Sun Tzu wrote “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”, While I don’t imagine ‘Bow To Blood’ developers Tribetoy had the Art of War in mind when they were creating this game, I couldn’t help think of this quote when delving into the tactical complexities of it – especially when removing my rivals from the competition without ever firing a shot at them.
On the surface, Bow to Blood is simple. You play as a captain of a flying ship who’s competing in the Bow To Blood tournament against a whole host of colourful and charismatic opponents. This tournament, set among the stars in a plethora of sci-fi locations which look like they’ve jumped off the canvas of a Chris Foss painting, will determine which captain will be the last one standing and in order to prove that, you’re going to have to come through a number of rounds of competition. All of this is to entertain the mysterious Overseer, the competition organiser who has a sadistic bent.
Each ‘run’ at the Bow to Blood tournament consists of 7 rounds, all but the last consisting of 2 match-up’s, each of which is randomly generated meaning no 2 playthrough’s of this game will be the same. I also say ‘run’ because I think it’s neigh on impossible for you to complete this game on your first attempt. This game features a perma-death feature which is quite interesting. In each match-up, you’re challenged to participate in a test. These range from a timed objective hunt, an open arena with multiple different activities to take part in, a long form, multi-staged fight and more. In each of these rounds, you’re pitted against another opponent while each of the other competitors do the same with one another. At the end of each 2 match round, you return to the Bow to Blood arena where your cumulative scores are added to a leader board. Here’s where the deepest elements of strategy come into play. The 2 competitors who have the lowest cumulative score in each round become the subject of a Big Brother styled eviction. Every other competitor votes on which of the lowest pair they want to eject from the Bow to Blood competition and person with the most votes leaves. Thankfully, you can influence the voting by making friends with other characters. In between rounds, you’re contacted by other Captains to be questioned or quizzed, your answer to them determining their relationship with you. In some matches, other competitors can be found to be in a spot of bother. If you choose to help them out (raising their potential points tally in the process) they will befriend you can be counted on during an eviction vote. In other instances, you can donate points or special weapons to other characters to get them on your side. Similarly, you’ll always make a few enemies. Even if you do happen to make a number of friends, the Overseer will put you in a situation which creates an enemy, like mandating you to choose between 1 of 2 other Captains to face off against a deadly alien force. Whomever you choose won’t take kindly to putting you them in danger.
This is why Bow to Blood is so tactical. You’ll always have to make some enemies but focusing the negativity on just a few opponents while spreading the love with everyone else can mean you’ll survive a number of rounds even if you come dead last on the scoreboard. It’s a truly interesting concept that adds weight to every conversation you have and every action you make. Having procedurally generated levels and different friends and foes during each ‘run’ and Bow to Blood makes it for a very replayable title.
The game play itself, with you on the bridge of your flying pirate-esque ship, is also very enjoyable if a little clunky at times. While at the wheel, you can control the direction and speed of travel. At the same time, the direction in which you look controls where you shoot. Foes directly in front of you get taken out by some small guns while anything to the side of you gets shot by your broadside cannons. While you’re at your station, you can also control what parts of your ship gets the most power. Your ship can buff some aspects of itself, like speed and power, but not all of them at the same time. If you have around some switches and knobs on your dashboard, you can really amp up your speed at the cost of your shield and cannon strength for those combat free, collectable missions. Similarly, when you’re heading into a fight, you can balance out the ship shields and guns to give you a fighting chance. Sometimes, you’ll have robots trying to board your ship too. In those situations, you have a pistol close at hand for you to grab and aim around your ship. While these moments are rare, they certainly do mix up the action.
You also control 2 robotic crew members on your ship (with a button press system which is a little unintuitive) who help you in whichever position you send them too. Put one in the shield section of the ship and you’ll get a small boost to the amount of damage you can take while if you put them on the engine, you’ll increase you max speed. Most of the time, you’ve got plenty of breathing room to re-configure your ship and crew for the challenge ahead but it can be a real struggle in the heat of the moment to get it right, which often meant I would just stick to a balanced system rather than changing up to fit the need.
Your robot crew companions bring a lot of charisma to Bow to Blood. While they’re often bickering, they also offer their opinion on challenges and options set up for you. They’re well written characters and really bring something to the whole experience.
While Bow to Blood is available in a number of non-VR options, I was determined to review it on the PSVR and I’m happy to report that it’s a very comfortable mode. Because you’re not often moving at high speeds and the turning, ascending and descending are purposefully weighty, I didn’t once feel dizzy or nauseous. Props to Tribetoy for delivering a great VR experience.
My main gripe with Bow to Blood is the UI. During some mission types, you’re given waypoints to follow and in VR, these didn’t feel at all intuitive enough. A distance counter or part-waypoints could have certainly helped me navigate some of the larger maps where I found myself getting lost or heading into a dead end. This isn’t helped by some invisible walls which surround many of the arenas – In one match, I was tested to find a number of egg collectables. One of them was situated very high up but I was unable to simply fly over the structure it was behind. I had to fly around it, something I only discovered after several minutes of list time trying.
Visually splendid with a terrific art style, a surprisingly unique premise and a whole bucket full of charm makes Bow to Blood a very entertaining and worthwhile game. While it’s not quite an essential title, feeling a little clunky at times, it’s certainly one I’d recommend to any PSVR owner who’s in the mood for something a tad different. Standing on the bridge of your ship, barking orders at your robot crew while filling imaginatively design enemy ships full of holes with my chunky cannons is a feeling I don’t think will ever get old and is certainly something I’ll continue to do in the months to come thanks to a tonne of replayability.
Bow to Blood is available now on PS4 (reviewed on base PS4 with PSVR) , Xbox One, Switch and PC with VR support.
In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publisher. For our full review policy please go here.
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