This review was originally created in June 2018 for HTC, targeted to their Vive/Vive Pro (VIVEPORT). It is reproduced here without alteration.
Interest in pirate legends and folklore has had a major resurgence since Johnny Depp first took on the role of swashbuckling scallywag, Captain Jack Sparrow, 15 years ago, in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Over five films, that franchise has earned more than $4.5 billion at the box office. It’s no surprise then that quite a few videogame releases have tried to capture some of that same fictional pirate mystique, giving players control of their own ships and setting them off on high adventures.
Cutlass takes the concept to virtual reality, casting you as a buccaneer on a small ship of your own. In the game’s Survival mode, you sail around an archipelago, sometimes evading, and often fighting, rival pirates. In the game’s Time Trial mode, you race against time to get through various checkpoints.
The first thing to note about Cutlass is that this is a standing, room-scale experience. Unlike some games with those requirements, Cutlass needs a lot of space to work correctly. Since there’s no warp function within the game, if your play area is too small, you’ll have trouble reaching the ship’s cannons and sailing controls.
The entire game is controlled with both HTC Vive controllers, one in each hand. Bizarrely, your left hand is depicted as what you would expect a peg leg to look like, while your right hand is depicted as a hook. Despite how they’re depicted, your hands function normally when sailing the ship or when you’re loading, aiming, and firing the cannons. Control is intuitive, although it can be difficult to perform many of the actions quickly enough in the heat of the action.
Cutlass is strictly a solo game, so you’ll have to learn how to effectively multi-task between sailing and shooting. There’s no crew or life of any kind onboard your ship, which makes for something of a lonely experience. In short, if you’re too distracted fighting off enemy pirates, no one else will be keeping an eye on your course, meaning your ship is in danger of crashing. This hectic pace definitely makes for a high stress experience.
Visually, Cutlass delivers, with clean models and well-lit environments that feature weather and day and night cycles. The animation is similarly well-done, with the swaying of the ship a particular stand-out. Audio-wise, the sound effects match well with actions like turning the wheel or firing the cannon. There’s also persistent, gentle background music, which sounds exactly like you’d expect lyric-free pirate shanties would sound like.
For better or worse, Cutlass doesn’t set out to present a complete pirate experience. There are no real objectives or goals other than to fend off waves of identical enemy ships. Because of the need to multi-task between steering and maintaining proper speed, as well as shooting, which involves the loading of, adjusting pitch and yaw for, and then firing of the cannon, the challenge level is quite high. You’ll have to respawn often, and sometimes you’ll be placed into a scenario with little to do other than sail about. Of course, the inverse is true, where you might respawn into a sea full of enemies.
If you don’t mind doing all of these shipboard actions in isolation, there is quite a bit fun to be had with this game. With such a solid core in place, it’s just a shame that the developers weren’t able to design Cutlass for more room-scale setup sizes. As it is, you need a very large room to be able to play properly. It’s also unfortunate that with such a fun core experience, where the basics of sailing and firing cannons is handled so well, that the developers didn’t try for something a bit more ambitious in terms of scope.
Score: 3 out of 5 stars.
Cutlass is available on Viveport or with a Viveport Subscription.