Privateer 2: The Darkening
In the original Privateer, you developed your own ship and style, opting for something sleek and deadly, or something big and heavy built for cargo. You bought and sold goods, fought your way through trade routes, and perhaps even stumbled across the main plot line. The galaxy was wide open and you shaped your own destiny. It was a version of Elite, where the substance was slightly overshadowed by the flash. Sadly, this sequel is even more preoccupied with flash than its predecessor.
Privateer 2: The Darkening’s premise for commerce, in which you must always hire an independent freighter to carry your cargo, starts things off on the wrong foot. You may as well coordinate everything from the comfort of an office. Every trading run becomes an escort mission. You’re not so much a privateer as you are a mid-level commerce coordinator who gets to tag along in a fighter.
The small universe makes it hard to avoid the plot line, and offers little room for shaping much of a destiny. As you progress through the story, your PDA leads you by the nose as you flit about from cut-scene to cut-scene. Occasionally you’re forced to look up names and ship registration numbers in a phony database. The FMV clips are full of oddities – bad angles, gratuitous zooms, and jump cuts.
The actors could have been miked a bit better, but since the dialogue is so awful there’s no great loss in the occasional inaudible line. Our protagonist Clive Owen turns in a fiercely bland performance as a determined amnesia victim. Capable actors like Christopher Walken, John Hurt, and Jurgen Prochnow are almost completely wasted in confusing and ineffectual bit parts. Only David Warner is used to good effect during the game’s all-too-predictable revelation scene.
The space combat portion is perhaps Privateer 2’s strongest point, with a smooth graphics engine that makes good use of textured polygons, light sourcing, attractive explosions, and lens flare effects. A full screen display with a HUD that wastes no space allows for wide-open views of the action. A ridiculously generous shield bubble keeps everything at arm’s length, so don’t expect spectacular fly-bys over capital ships. Instead of zooming around in a furball, you’re likely to end up bouncing back and forth like a pinball.
You can arm your ship with lots of clever upgrades, including different mines, ECM toys, and a virus to upload onto an enemy’s ship. Unfortunately, the computer-controlled pilots have the intelligence of doorknobs, so there’s little reason to use these gadgets. You can resolve almost any situation using strong lasers and shields, with the occasional torpedo to take out a turret-laden destroyer.
This one-note combat gets old quick, especially since there’s so much of it. Traveling from planet to planet involves passing through a number of jump points, and if there’s even a single enemy ship at the jump point, you can’t leave. This wouldn’t be so bad if opponents weren’t continually joining the fray. A frequent and annoying situation involves a pirate shuttle sitting a couple of thousand kilometers out while you swat back swarms of fighters, only to have more jump in while you try to cover the distance to the shuttle. Never being able to retreat, direct combat is the only way to go.
As I played the game, I was reminded of Blue Byte’s Archimedean Dynasty, an excellent sleeper that has a lot in common with Privateer 2. But Blue Byte’s game demonstrates an axiom game developers would do well to learn: cutting edge technology and big budgets do not necessarily make for an imaginative, rich universe. Archimedean Dynasty’s game world is detailed almost entirely through text-based conversations supported by still artwork and a solid combat engine. Privateer 2’s expensive cast, smooth graphics, flashy interface, and film sequences ultimately can’t hold the game together.
System Requirements: Pentium 90 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win95
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