Blacksea Odyssey Preview
I know poaching is supposed to be bad and all, but I really don’t think that games got the memo. Geralt of Rivia makes a living by chopping off the heads of rare and mythical creatures, Bloodborne’s Good Hunter spends his evenings cutting down the people-turned-beasts of Yharnam, and I’ve just spent the last few hours killing magnificent space monsters with a harpoon. Blacksea Odyssey might not have its ethics all worked out, but my God is it a blast to play.
Bounty hunters from throughout space come together every decade to take part in a tournament that will decide who the best space-whaler is: the player must choose a character and their equipment before plunging into the darkest reaches of the universe to track down and mutilate titanic monsters in this twin-stick bullet-hell adventure. To begin with, you’ll only have access to one character and one spear type as everything else needs to be unlocked as you progress through countless games, but the variety between those options once they are unlocked, as well as the stories that come with each item, make the whole process feel rewarding, rather than being one big disheartening grind.
Once the tournament begins, the player is faced with a solar system, with several sectors highlighted as bounty arenas. Each procedurally generated, fully destructible arena contains a variety of small space fish, with each type having their own peculiarities that make fighting them not only interesting, but memorable. Thankfully, Blacksea does have some limited controller support – movement and aiming are mapped to the left and right stick respectively, while spears and harpoons are likewise operated by the right and left triggers (I’m sure you mouse and keyboard users can figure it out for yourself). Your primary damage output will be from your unlimited spears; they’ll travel in the direction you shoot them for any distance at a speed determined by the spear type. Then we have the harpoon, a mechanic that makes Blacksea uniquely satisfying and genuinely interesting to play. All enemies are made up of different components, such as fins and claws and eyes (the eyes are my favourite), which the player will be able to hit with their spears. Hit anything enough times and it will begin pulsating, at which point the player must charge up their harpoon and launch it into the side of the creature, slowing it down and tethering them to their prey. Once the harpoon is activated again, it is wrenched from the animal, tearing with it the body part that it was attached by, doing massive amounts of damage and leaving a rather sadistic grin on your face.
Of course, this also works (debatably much more effectively) when combatting bosses, who are the main objective of each round. Once encountered, all other enemies in the level disappear to make room for your exhilarating David and Goliath duel. The player will always know what they’re up against, as they have manually selected it from the list of possible bounties, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the advantage. The game is incredibly hard, and when you throw procedural generation, random drops and permadeath into the mix, every battle becomes a tooth and nail struggle for survival between you and this terribly crumbly animal.
The first boss I fought was a shelled squid that required me to tear off its limbs just like the other squid enemies, while the second was a heavily armoured tank of a thing that I couldn’t even strike until harpooning it in the eye. With these bosses, the player must work out not only how to evade attacks and stay alive, but which parts are vulnerable, which parts are best to remove first and whether any weak spots are opened up by ripping off certain limbs. Harpooning yourself to a giant space monster may seem like a good idea to begin with, but when it starts pulling you into its attacks, it might be a good idea to restrategize. As I mentioned, permadeath is a very real thing in this game, and even though dying can be completely crushing, Blacksea induces that horrible feeling of “I’ll just have one more go. I can put off the review for another hour.” When I did finally get to the end of a game, I had to sit down, try to recover, and come to terms with the fact that I just tore apart a Leviathan fin by fin.
Blacksea Odyssey is still in Early Access, and so the game can feel a little sparse at times: not because what has been implemented is boring, but because almost every character option has a great big “TBA” hovering over it, and while I really enjoy fighting the monsters that are in the game, I’m keen to sink my teeth (and my harpoon) into some bigger, more dangerous beasties. At present, the game only has partial controller support, and is horribly implemented when it comes to the user interface. Realistically, I’d like to be able to manoeuvre a cursor with the analogue stick rather than needing to wrestle with the D-Pad. The only real issue I had with the game was upon first starting it up – my PC couldn’t decide what it was doing with the mouse, and it wouldn’t let me aim my ship – but after doing some fiddling, it plays like a dream.
Blacksea Odyssey can make you feel like king of the world or a piece of meat depending on whether you tear apart The Great Charybdis or whether The Great Charybdis tears apart you. Even at this early stage, the game is deeply satisfying and highly rewarding, setting itself up for grand things upon its full release. Its exhilarating gameplay, interesting characters, and the “one more go” feeling that it undoubtedly elicits makes the game one to look out for – even more so when there’s more content to play with.