Mix the Wild West with the high seas and you get Swashbucklers: Blue vs. Grey, an action adventure game about pirates during the Civil War. However, the gameplay isn't as innovative as this offbeat premise, considering that Russian developer TM Studios has just duplicated Sid Meier's take on buccaneering from his Pirates! Games, right down to the arcade minigames. There isn't any amusement to be found in the derivative, go-through-the-motions gameplay that mimics a vastly superior predecessor. Ancient production values boast nonstop loading screens and outdated graphics, all of which nicely hammers home the bottom-drawer philosophy behind this second-rate rip-off.
Nevertheless, there are enough interesting aspects to the story to make you wish that Swashbucklers had been more ambitious with its gameplay. You take the role of Abraham Gray, a pirate plying his trade in the Caribbean and along the southeastern seaboard of the United States during the Civil War. Dropping the usual 16th-17th century piratical escapades for a more modern era is a great idea, especially given how the game dresses up the period with cowboy touches. Gray dresses more like a Texas Ranger than a buccaneer from Havana, what with his beat-up cowboy hat and twirling six-guns. City ports look like refugees from an old oat opera as well, with dirt streets, sheriffs' offices, and saloons. Another nifty touch is Gray's mental state. He's a schizophrenic who hears voices, which comes in handy when this hallucinatory alter ego provides tips on how to play the game. Not much is made of this during play, although the concept is at least an interesting way to handle the pop-up instructions provided during game tutorials.
Depressingly, that's about it for the positives. For starters, everything about Swashbucklers screams bargain bin. The PS2 version's visuals are dated across the board, although they at least look comparatively better to other games on this system than the PC version does compared with similar games on that platform. However, graphical elements of the game are often repeated, which means that every port features the same dirt streets and the same sheriff's department. Every section of the game needs to be loaded, too, despite the dated look and content. Most loads are nearly instantaneous, but they still break up the flow with continual screen fade-outs and transition screens. A comic-book vibe to the visual flair makes the archaic stuff a bit more tolerable, but you're still playing a game that looks as if it came out five years ago. Furthermore, the interface is a bit clunky, although at least its big "designed for a TV set" style is more at home here than it is in the PC edition of the game.
Audio is an even bigger advertisement for yesteryear. Presumably to avoid the costs involved with recording dialogue and then translating it for different markets, characters in Swashbucklers grunt conversations like angry, drunken versions of the adults in Peanuts cartoons. Unfortunately, this half-baked attempt at simlish doesn't work here, given that you're trying to make sense of a storyline, not groove on the cutesiness of virtual dolls expressing emotions without uttering any intelligible words. You can't get much out of this grunting, either, because it all sounds like a cross between a snore and a belch. Thankfully, there are captions for all of this snorted dialogue, so you can ignore these annoying noises and just read your way through conversations while listening to the pretty good Wild West-style musical score.
It's a pity that you can't similarly disregard the gameplay. This is a clone of Pirates! in every imaginable way, but without the depth and sense of fun that permeated that 2005 remake. Character development has some role-playing game aspects, although they're pretty rudimentary. You level up fairly quickly, but can apply the points gained to only three skills: fencing, shooting, and defense. Perks that provide special melee attacks, defense bonuses, and the like can also be chosen, which gives you at least a little more freedom to build a character. Regardless, there isn't enough choice here to let you really customize Gray. The arcade-style combat is equally straightforward on both terra firma and on the high seas.