With a boom and the crackling of fire I was welcomed to Ludocraft’s recently released Greenlight special Airbuccaneers. From the first video I was hooked as I watched balloon based skyships dance perilously around each other as their viking and buccaneer crews lobbed cannonballs across the skies, I knew I had to play this game and play it now. I grabbed the key being waived temptingly in front of me and rushed to pre-load this baby and await its final launch, luckily only one painfully slow day away.
As the splash screen mercifully made its quick debut I was immediately dumped into a simply laid out but foreign screen with a proud viking just waiting for me to take control. Knowing I had to approach the game from a reviewer’s perspective I paused to take time and explore the screen. After dancing my mouse fruitlessly across the large wooden placard prominently displayed on my screen I stumbled upon the credits and determined that I would have to seek to change my name elsewhere, luckily it was easy enough to find the textbox and fulfill step one of any new multiplayer game. I then skipped through the three tabs at the top in order to try and glean some insight into the game ahead, the first screen with your character standing tall and an empty legacy gave way to a screen filled with various goodies to outfit my awaiting warrior. They were kept from me behind a veneer of unlocks and so I moved on to the third screen marked as Perks and Flaws. I was welcomed to browse four trees mirrored across four titles corresponding to the roles you would fulfill on the ships, having not done my usual homework i assumed this meant four classes. After chuckling at names hinting to albatrosses and eye patches, I decided I was not going to gain much more looking at unknown screens and was time to get to the action. Switching back to the main screen I readily spotted the find game button on the bottom right and clicked with gusto. A simple easy to use menu popped up and began filling with servers, finding a good one I launched my viking self into the fray.
I popped onto a platform, a glider to my right waiting patiently to launch and a pop-up indicating I was about to face a tutorial. After running through the basic controls it told me to jump on the glider and it would take me to a ship. As I ran up to the glider it launched itself with me clinging on into the sky and began its journey. At first I attempted to steer the glider but all I could do was an evasive barrel roll, so I looped my way through the sky as mountain ranges phased into view through the distant fog. I watched as it deftly found its way to one of a few floating ships, cannon bearing platforms hanging from variously sized rough patchworked hot air balloons, and dropped me off with three other crew members already firing cannons and manning the steering wheel. As the tutorial continued to rattle off its quick instructions I followed along as i grabbed a cannon and fired it off into the empty sky, as I did I started to become suspicious of my AI brothers busily behind me. Turning I watched them as they fired towards the floating blue buccaneer ships and it hit me, I was in a live a tutorial. Some looking around afterwards would tell me that they hadn’t had the chance to make the standard tutorial and in order to not leave new players in the dark they included a fast and furious baptism by fire tutorial that would give you the basics and leave you in the thick of the action. My next lesson was a hard one as the balloon exploded around me and the whole crew fell screaming to the unfriendly ground below. Still a little confused as the nature of the four roles I had seen and how to switch to them I ran up and grabbed another glider, as it made its way to another ship I noticed that if I scrolled the mouse wheel it would flip a check mark up and down a listing of ships on my right. As the check scrolled from ship to ship my glider swayed to and fro switching its destination to match my whims. In each ship a listing of fellow players was displayed along with an anchor or a blowing wind in order to indicate if had taken to the sky or was anchored at base. I steered for one anchored at the base and watched as my glider veered back to base and dove for an awaiting blimp.
As I landed I was delighted to find I was on a smaller ship, a single cannon stood in the center of the platform in front of a steering wheel calling my name. Time to learn to fly one of these bad boys I thought as I grabbed the steering wheel and pressed the “W” key with a glint in my eye. The glint faded a little as the ship lumbered slowly forward away from the dock and I realized I was in for a bit of slow trip, which made sense given the nature of the ships construction. Luckily they included a boosting system. I scrolled through the list of options and settled on upwards blast, with a click of the space bar I was propelled quickly upwards as the firey burst of burners sang underneath me. The trip to the battle was lengthy enough to allow me to play with the steering and get a handle on how to control the lumbering beast I had freed from the docks below. It wasn’t long before my lengthy love affair with slow arcing naval battles was ignited, with a hearty smile I swung my balloon towards the battle ahead and fired my afterburners to drive the ship forward faster. As i approached I caught the attention of a small crew and found myself trying to dodge fiery death as their cannon balls roared towards me. It was at this point it started to dawn on me that a fellow crew member manning the cannon would have been a real boon, so at a loss I blasted upwards to try and cut over my enemy so they couldn’t aim at my poorly manned ship and buy some time. I didn’t quite make it, and was immediately filled with gleeful satisfaction as my name flashed across the screen, I had gained us a point through kamikaze death!
I found myself getting a little bored after a couple hours, the down time to get the ship up to the battle was a little too frequent and a tad too long. I felt like I should be having more fun, but something wasn’t falling into place and so I walked away for a bit. As I busied myself elsewhere my mind couldn’t put the issue down and so it was that an epiphany struck that caused me to race back to my computer and load the game up. It was a team game, a truly team game, and I was holding myself back by trying to play semi-solo like I usually do. This time as I jumped aboard a glider I aimed for a ship that was well and truly full instead of an empty or near empty one. I landed on a ship sporting a full crew of seven busily working away at the various roles of the ship. The captain shouted out enemies while he tried to keep the ship level, cannoneers backed by support fired volleys of cannon balls at the blue buccaneer balloons. More crew were at the front pooling their efforts into trying to repair the ship and keep it in the air as we took enemy fire and still others fired air mines into the paths of our pursuing enemies and used the blocker to try and stop incoming cannonballs. The game opened up before me as I took my place amongst those feverishly repairing the ship and enjoyed in the sweet taste of victory as our combined efforts dropped many an enemy out of the air before we were finally overwhelmed ourselves. Once I found the groove of the game I was able to gain enough experience through support and repair to unlock my first perk and flaw.
As I hit the escape key and perused the main screen again I was able to connect all the pieces and understand the system. Whether playing as a Viking or Buccaneer you have all the tools at your disposal to fill either of the four roles. As you perform a role you will gain experience towards the role and unlock the various perk and flaws within the roles tree. Your characters experience however, unlocks various vanity pieces to customize your characters look as well as unlocking a total number of perks you can choose. In order to choose a perk from the perk tree, you must choose a flaw from the flaw tree. You can choose your perk and flaw from two different trees, strengthening your piloting skills at the cost of aim with the cannon for instance. At this point I only had one perk and one flaw, I could have a 25% bonus to repair as a defender in exchange for an eyepatch bestowing “tunnel vision”. Really it was like two perks, who didn’t want to sport an eyepatch while firing cannons at enemy ships? I turned them on and returned to the game, wondering how the tunnel vision would look. I laughed heartily at an eyepatch like blob of black covering a third of the side of my screen, what else did could I expect from an eyepatch. It blocked enough view you had to swing around and pan a lot more in order to see everything, however, escaping into third person gave you a clear view so it was a pretty minor flaw. I kept it for the entertainment value and because the extra repair was handy.
As I continued to play I could see the system come together, it was well honed to subtly promote a team effort. Victory was based on the number of ships fallen, not on a combined death score, deaths were not even tracked. Instead a score racked up based on your contributions in the game. This served to both allow freedom to die, leaping towards enemy ships, as well as keeping the focus of the team on the end goal instead of personal bests. You were further rewarded in acting as a large crew on a ship as the successful actions of your fellow crew would generate points for the role you would fill. As a captain I gained more experience towards my perks if my cannoneers were scoring hits against enemy ships. This caused me to work at giving them windows to fire in between my attempts to dip and dodge out of the way of enemy fire. The single class of many roles allowed for players to drop onto any ship and immediately make themselves useful, no need to change class to go from firing cannons to repairing the hull. Balancing perks and flaws also help to ensure veteran players don’t gain too great an advantage over new players as they customize their play style. To compare the overall experience to other team games, it would be like the crew was working together to run one player; One crewmate moves the player while others fire the guns and still others trigger the med kits and boosts. The better in tune the crew, the more effective the player is as it goes about the map taking out enemy players, and their crews. This was the first like it I had played and I found the true team work a refreshing change over the army of soloists all working together by happenstance that team shooters often tend to be. Honestly, I hadn’t even realized that I was missing a true team experience until now.
The game had a good overall feel to it as well, I was easily able to immerse myself into the environment as bold gritty textures combined with the ambiance of creaking and groaning air balloons to sell the buccaneers of the sky motif. The occasional burst of flame from boosting rockets and the satisfying thoom of the cannons help to keep the suspense high as you struggled to keep your cannons aimed and ships out of harms way. All the while a richly populated and fully voiced communication system allowed players to fill the air with appropriately accented insults, warnings and victory cries that added to the overall feel of rowdy vikings attacking an enemy ship. I also liked the overall look of the ships as the rough patchwork balloons mixed with gritty wooden platforms to really convince you of the validity of the death trap at your feet. Maps with hazy fogs obscuring vision, floating islands and tall mountains play host to the many battles. One map offered a fun unique challenge to the battles, the map contained a large water funnel with enough force to push and pull your ship as you try to fight near bye. This quickly gave way to my favourite kamikaze tactic in the whole game, forcing my way into the inner force of the funnel I would slingshot around a couple times and time my boost to exit directly at an enemy balloon. It was more fun than I have the words to adequately describe, that map is by far my favourite of the whole game.
The game did have a couple flaws that tarnished an otherwise well polished multiplayer experience for me. The biggest one would have to be the forty-five second downtime in between matches, it is fifteen seconds too long and causes me to completely lose my fire every time. I started looking up when ever I found myself hitting the frustration point and it was always shortly after thirty seconds, the approximate time that jumping around firing guns as captives or victors runs it course and now you want the next round to start. I also found the sword to be a little too clunky to use, it made boarding an enemy ship and trying to attack the crew a little difficult. Most tended to hang from the ropes and toss grenades onto the deck. Though the sword could help to cut such grenade tossers down after a deft leap to join them hanging about the sides, it didn’t see much successful use by me otherwise. The rope system was tricky to use and due to its nature could often leave one falling to one’s death as the range just wasn’t there or hanging back on your own ship instead of the nearby enemy ship. Finally, the complete lack of a team balancer caused huge differences in team size as most players jumped in defaulted to viking. Many games would consist of two to one ratios and predictably that made it difficult for the buccaneers. Overtime the players adapted to self managing the teams, however the disparity was still a few players wide most times. The effect is offset a little by the games team based system but it is a good feature to have in fully multiplayer games for helping to keep the balance.
While I found the flaws to be mildly annoying it was far from enough to stop me from having a great time playing Air Buccaneers and I will be readily hopping aboard ships in the days ahead. The strong team enforcing system combined with polished ambiance makes for a great and unique experience as you sway your way through the sky, blasting the cannons off the port side and leaping into the fray as you attempt to board and take your enemies ships. If you have any love at all of vikings, pirates or naval warfare this game will more then scratch your itch and I can heartily recommend it to anyone who likes a solid competitive multiplayer game.
+ Polished team based multiplayer action where teamwork is rewarded by game mechanics
+ Balanced character customization as you level
+ Fluid role based system that allows players to adapt to situations on the fly
+ Vast easy to use in-game communication system for cheering and jeering
+ Score points through high speed water funnel assisted kamikaze death runs
- 45 second wait time in between rounds a tad long and can cool your enthusiasm as you wait
- Lack of auto-balance can result in huge disparities between team sizes
- Current lack of full tutorial will leave players with a bit of a learning curve in order to understand the leveling system and some of the mechanics.
Fun and relatively easy to learn, AirBuccaneers provides an excellent team based multiplayer experience that is made all the better by the fact that you are playing vikings and buccaneers launching cannonballs at one another on hot air deathtraps.