I contemplated trying to spice up this review by writing it entirely in pirate speak, but quickly decided against that idea. So I’ll let the game speak for itself. Mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble… Hard to understand isn’t it? Swashbucklers is indeed a strange undertaking. The characters don’t speak, they mumble in a gibberish language. Never liked that with the Sims and sure don’t understand why a game with pirates, that is rated M would opt to not have true spoken dialogue. As Captain Abraham Gray, you’ll sail the seas of the late 1800s, taking on odd jobs and pillaging everything in site. Sounds glorious, but the adventure quickly becomes rote.
The seas provide passage and the opportunity to take on vessels. Thankfully, you can tell the difficulty before engaging in combat, though sometimes you’ll have to access ports that are locked down. Good luck. The only option is to run away and sneak in to complete assignments in that town. Battle on boat can be a clunky affair. The nature of sea combat with cannons and other weapons firing from the side means that until you have a ship that maneuvers well and hauls a good bit of ass you’ll be eating cannon balls by the mouthful. Later on you’ll get better weapons, but don’t expect to be re-enacting your favorite battles from Pirates of Caribbean.
Wearing down a ship’s exterior means you can board, loot, and then have your way with it. Best bet will be to keep it if it’s better or sell it at auction if it isn’t. The hand-to-hand combat, which you’ll also engage in on land, is simple but gets the job done. Besides basic leveling, you’ll earn perks that provide ship improvements and personal skills such as special attacks. Add sword and gun attacks to the mix, and you have combat that's simple and easy to master, but offers very little to addict you.
Three main attributes can be enhanced with points earned from leveling up—fencing, shooting, and defense. They’re pretty much self-explanatory, but keep in mind that item storage is pretty tight early on, so you’ll want to be careful what kind of sword, gun, food, and ammo you take along. You can use your ship for storage of goods for selling and trading as well.
As the game progresses, more weapons and ship upgrades become available. The overall premise is to take on jobs, of which you can only take one at a time, and build up your character / ship. I found the first few jobs to be interesting as they ranged from escorting prisoners to delivering letters, but the process quickly grows stale, as the story and lack of real piratey humor just isn’t there. To earn extra money, you can box opponents in a manner I can only parallel to the old school James “Buster” Douglas Boxing on the SEGA Genesis. Boss fights are also similar in that you are forced into a side-scrolling mode where you have to swing high or low (and use power attacks) plus be careful not to deplete your energy meter (blocking and resting will re-charge it).
If the Facebook Pirates application was enough to interest you long term, then maybe Swashbucklers will satisfy that desire to sail the high seas and engage in otherwise nefarious activities. For most gamers, the clunky ship battles, shallow combat and overall lack of cohesive adventure will have you looking elsewhere rather quickly. Send this one to the boneyards, matey!