you to an isolated cockpit, Bow to Blood makes you feel like you’re always in the thick of the action. And while many of its ideas feel familiar, they come together in a completely new way.

Becoming a reality VR star

As fun as it is to control the ship, the most interesting part of Bow to Blood isn’t competing in the fantastical battle game show, but what you do after you win.

Compared to other VR flight sims, Bow to Blood makes you feel like you’re always in the thick of the action.

Between events, you get to interact with the show’s other contestant captains, all of whom are controlled by the game’s A.I. Often before an event, you’ll have some kind of opportunity to make some kind of backdoor agreement with your fellow contestants.

In your first engagement, for example, you’re competing against another captain to destroy a giant, eyeball-shaped robot that’s covered in shields and lasers. At the start of the fight, the captain suggests an alliance — instead of taking each other down, you’ll take down the bot together and split the winnings. Taking the deal helps ensure victory, as well as a smaller take of whatever it is you’d earn for winning, (which wasn’t clear in the demo).

As developer Tribetoy co-founder and Bow to Blood Art Director Tara Rueping explained, the game has a relationship system that will track how you treat the other captains, and whether you’re true to your word. You can choose to team up or not, but how you react to and treat the other captain will have consequences.

bow to blood hands on preview 15014

You don’t always need to play honorably, either; in the demo, you could team up with your rival for the entire fight, win, then double-cross your would-be buddy to keep all the points for yourself.

Rueping said the relationship system will keep players on their toes, making decisions about who’s a friend and who’s an enemy throughout the game. That, combined with procedurally generated encounters and a rotating cast of characters, help ensure that, while Bow to Blood is a single-player game, it’s replayable and each run creates a new experience.

Bow to Blood feels inundated with good ideas, from the perspective of standing on the deck of your own ship in VR, to the marriage of motion and traditional controls, to the sci-fi fantasy aesthetic, and the idea that you can screw over every other captain with your wits as well as your flight skills. We’re looking forward to seeing the game get in ship-shape in time to launch on PSVR in the fourth quarter of 2018.

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