By Mike Bezek
Escape From Monkey Island, Pirates of the Caribbean, Blackbeard. Whether you are a gamer, a movie critic, or just someone who paid attention in History class, pirates have long been a staple of popular culture. The premise is appealing to anyone with the soul of an adventurer: no regard for the concept of law, sailing the world in search of unimaginable treasures, and living life as they see fit. Pirates of Black Cove takes up the cross of the pirate premise and attempts to add RTS elements to a lighthearted swashbuckling adventure. While the idea attempts to breathe air into a floundering sub-genre, the game stumbles on basic key concepts that take what could be a satisfying experience and turns it into a mediocre adventure tinged with scurvy.
Message In A Bottle
Like most tales involving the seven seas and unhygienic terrors raising mast with no regard for human life, Pirates takes place in the golden age of piracy: the 16th century. You are given the choice to assume the role of soon-to-be legends of the sea, with creative names such as “Walker De Plank”. Given that the game relishes in the notion that it is simply a lighthearted affair, I decided that I would look past the uninspired name. What quickly followed the opening sequence almost immediately justified my previous notion. I was sailing the open seas while chatting with a Spanish vessel which was deciding whether or not to blow my recently successful insurrection out of the water. This dialogue is complimented by voice acting, and unfortunately, the uneven keel of bad to mediocre voice work immediately started to grate my nerves right from the opening sequence.
Whilst being threatened by an aloof Spaniard statesman moments after setting sail, the open seas presented before you beckon with the overwhelming call of adventure. As soon as you part ways with your potential nemesis, the ocean is yours to explore, and while it never becomes overly boring, it also never seems to have a specific allure as well. The problem with this is that there is literally no wind the governs your ship, or any other tactical or resource management that takes place while sailing for hours on end. You are free to sail in any direction you like, at any speed, which makes sailing appear as a motorboat, and not a vessel that depends on trade winds to ensure a safe journey. You are also free to engage any other ship sailing along as well, which quickly degrades into a battle of who can make the quickest circles around another ship while reloading their sluggish cannons. The inclusion of magical “toolboxes” that can be used at any time to fully repair your ship takes what little challenge sea battles have. Get into a heavy firefight with a Danish vessel? No problem, use a toolbox to gain an unfair advantage!
Aside from engaging in awkward sea battles, you are free to roam the open world to your hearts content. Scattered along the way are items that range from consumables to use in battle, blueprints to use to purchase new ships, to little notes containing pirate-themed jokes that range from giving the player a small chuckle, to downright cringe-worthy. While picking up random items and joke is fun for a little while, it ends up making sailing to your destination quite the chore. If you are not aiming to collect every little trinket on your way to a mission, you are forced to sail to every location with nothing to do but check the map every so often to make sure you don’t run aground.
There is the inclusion of a trinket that you will find in your home base that will return you there when used, but you have to commit it to memory to pick it up every single time you visit. Seeing as it only has one use, and you can only hold one at a time, aggravation sets in quickly when you discover you forgot to pick up the trinket during your last visit. Now you are half a world away, and are forced to brave vast swaths of nothingness just to return to complete your quest. It seems as if the developers realized that the sailing mechanic was overly cumbersome to employ as the only means to travel, but decided to exclude the option to quick travel without a consumable that only returns you to one location.
Mindless Grunts ‘Till The End
Supplementary to the sailing and exploring aspect of Pirates is the RTS system used for all land engagements. Anyone who has played Starcraft, or the myriad of it’s less-formidable competitors knows the basics of how to control your units in what is a very simplistic system. If you so happen to be new to the genre, the games gives a lengthy tutorial on how to navigate, just to be safe. By spending the money that you receive for various missions, you will be able to build various structures in the base of your operations. With these buildings comes the ability to spend even more money in order to gain various units that you can take into battle and fight on your behalf. But with all the help in the world, nothing can sate the fact that the land missions in this game vary from easy to downright boring.
When you click a location for your units to travel to, that is exactly what they will do. Being that there is no option for move-attack in the game, you will have to follow along with all of your units movements to ensure that you will be there to baby sit them. If enemy units come along, your units will simply continue to walk along and be slaughtered unless you click for them to attack. A few seconds later, the battle is over, and you will simply rinse and repeat along the way to your primary objective. There is little to no strategy required to complete any mission in the game, all you have to do is move your gigantic swarm of hygiene lacking lackeys towards the enemy and await results.
Pathfinding of units is also a huge player in dysfunctional mechanics that quickly becomes game breaking. Units will have a hard time following your orders when they either become trapped behind a simple object, or just plain-out cannot seem to find the spot in the open field you ordered them to travel to. In my reviews, I always like to include a small personal example of bugs and glitches, but this one really took the cake. At home base, I had instructed my character to walk to the other end of town to an open area where an NPC stood. I watched in amazement as he traveled back and forth, halfway to the designated point and then back to his point of origin, for 20 minutes (I allowed the game to run while I was away) without any success. In order to accomplish my seemingly unobtainable goal, I was forced to click every few feet ahead of my unit just to get him to negotiate a simple left turn. Once we arrived to turn in my quest, the unit simply refused to talk to the NPC, or even travel to him. I was forced to move the unit in and out of the area 5 times just to finally finish my quest. I felt as if I should have been compensated further for the frustration of holding my battle-hardened pirate’s hand all the way there.
Also suffering from this affliction of sudden blindness is the AI controlling the other ships at sea. More than one laugh will be had as you witness ships suddenly making hard turns directly into land for no apparent reason. It’s as if half of the captains on the high seas were drunk out of their minds and thought that the sandbars were excellent landing points.
One of Pirates good sides definitely shines in the visual and audio presentation. Everything from the water, towns, and random locations look great. Environments are covered in lively and vibrant colors, and is accompanied with a playful soundtrack to keep the mood light. Ships will show visible damage during a battle, and units have a decent amount of detail for a game that has a camera pulled a good distance away. The largest amount of polish to the experience is the ocean, which is always a joy to look at. Various sea life is visible as you travel around, and shallow water gives way show the sand underneath, making the sea that much more immersive.
It is a shame that such attention was paid to detail, but the sheer mediocrity of the game itself drowns it out rather quickly. Every time you set sail onto the beautiful ocean, you are reminded that your ultimate destination is marred with the boring trek of sailing large distances with little to no stimuli. Similarly, the peppy dialoged that induces a few chuckles will always be preceded by an aggravating and unvaried combat situation.
Is It Worth Your Money?
Priced at 20$, it’s very hard to recommend this to anyone when Sid Meier’s Pirates! has been on the market awhile now and is still a better game overall. You will get your pirate fill, and save your wallet as even the recently released iOS version is only 6.99$. The truth is, I definitely wanted to enjoy this game, seeing as it is a great premise for the RTS genre. The great visuals and lively soundtrack gives way to simplistic and buggy gameplay elements that make it hard to continue until the end.
Pirates of Black Cove Technical Summary:
- Time Played – 7 hours
- Widescreen – Yes
- 5.1 Audio – No
- Bugs – Several
- Control Scheme – Mouse
- DRM – Steamworks
- Availability – Steam, GamersGate
- Demo – Yes
- System Specs – AMD Phenom II X2, 4GB RAM, Radeon 4600
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