Blood Wake, Microsoft's first real after-launch offering has been called a 'Twisted Metal on water' many times, and has received some quite mixed reviews for and against it. After giving the game a substantial amount of play, however, I can't see where people based that comparison, as Blood Wake is an entirely different kind of game.
Now don't let the graphics fool you. I must admit, the graphics are very auto-combat-like, but where Twisted Metal has a closed course level design, the levels in Blood Wake are of an epic scale, giving the game a much more open ended and broad feeling. And where Twisted Metal goes for the dark, disturbing approach, Blood Wake tries to capture the olden-days, Chinese-like culture, painting large port cities and castles, and using stylized speedboats, gunboats, and hydro-planes as it's vehicles of destruction.
Now given Blood Wake takes place completely in huge oceanic levels, a huge part of the graphics come in the form of the water's physics and their use throughout the game. Most of the time, the water in the game is used to excellent effect, it animates beautifully and always gives off some really brilliant lighting and shimmering effects. The physics are also quite dynamic, you'll see the water produce shock waves upon blowing up an enemy, and leave a very nice trail behind your ship as you speed ahead. The water looks especially nice during stormy whether conditions. All in all, the water works very nicely for the game. The castles and cities also look nice, and you can always see very far into the horizon. Some things don't fare as well though, the rock structures and grass on hills look pretty dull, and the menus in the game are fairly lackluster. The pictures that forward the story are also not too impressive (much like the ones in Soul Calibur).
Speaking of the story, the story is forwarded along with some very nice voice samples (well except the main character, who sounds like he's been smoking more of the green stuff than Cheech and Chong). The guns, missiles, and other assorted weapons all have some nice sound effects as well. The back ground music on the other hand, leaves a little to be desired. I mean it has style, sounding like something a DJ from China would produce (yes, a DJ from China, complete with scratching and distorted sounds), but it's very sparse, drowning out for a moment, then coming back for a bit, then going back out. Strange, to say the least, but it does have personality.
In terms of gameplay it seems Blood Wake has been branded outright as a Twisted Metal clone. But thats not the case, Blood Wake does have a personality of it's own.Unlike Twisted Metal, Blood Wake is a mission based game, featuring huge levels where you face off against dozens of gunboats. Blood Wake puts you in the lead role of several (close to 30) missions vital to the success of your clan over the vicious, but often over-confident Jade Kingdom, and the toweringly powerful Iron Empire. Missions find you carrying out a variety of objectives, from collecting tribute from port towns, to covertly taking out ammo dumps while an enemy is out of town, to your basic 'destroy all enemies' missions.
Now the actual controls of the game work well most of the time, but can often be very frustrating. For instance, try backpedaling during a fire fight and don't be surprised if you almost lose your ship trying to get realigned with the action. Going in reverse is just handled strangely, pulling it off correctly is often a hit or miss procedure. Another thing that can get in the way quite often is the shock wave that the water gives off when you blow something up. If you happen to be going at a decent speed and run into a shock wave as it happens, your boat will fly into the air for what seems like minutes, all the while as the enemies take pot shots at you in the air. Likewise, your boat has the same 'floaty' feel when going off any normal jump or big wave. Other than those irks, the gameplay works effectively, the control set up works easily and moving about is usually simple and fun, and definitely feels like you're cruising around on water.
Blood Wake is a very fun, action packed game. There are plenty of missions to go through (and they can get VERY difficult, even on the lowest difficulty), there's tons of things to unlock, and a very nice multi-player mode to keep you playing. It's also a nice title to show off to your friends, and definitely holds promise for a sequel. Avast, ye scallywags!