Ah, a life as a pirate on the open seas, free from authority and responsibility. Hygiene takes a back seat, us guys wouldn’t have to bother shaving and you get the chance to play with gunpowder and big guns on a daily basis. Yep, being a pirate ranks up there with being an astronaut, racing driver or pop star. Until, of course, you realise that your teeth would probably fall out when you’re 18, you’d succumb to scurvy shortly after and that the iPod hadn’t been invented yet so you’ve got nothing to listen to other than cheesy sea shanties (try saying that after your grog ration).
See, being a pirate isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And it’s the same thing with this, High Seize. We had big expectations due to the promising parentage: it looked as though it had the panache of Johnny Depp playing Captain Jack Sparrow and was being developed by RedLynx, which gave the world the excellent Pathway to Glory. While the game looks great – it shares several visual clues with the World War 2 strategy game, such as the painted cut-scene artwork – almost everything else falls flat.
Also like Pathway to Glory, this is mainly turn-based, and you play a retired Royal Navy man who’s on the trail of the pirate who’s kidnapped your father. As you build a loyal following and collect ever-bigger boats, you sail the seven seas stopping off at various ports, harbours and coastal fortifications in order to learn a little bit more about your missing father’s plight. And then, without fail, you’re plunged into a land battle.
These fights, which are clearly inspired by the Advance Wars games that do so well on Nintendo’s Game Boy, pitch your ships’ militia against whatever local bad guy is on hand, ranging from the Dutch to the French to pirates. You take turns, alternating with the enemy, and it’s a little like a board game; each troop type can move a different number of squares and has a slightly different attack. Which sounds fine, until you begin to play and realise that there’s very little depth or strategy involved. While there are around a dozen different troop types, each supposedly equipped to excel in varying situations, and different types of scenery that should offer a tactical advantage, the entire fight comes down to who gets the first shot in.
No other factor plays as big a part. You see, even when one of your units attacks the enemy, it goes in turns. Your unit does its thing and this causes damage to the enemy. The enemy then gets a chance to fight back. Only problem is, by now they’re missing half their strength, so the resulting blow that they strike is nowhere near as powerful, leaving them seriously out-gunned next time around. While this is fine when you’re not on the receiving end, when the tables are turned it becomes incredibly frustrating. Your best troop can essentially be rendered impotent by the weakest unit the enemy has, meaning any tactics you might have thought up, not to mention the in-game money you have to earn by capturing villages, is wasted. There are ways to restore them to full strength but it’s time consuming and tedious, especially when it can take two or three turns just to get back to a friendly building to heal.
It’s indicative of the lack of thought that permeates High Seize. Way too much time and attention has gone into the fancy artwork, numerous troop types and all the associated statistics, and not enough into how the game actually plays. The storyline is insipid and the voice acting, which should build the characters up and make them seem larger than life, is so bland as to be boring. Consequently the land battles, unappealing as they are, become a chore. Not good news when they constitute the main part of the game. There’s nothing to keep you entertained in between these arbitrary scraps, either; you’re confined to visiting whatever port is shown on the in-game map, there’s no troop management and no investigation into your father’s kidnapping; you’re merely given a few more lines from the paper-thin script that does little to pad out the emaciated storyline. Do yourself a favour: let this ship sail on without you.