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
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
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 original
Privateer 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
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.