Life on the high seas is tough. Forget about the maggot-infested biscuits and longing glances from your salty old sea mates who want to re-enact some of the scenes from the Titanic with your supple young body, as you have worse things to worry about. There be danger off the starboard bow, Jim lad – and it’s coming right at you.
Sailing without the bad food and regrettable social interaction somewhat sums up Rust Buccaneers, a PlayStation 3 vehicular combat game that’s set at sea. You must survive against waves of enemies in a variety of different vessels, build up a multiplier, max out your high score, and – above all – try not to sink.
It’s good fun at first. The developers have done a fantastic job of creating dozens of ships that play differently to one another, even venturing completely off the wall at times. Every boat has a different kind of weapon, and each will require a different tactical approach if you want to sail to the summit of the leaderboards.
Not every aquatic armoury has been created equally, though. Some feel like you’ll be able to issue watery death in every direction, while others are more akin to screaming “pew, pew, pew” as you play with your Star Wars toys in the bath tub. This is partly due to some relatively difficult to move boats, but also because the controls can be a bit complicated. Aiming at a fast-moving enemy when you’re equipped with a straight-shooting laser isn’t easy, and there’s little incentive to learn. After all, your score will be higher if you just use the “easy” machine-gun boat.
Someone will probably make a definitive list of all of the cruisers that are actually good at some point in the future, at which point you’re likely to experience everything that the game has to offer within an hour or two. For now, though, testing out the differences between your submarines and luxury yachts represents part of the longevity.
You’ll need to enjoy it while it lasts, though, because while there are glimmers of enjoyment to be plundered here, these are fleeting at best. There are only five different levels, and you’re expected grind through them multiple times.
It doesn’t help that each arena is pretty much identical to the last. The only thing that really changes is the overall objective. For example, in one stage you may be expected to kill as many enemies as possible in less than three minutes, while the next will have you defending a specific stronghold for five. These could offer subtle differences, but it doesn’t pan out that way because of the way in which you’re scored.
With each boat, for each level, there are a potential five stars up for grabs. To get these trinkets, you must score a set number of points. You score points by destroying enemy vessels and building up a multiplier. This stays consistent for each level, with only the total required to earn a star changing from stage to stage. Consequentially, regardless of what the actual objective is, you’ll always be aiming for that next big score.
This may have sounded good on paper, but the actual result is a game that can be experienced in just a few hours. With everything unlocked from the offset, there’s no real sense of progression, and less patient players will find themselves feeling the instant onset of regret after only a few hours on the title’s choppy waters.
There are a few other incentives to encourage continued play, but they’re either underwhelming or not quite executed in an optimal manner. There’s a Co-Op mode, for example, which is fun for a short while but doesn’t add much. And when you’re done fighting the artificial intelligence, you can try to sink your pals in the Versus mode. Sadly, this again is a pretty shallow option.
Worse still, neither of these additions are online enabled, so if you want to play with a pal you’ll need to trick them into coming around to your house and actually spending real time with you, like it’s 1998 or something. Fortunately, the online leaderboards are far more interestingly implemented – but the tiny playerbase may mean that these aren’t the cunning competitive extra that the developer intended.
The graphics are at least surprisingly strong. Water is notoriously difficult to render, and in a game about boats it could make or break the whole experience. Thankfully, it looks really good, and reacts nicely to sinking ships and explosions. The animations on the vessels themselves are nice and smooth, too – though obviously anything less would have represented a swift spell on the plank for the indie studio at the helm.
Rust Buccaneers would come with a hearty recommendation if there was more of a game to it. There’s the blueprint for a brilliant title hidden somewhere here, but it gets lost in an ocean of grinding, repetition, and strange design decisions. This is less a pirate ship, and more a pensioner’s cruise party to Majorca.