A Time to Earn
Avast pilot! It be time to jump the space lanes again. The name of the game is money. Well, actually the name of the game is Privateer 2, but the point is to make lots and lots 'o money. Once again, you, the young wary space-warrior, have awakened in a universe of military strife, religious fanaticism, and criminal rule. A place where political maneuvers are as deadly as combat maneuvers. On top of all this you have no memory of who you are. All you have is a name, Ser Lev Arris, 13000 credits to your name and an implicit knowledge of piloting and space combat. It is up to you to fill the gaps of your memory using your wits, skills, money and as much firepower as you can muster.
This tired and overdone premise is the entrance to a surprisingly interesting and entertaining story. A story that is advanced through a series of video clips that take Lev Arris leapfrogging from planet to planet in search of his past, meanwhile gaining lots of money and progressively cooler-looking ships. True to the fashion of Origin's Wing Commander series, the story is rife with melodrama, a host of overacting, and a few big names including Christopher Walken, Brian Blessed and lesser-known John Hurt.
A new twist in these videos is the entertaining melange of quirky English accents. Privateer 2 was made in the Manchester division of Origin's offices.
In order to progress his research and improve his existence, Lev Arris must make money, lots and lots of money. In order to go about this task, one has the choice of either becoming a commodities trader or a mercenary for hire. Unlike the previous Privateer, free-range piracy is out of the question. The ports of call where one can acquire such employment and anything else of value have had a major overhaul since the original game.
In Privateer 2, every planet and spaceport is DIFFERENT(gasp!) to look at. Each planet has it's own flashy landing sequence, boasting different and strangely alien, themes. The bars in the game are all extremely different in their feel, some are your run of the mill vicious pirate bars, while others are just, well StRaNgE (don't ask what the Surgeons Blunder Bar is about). Major planets also have unique locations beyond the spaceport-bar combo that can be visited as the plot allows. There are no more space-ship dealers, mission computers, mercenary or merchants guilds, commodities exchanges or generic news-wise bar tenders. All of this has been traded in for an integrated, but very good-looking, "Booth" system. In order to carry on any buying or selling, the player simply enters a Booth and communicates with the local space network. From here, the computer can carry out ship sales and repairs and commodities trading. The player can also view the public records (ships, people and companies), receive news reports and carry out mission-related activities. In essence, the repetitive space-port styles of the originalPrivateer have been replaced by a repetitive, integrated interface. While it is a relief to get away from the identical-looking spaceports of the original Privateer, the new Booth system removes the feel of actually moving around from one place to another interacting with people. It's a trade-off.
A privateer can bring about a profit turn-over in one of two ways. Commodities trading involves not only buying the necessary commodities, but also hiring a cargo ship to haul the stuff from port to port. The player is thus obliged to become escort to his own cargo as it is transported. The news service is primarily an aid to such trading as it lets the player know what's in demand and what's not. The other more fun and practical way to make money is to put oneself on the market. As a hire-fire mercenary, the player will have the option of selecting from a variety of missions available on the local bulletin boards. These include escorts missions, assassinations, defensive missions and attack missions. Each mission has it's own little story line in the game's universe and often deals with unsettled vendettas or clashes between the two pirate clans that hold rule over the Tri-system space-lanes. The money value for the missions varies based on the difficulty or the nature of the mission.
After having accepted a maximum of three missions, it comes time to enter the void. However, this may not be as lonely as it used to be, as the player can now hire wingmen. These wingmen all have their own specific ship types and idiosyncratic methods of flying. The more successful ones come with higher price-tags, but are still largely affordable to the up and coming privateer. The wingmen are available to the player from the time of launch to the first subsequent dock in any spaceport. So they can be used in as many missions the privateer can carry (i.e. three), until he is forced to dock again. The wingmen can be directed to any specific target the player chooses and help draw enemy fire away from the player, making things a lot easier. Choice of wingmen must be made carefully though, since the more unstable wingmen have the tendency to leave the player stranded in the middle of some particularly heated combat.
Also around to aid the player in his quest to make money is a slew of new ships. Unlike the original Privateer which offered only three ship designs, the new game boasts an arsenal of approximately nineteen different kinds of ships for the players use. All ships can also be upgraded in numerous ways with a variety of ships improvements that can be purchased by the player including, afterburner enhancers, shield generators, repair units, energy and particle guns, various guided missiles, etc. Thus, having selected one's ships and one's allies the time for war comes...
The actual space flight engine of Privateer 2 is quite different in feel to any of the previous Wing Commander series. The keyboard control scheme is nothing like it used to be in Wing Commander. Combat in the game is pretty smooth, even in moments of high detail. Slowdown is handled differently in this game than in most, instead of skipping frames and becoming choppy, the game goes into slow-motion, allowing for smoothness at the cost of real time speed. It is an interesting effect.
The game's combat engine, while very pretty, is highly unrealistic. There is no inertial slide in space, allowing the player to stop and turn on a dime. This makes for extremely unrealistic battles and removes the game from the category of space-sim to space-action. The collision zones of the ships in the game extend far beyond the visual boundaries of the ships, leading the player to collide with small fighters and capital ships that actually appear to be meters away. The games AI also leaves much to be desired, enemy ships pull few combat maneuvers, largely relying on a series of fly-by attacks to get the job done. Although this makes fighting easier early on in the game, as one progresses in difficulty it becomes merely repetitive combat. The pace of combat is also a lot slower than in other games of this series. The unrealistic physics, along with the weak AI and slow space combat, takes away a lot from the entertainment value. The game is still a lot of fun to play, however one must not have any illusions of playing in a space "sim" of any sort.
Yet, after all this, there comes the always necessary bit about the details. The little bugs and irritations that can make or crash a game. Privateer 2 is unfortunately rife with these "little" details. At the forefront is the fact that Privateer 2 is a surprisingly unstable game. The game's video is often the cause of a large number of these problems, crashing the game at inconvenient moments (i.e. while your playing it). The game's joystick calibration routines are also highly unreliable. Already Origin has released a patch in an attempt to fix or at least alleviate these problems somewhat, however random crashes and video glitches have the tendency of persisting through out the game.
Thus, Privateer 2 ends up being quite a mixed bag of blessings and failings. The game's video and plot are extremely entertaining and highly involving. The look and feel of the graphics, in space and in space-ports have been updated and are highly impressive. The new arsenal of weapons, ships, equipment, and types of missions also help the game along. It is, however, the series of bugs and bad designs in the game that finally keep it from reaching its true potential, turning a good-looking sim into a mere arcade-shooter with a affinity to crashes.