AirBuccaneers

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AirBuccaneers is a very peculiar online multiplayer game. I’m not quite sure that team-based airship-deathmatch counts as an official genre (though I do like the sound of it), but if it does, here is its flagship. In this game, you’ll play as either Vikings or Buccaneers–don’t worry, you can change at any time–and, as a part of an airship’s crew, shoot cannons aimed at enemy airships until they (or you) inevitably fall to the ground in a burning, screaming mass of wood and flesh. It’s fun.

Just destroying an enemy airship with a flamethrowing-cannon, 'cuz that's how I do. I do what I want.

Just destroying an enemy airship with a flamethrower-cannon, ‘cuz that’s how I do. I do what I want.

The gameplay of AirBuccaneers is focused on the manning of cannons as mentioned above, but other roles need to be fulfilled, such as, say, the Captain. The ship isn’t going anywhere without someone at the helm! Similarly, someone may need to play as Support Staff and fix the ship, or board and commandeer enemy ships. Those four roles are everything in the game, though. It’s a bit disappointing that gameplay isn’t a little more varied, but realistically, I can’t think of any way it could be improved. Well… except for the appalling melee combat, which makes me somewhat glad that the game occasionally glitches, sending me flying from the ship I had fought so valiantly for. Oh yeah, and those glitches. Hmm… so there are some issues.

I frequently hit a glitch where I'd instantly be in third person, but hey, look at us, on an airship. Being crewmates.

I frequently hit a glitch where I’d instantly be in third person, but hey, look at us, on an airship. Being crewmates.

I can’t help but compare my feelings towards AirBuccaneers to those shown in last week’s review of Natural Selection 2. Again, players rely on someone to take the commanding role, and that Captain relies on the others to actually get things done. When a great crew get together and stick to their roles, things end pleasantly, while a lousy team will leave many players incredibly frustrated. Luckily it’s not as frustrating as in NS2, but I still had a few moments when my team apparently refused to be on a ship with me. I even had a player opt out and jump off the ship I was commanding. He’d rather fall to his death than have me at the helm. It does wonders for the self-esteem! That said, such a system deserves praise as well as criticism, as a crew can essentially perform a mutiny if they lose faith in their Captain.

Subtle, unobtrusive hints that pop-up in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen are very helpful for beginners, and get you right into the action. Soon, this information will become too basic and useless, but can be simply disabled with a press of a button, which is very nice. Past these basics, players will pick everything up as they go, and, for the most part, everything is pretty easy to grasp. With experience you’ll learn tactics to plan the trajectory and timing of cannonball shots, what weapons to use at what time, and get a good feel of what it’s like to captain a ship. There are some issues that seem like they’ll never go away, such as when attempting to board enemy ships. How close does your character have to be to be able to magically spawn a rope that connects them to the ship? Apparently everyone else knows, yet I have never managed to make it work. I also seem to be the only one confused by this…

Matt: That said, up-and-coming guides site Gamer Guides have written an extensive online strategy guide that goes into extreme detail about the ins and outs of AirBuccaneers (which I might have forgotten to give to Nick, but I made great use of). It’s ideal for all sorts of players, however to be fully helpful it really does need to be accessible from tablets, mobile phones, and ereaders as well as computers. I’m sure that these capabilities will be added to the site in the future, but for now it’s a little fresh to completely recommend.

Man, that guy really hates the blue team. Uhh I mean the Buccaneers.

Man, that guy really hates the blue team. Uhh… I mean the Buccaneers.

As you play the game, you’ll earn experience points and unlock some customizing goodies. The perks and flaws system intrigues me, as in order to be able to gain an advantage by selecting an unlocked perk (e.g. 10% wider aiming range for cannons) players must also accept a disadvantage in the form of a flaw (e.g. less accurate shots). This is an interesting idea to keep things balanced between new and old players, but ultimately made me ignore the whole system as the flaws I gained access too felt pretty overwhelming.

Regrettably, as you level up you also unlock pieces of clothing, which your character can wear. This is absolutely unnecessary (anyone familiar with Team Fortress 2 hats will understand), and makes my innards cringe–however, as in TF2, clothing makes no impact on the game whatsoever and thus can be chased after or ignored, depending on the player.

As with NS2, the number of servers available hasn’t altogether impressed me. At any given time, I’ve found only one server that contained any players at all, named “N. Virginia” (don’t suppose that is somewhere in the USA, hmm?). One weekday afternoon I found two players on a server in “N. Europe 1”, which I’d gather is also pretty far away from Australia, and that was it. The other servers (all six of them) were empty, making the game utterly unplayable. Whereas NS2 has too many people playing for the servers, this has next to no players, and… also not many servers.

So... yeah, this is the server list. Especially as someone living in Australia, it's very... impressive.

So… yeah, this is the server list. Especially as someone living in Australia, it’s very… impressive.

Graphically, AirBuccaneers is a simple, appealing game, the main attractions being the great wooden, floating airships of death and suitably grotesque characters, while environments are fairly forgettable. In regards to gameplay, there are some unavoidable glitches in the system, such as the tendency for players to walk right off their ship if they hop off cannons facing the wrong direction, or wind hits them in a certain way, leading to some frustrating deaths. This is irritating, yes, but not entirely game-breaking.

AirBuccaneers is charming in its simple humour mixed with a tiny bit of unremarkable lore, with unsophisticated graphics and persistent issues that plague the more precise actions such as melee combat, walking and jumping, all of which accumulate to make up still only a small part of the experience. Despite these minor (if frequent) flaws, LudoCraft have created a game with huge potential and ambition. This is a game that gives players the opportunity to have truly epic battles that result in a moment of pride as they watch the falling, burning bodies of enemy Buccaneers, and establish a certain camaraderie with their online crewmates from amongst the clouds.

Provided they haven’t decided to jump overboard instead.

7.2

Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of AirBuccaneers by LudoCraft.

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