Avast! Thar be Pirates here!
At GR, we are obsessed with covering all the big releases. But for every hundred-million
dollar Warcraft III
media blitz, a half-dozen
small games come out that you've never heard of. To be honest, most of them suck.
Then again, too many of the big-budget productions also suck, which is why you're
reading this site.
So in honor of the renegade bands of small developers and publishers, we still try to occasionally review one of their games and give them some of the media exposure that the big boys get so easily. And of course, nothing tempts us like the chance to plunder the high seas as a fiendish Pirate!
I why I grabbed Pirate Hunter: Seize & Destroy and tried to
pour a bit of the Caribbean into my hard drive. Of course, one of the signs
of a really low budget production is when the game doesn't even seem to know
its own name. While the box is clearly marked Pirate Hunter: Seize
& Destroy, the game itself thinks it is called Pirate Hunter:
Pirates of the New World. Obviously, someone missed the memo.
But what this game should really be called is Pirates!, as
in, Sid Meier's Pirates!,
because Pirate Hunter is pretty much exactly
the same game: same boats, same map, same trade goods, same Letters of Marque,
same "will you marry my daughter," and same elusive Spanish gold fleet.
Now if you're going to copy
a game, you could hardly choose better than Pirates! In
fact, Sid Meier is remaking Pirates! right now. I'm sure Sid's
new Pirates! will be loaded with new features, gameplay, and
unparalleled depth. Hopefully it will be so good that the developers of Pirate
Hunter can remake it 16 years later.
But it turns out that Pirates! was such a good game, I've
had some fun playing it again. The graphics have been updated to something approaching
today's standards, but you certainly won't need a high-end system for this game.
For those of you who missed the original landmark game, Pirate Hunter
puts you in command of a sailing vessel in the dangerous seas of the Caribbean,
and much of what you do is up to you.
There are four countries plying the high seas: the Spanish, the Dutch, the
French, and the English. You can work for one, or several, or none of them,
taking missions from the Governors in different settlements. You can trade goods
between cities for a profit, hunt pirates, or of course just be a pirate.
As you gain a reputation, you might be given the opportunity to purchase a Letter
of Marque from a country, which makes you more of a privateer than a pirate,
allowing you to plunder the ships and towns of hostile nations without becoming
a universally wanted man.
Get in good with a country, and a Governor may even offer you his daughter's hand in marriage. For many, the elusive "goal" of the game is the famed Spanish gold fleet, heavy with looted Mayan gold. You can try to claim it for yourself, but it is protected by the best ships of the Spanish Armada.
Hunter actually offers scenarios with different missions, like amassing
a certain wealth or annexing a certain number of towns for your country. But
like Pirates!, it plays best as a sandbox game, letting you
lead your own pirate life.
The only thing that Pirate Hunter really adds to the game
is a more complex market economy. Towns actually produce and consume goods depending
on their populations. Hijacking a cargo of cotton on its way to Havana will
cause a shortage there and drive up the price. Blockade a town's harbor, and
you can actually cause a famine when they eventually run out of food.
On the other hand, a couple things are missing too, most notably the swashbuckling.
Sinking a ship might enhance your reputation, but it won't enhance you wallet,
so grappling and boarding ships is key. In Pirates!, you would
cut to a primitive sword fighting game where you dueled the enemy captain, your
relative strengths changed by the size of your remaining crew. In Pirate
Hunter, when ships grapple, the ship with the larger crew simply wins
With a little effort, they really could have done a lot more with Pirate
Hunter, like adding some personal stats and experience to you character,
skills like swordfighting or cannon-laying or allowing you to hire specific
crew members with different skills (both additions you will find in Sea
Dogs, Bethesda's remake of Pirates!). Or how about
some sweet, sweet multiplayer?
Alright, so I've given Pirate Hunter a well deserved taste
o' the lash, but it's still fun, and I could have given it some credit if it
cost only a few pieces of silver. But Pirate Hunter will cost
you $30 of hard-earned plunder. That's not full price these days, but it's a
fair bit of gold for a game that feels like it should probably be shareware.
Really the best thing Pirate Hunter has going for it is that
it is a slightly streamlined version of Pirates! And that's
pretty good, so I'm just going to keel-haul it this time and spare it from walking
the plank. Save your precious booty, and when it hits the $10 bin, pick up a
copy for your laptop. But until then, raise the mainsails and set the rudder
for Firaxis Island where Pirate King Sid is building a new ship. With any luck,
she'll be a beauty.