Written by  :  xroox (3970)
Written on  :  Dec 20, 1999
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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A completely unique landmark in computer gaming history.

The Good

Captain Blood is a very special game. Without wanting to sound pretentious, it blurs the line between entertainment and art. It works as a game, an art-piece or a demonstration of technology. In 1988, the Atari ST original really blew everyone away. The sampled music, the sampled alien language, the amazing graphics, the fractal flight-engine, the icon-based communication system and the whole wacked-out scenario were all years ahead of their time, and had really never been seen before. Yes, I know the way this review sounds (vomit-worthy :) but Captain Blood really was (and still is, in my opinion) dazzling in the way it melded together so many elements, all so original and inspired, to create a fully-formed whole. Captain Blood oozed style and elegance, creativity and technology.

(a brief pause)

So, basically, Captain Blood has it all. It's just a totally cool game. It has a great plot, with heaps of atmosphere, great and excellently designed graphics, and it's not a case of style over substance, either; It actually plays well, too. It's a full science-fiction creation, equivalent to a great sci-fi novel or movie.

There's too much good stuff for me to write it all here, but another few points, as I think of them: (1) Discovery: I remember playing this game in the late '80s and feeling the real excitement of getting a new set of planetary coordinates, especially when it could well be a new alien race, that I'd never seen before. The 'joy of discovery' is one of the best things about Captain Blood, and I haven't played many other games that have that same kind of feeling. (2) Immersion: The game *never* leaves the first-person viewpoint of your ship's control panels, not even during the fractal flight sequences. (3) Play style: You can generally play the game the way *you* want. You could get the same information out of an alien by being evil (e.g. killing his friend) or being nice (doing him a favour). You can complete the game with a huge stack of corpses behind you, or with (almost) no deaths.

The PC version doesn't have the Atari ST's excellent graphics and sound, but it does have the same gameplay. Many fans would say that the game can only be properly experienced on the ST, but I think the gameplay is the most important element, which is why Captain Blood still works so well on the PC, or on the C64, or the Amstrad. The graphics are still good enough (even in CGA), it still plays the same and it still retains its atmosphere.

The Bad

The icon-based communication system (the UPCOM) is revolutionary, and unique (I've never seen it imitated in any other games), but it is quite basic, and often shows its limitations. It can be frustrating, as you're trying to communicate a simple idea to an alien and it refuses to understand. Another not-so-good thing about the game is its gameplay and characters are not consistently of the same quality, throughout. While some alien races have a lot of depth and character to them, others are clearly there for one single purpose, and can't be interacted with, much. The gameplay is sometimes more interesting than at other times: There are some great, detailed plot elements and things to do, earlier in the game, but later on, there are too many things that end up being like 'shopping lists' (simple, quite boring and repetitive tasks). This isn't a major problem, though. The only other thing I would comment on is down to the PC conversion. It's the only version of the game that doesn't include some rendition of the Jarre theme music. I know it was 1988, but I think something could've been arranged (Purple Saturn Day, released the following year, had a short loop of sampled music, played through the PC speaker).

The Bottom Line

Captain Blood is in a class of its own. Philippe Ulrich and Didier Bouchon are the creators of one of the most memorable computer entertainment products, ever. Captain Blood was way ahead of its time, and the designers' vision couldn't be implemented fully on the home computers of the '80s. But look at Captain Blood in connection with today's 3D and AI technologies, and you might see how that vision could now be a lot closer to being made reality.