Impressions: Pirates of Black Cove

By Alec Meer on August 3rd, 2011 at 8:48 pm.

This is in theory going to evolve into a Wot I Think, but at the moment my progress is stymied by what I think but don’t know for sure is a bug, so that’s on hold until I’ve either found a way to traverse past this impasse or sucked it up and restarted. In the meantime, here’s some initial thoughts about the Paradox-published Pirates! meets C&C meets Diablo curio Pirates of Black Cove, which was released yesterday. Don’t let that bug thing see you decide against it on principle – there’s some neat stuff in here.

The concept: you’re a pirate captain, in a cartoonish, naval-centric land loosely based on the golden age of piracy in the 17th and 18th century, but which certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. Essentially you’re questing, as in an RPG, and these are achieved via either or both of sea battles and land battles. So far, so Pirates!, though its systems are different and rather more elaborate.

The main, and most satisfying, player feedback loop is upgrading your ships and your army. I’m only an hour or so in, and already on my land missions I’m trailed around by an impressively beefy army of 15 cutlass-wielding nutters. As I understand it, this will increase later. I will be a pirate king!

This army is the focus of the land battles, wherein you charge around a small coastal town, battling an array of imperial bastards and occasionally razing then pillaging buildings. This all happens in a manner broadly similar to an RTS, replete with dragging boxes around your units and right-clicking to move or attack. The game seems frustratingly prone to deselecting your units for no reason that was entirely obvious to me, meaning I occasionally found my lads wouldn’t go where told, or more importantly attack the riflemen who were busy knocking chunks off my vital hero character. I’m sure I’ll grow accustomed to this. I also suspect I’ll be regularly switching between different groups – say, my ranged fighter and my melee blokes – anyway in order to manage larger fights against tougher foes, so it may be less of an issue.

This landlubbing is a simple affair otherwise, but it all ties into the careful assignation of resource. Do you spend your gold on simply recruiting more of those base-level cutlass blokes, or do spend more on building a new structure in town that can chuck out hardier or ranged fighters at great expense? Do you embark on a land quest with just the survivors of your most recent fight, or do you bite the bullet and embark on an agonisingly slow roundtrip back to pirate central for reinforcements first?

As for the boating, it’s a stripped down, more forgiving version of familiar videogaming naval combat. Two ships pursue and/or circle each other across a plentifully sizeable ocean, lobbing slowly reloading cannonballs from their left or right (or port and starboard, if you read Hornblower novels), trying to anticipate where the enemy will be rather than ploughing into their line of fire, and generally shoot without being shot. Instant fix items are in the mix, so it’s not exactly punishing – though a few times I found myself with a furious tail of multi-national ships pursuing me and promising certain death if I even thought about slowing down. This was enormously stressful. Fortunately one of them caught the other in its crossfire, and while they settled down to bomb holy hell out of each other I made my escape.

In both land and and sea battles Black Cove skews towards the accessible – pause for a boo-hiss from the dumbed-down drum-bangers – but it’s no walk in the park. I’ve died a couple of times, and fallen prey of the irregular autosaving as a result – remember to save often, folks. I’ve always had a clear sense of why I died though – that answer almost exclusively being ‘crazy/lazy recklesness.’ I can imagine that, over time, the balance is skewed pretty well been good times and quick thinking. Plus I’ve already upgraded my cannonballs to spiked cannonballs, so my piratical dastardliness is satisfyingly on the rise. Black Cove seems to have found itself a comfortable place between pirate pastiche and pirate fantasy.

What else? Well, there’s the graphics. Yessir, it definitely has some graphics. What, you want a score out of 10? Pfft. It looks a bit like King’s Bounty, the environments and boats look pretty smart, the characters look a bit Voodoo 2. That’s all you’re getting from me on that front.

I can also have a quick moan about the voice-acting if you like – that qualifies as ‘enthusiastic’ at best, but much may depend on how much you enjoy funny European accents.

Nonetheless, I’m fairly well taken with it so far. It’s a bit ropey on a superficial level – and hitting what appears to be a show-stopping bug which precludes me from completing an early quest is a downer – but it’s a breezy rethink of the Pirates! formula with an appealing emphasis on RPG structure, upgrades, army-building and big old fights.

Pirates of Black Cove is out now – as is its demo.

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80 Comments »

  1. paco says:

    Got it yesterday on a whim, its 20 bucks US, I am enjoying it. Crashes a good bit. Light but fun in my opinion.

    If it piques your interest, check out the demo first.

  2. Eightball says:

    I tried the demo but the ship I’m supposed to hunt down is way too fast for me. They should’ve cribbed more of the naval combat from Pirate! so that I could get close enough to actually sink the thing.

  3. p4warrior says:

    The starting ship is slow as molasses. Alec, you’re being generous with the land sections: they are horrendous. Crashes quite a bit for me too. Overall it’s fun for the high seas combat and trying to upgrade your ship.

    SIX POINT FIVE OF TEN.

    • db1331 says:

      I want a rating in Pieces of Eight.

      I can see myself grabbing this one day if it goes on sale for $10 and I have nothing else to play.

  4. Jockie says:

    I really like the art-style of this, sometimes cartoony graphics can be a real turn-off, but they look great for piratey adventures. But from what Alec says and what Tei said in the forum thread, it sounds a wee bit buggy.

  5. DK says:

    It’s incredible how plain BAD Petroglyph is at anything resembling RTS. It’s painfully obvious they haven’t played any games in the genre since they made CnC, and their UI and control scheme (or lack thereof) are just inexcusable.

    They should stick to turn based – their lack of interface design isn’t as much of a handicap there, while their art style and faction design can shine.

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      I agree, but what does this have to do with the game right here?

      Is Petroglyph involved somehow? That would be horrifying.

    • Vinraith says:

      Err, this is a game developed by Nitro and published by Paradox, Petroglyph has nothing to do with it so far as I know.

    • DK says:

      Well don’t I have egg on my face – I misread Paradox as Petroglyph. Helped along by the Petroglyph level of awful ground combat.

    • p4warrior says:

      You’ll never comment in this town again, so help me God…

    • gulag says:

      Hold on a second, the RTS elements (of the demo) are awful. I can’t possibly speak about the game in it’s whole state, but they should really look at that demo and consider not using it to drive off potential buyers…

  6. Daiv says:

    EIGHT OUT OF FOUR SMILEY FACES, PLUS FIVE THUMBS UP OUT OF 80% OF THREE STARS

  7. Elmar Bijlsma says:

    I’m going to hang on to my doubloons and pieces of eight in the hope of something a bit more realistic. Or a lot more realistic, ideally. Honestly, why does this kind off tripe keep getting served? Is no-one reading CS Forester or Patrick O’Brian anymore?!
    Spiked cannonballs? *sigh*

    • p4warrior says:

      Wait til you use the anchor-laden harpoon gun, or the manapult.

    • Vinraith says:

      Agreed Elmar, I’d be very interested in a realistic privateering game set in this era. Hell, even Pirates! was more grounded in reality than this appears to be. I don’t begrudge folks their cartoony pirate fun, but it’s not my cup of tea.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      How many games that venture into ARPG territory are historically or technically realistic sims? It’s a light, fun, fast and fanciful genre, regardless of the superficial aspects of the setting. Sounds to me like you’re expecting the game to be an entirely different genre than it is, rather than really taking issue with its treatment of the subject matter, simply because it features boats.

      It’s like complaining that Diablo isn’t Mount and Blade. Nothing wrong with preferring the latter, but it does seem sort of pointless to expect the former to be something other than it is. Might as well say something like “Platformers are tripe, they should be first person shooters instead”.

    • pipman3000 says:

      Yeah and how come 100 Dragons take up the exact same amount of space as 1 Peasant? Do they all mold into one superdragon or something? How big is a hex anyway? Somehow they’re big enough to contain massive armies yet small enough that a waist high fence or a small boulder can obstruct all 500 of my Royal Snakes (Who realistically should take up more then a single hex). Why can’t they just slither past those 3 bandit standing in front of those inquisitors?

      I was expecting a realistic experience on par with Close Combat and instead I got this “strategy” game with very childish and unrealistic combat. 1star out of 5. You’ll have to try better next time Katauri if you want to capture this hard-core war gamers’ interest.

      (Caution: This post might be in jest)

    • Ultra Superior says:

      @pipman3000

      LOL :D

      A hex fits into the belt of the hero standing on the hex.

    • Squirrelfanatic says:

      I think someone had a bit much of bountying (for?) Kings lately, eh?

  8. jay35 says:

    Manapult?! Sold!

  9. chabuhi says:

    I know I’ll earn handfuls of fire for this, but I could really use a 2011 iteration of Man of War 1 or 2. I’d love to see that in a modern engine.
    Or that other, more isometric tall-ships warfare game … ? What was it called?

    Edit: Age of Sail! That’s the one! Sea Dogs was also pretty fun (I thought), then Akella jumped into bed with Disney and tried that PotC thing.

  10. Wooly Wugga Wugga says:

    Spiked cannon balls? Is anyone else trying to figure out how the hell those those would work?

    • Joof says:

      I was wondering that, and decided on a star shaped cannon.

    • Chris D says:

      Spring-loaded retractable spikes?

    • pipman3000 says:

      You get a cannon ball and then you put spikes on it.

    • westyfield says:

      This is why pipman3000 works for DARPA and we don’t.

    • Nick says:

      spikes pop out after rotation of ball activates mechanism. Possible!

    • Torgen says:

      The hole in the cannon is shaped like a giant asterisk.

    • tungstenHead says:

      These are instructions I sent to a friend last October to solve his problems with the firing of a cannon ball with spikes added from a standard smooth bore cannon in use by The Navy today.

      “First, a cork sabot could be a try. If during flight the cork tends to stay attached to the spikes of the cannon ball, attempt dousing the cork with oil and it will burn away allowing the spikes to function as intended when the ball reaches the target it is aimed at, providing accuracy on the part of the gunner, of course.

      If this is successful, my man suggests adjustment of the burning rate of the oil by using less oil or less potent oil until the spiked cannon ball and remnants of the cork sabot reach the target whilst still enflamed.”

      Clearly, this development will be of much use to The Navy if we can make it work in a manner that is lethal. If any other natural philosophers can concept launching of spiked cannon balls in different manners, his input will be most beneficial to The Navy.

      Do Not Allow These Ideas To Be Given To The Dutch Or Pirates Or The Spanish Or The French Or The Colonials Or The That’s All Of Them That I Can Think Of But You Know What I Mean!

    • Zenicetus says:

      Spiked cannonballs…. TERRIBLE idea!

      You want a nice smooth cannonball that bounces across the deck at high speed, tearing off limbs, killing and maiming as many crew as possible! A spiked cannonball would just stick fast to the first piece of wood decking or mast that it hit. A bunch of landlubbers here, arrrhhhh, arrrrhhh.

    • The Colonel says:

      Don’t you need a fairly good seal around the edges of the ball when it’s in the barrel? Also surely something like grapeshot would be better for maiming people? Or chainshot?

    • Savage Henry says:

      What Zenicetus said. The energy of impact would be absorbed by the spikes. A spiked cannonball would just stick into the hull or deck, rather than tearing through with force (which is what you want a heavy ball of iron to do). For anti-personnel effect, it’s grapeshot all the way. Chainshot is more for masts and rigging.

  11. goodgimp says:

    Is this sandboxy or is it a structured story/campaigns?

    • p4warrior says:

      It’s limited sandbox; you can go anywhere and visit any towns and such, but you can only do missions in story order, with two or three doled out at a time.

  12. pepper says:

    That video of the watery bits remind me of this game: http://store.steampowered.com/app/23100/?snr=1_4_4__13

  13. Tei says:

    About the land combat:

    Grouping work. So you can bind groups of soldiers to the keys 1, 2, 3, 4.

  14. p4warrior says:

    I do believe it’s called Pirates of Black Cove without the “the” in there.

  15. magnus says:

    I can’t belive nobody’s managed to slip an ‘Arrrr’ in there somewhere!

  16. WMain00 says:

    Can’t say I was impressed by the demo. It’s nothing like pirates! The ship combat is childish and not very interesting, while the land combat felt clumsy.

  17. Coins says:

    The controls, both in land and on sea are incredibly frustrating.

  18. westyfield says:

    It is, it is a glorious thing, to be a pirate king.

  19. dadioflex says:

    Could somebody who’s played it bullet-point the “neat stuff” that’s mentioned in the first paragraph, please? I read through the article and read the comments, and I’m not sure I spotted what was new, or implemented better than in previous similar games.

    • Tei says:

      Some people may arrrrrrgue than nothing, but I can think of some things:
      * nice loading screens
      * decorative birds and dolphins on the sea
      * talk like a pirate
      * animated main menu
      * some animated painted cutscenes
      * who knows? I have not played long enough to know

    • p4warrior says:

      Also:

      * 1001 Pirate jokes
      * Sailing is somewhat entertaining if simplistic

  20. Lazaruso says:

    This arrrrr-ticle didn’t have enough puns in it.

  21. Witrim says:

    There was a huge patch yesterday and a new patch coming this Friday so I would suggest waiting for that until you try it out.

  22. Jake says:

    Though a realistic Patrick O’Brian naval battle game would be good (with month long diversions to study turtles), Games Workshop’s Man O’ War was a good game and would be a cool way to take things. Black Arks and sea monsters and dwarf submarines.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I wouldn’t mind fantasy elements like that, if they would just get the tactics of sail combat right.

      I had hopes for Empire: Total War, but they completely fudged it, with square-riggers that can sail directly upwind. Looks nice, but they drive around like motorboats. Even Pirates! had basic wind tactics, and you had an advantage if you entered combat from the “weather gage” (upwind) side of the map. All those nice graphics in Empire, and they threw it away because they thought the players couldn’t handle realistic sailing. One of the dev team actually came into the forum and said that.

  23. Dave Mongoose says:

    Definitely was interested when I saw this pop up on Steam: I loved Pirates! and this looks similar except with RPG style character advancement.

    Sounds like it will be worth a try if the devs are intending to patch the bugs.

  24. DarkByke says:

    The voice acting is laughable, you would expect burly pirates to have deep voices, but they are nasally and high pitched! Very annoying to say the least.

  25. thebigJ_A says:

    Hornblower novels? Psshh. Historically inaccurate tripe.

    Read Aubrey/Maturin. That’s the good stuff. That series has its own encyclopedia that’s almost a requirement to follow along with the nautical terms, ship types and contruction, and historical figures. Excellent books. Patrick O’Brian was a master.

    I remember this fascinating moment for me when the war of 1812 broke out. I’m an American, see, And suddenly the heros I’d been rooting for were fighting against my own country. It was odd, getting a sort of Jingoistic thrill as American frigates took the Brits down a peg (sorry!), yet at the same time the loyalty I’d developed for the characters had me feeling their outrage at the upstart. So, rooting both for and against both sides in a war, that’s unusual.

    Man, those books are so good.

  26. Imbecile says:

    Is it just me, or when I read the advertisement for this game in the background of RPS does it look like “Pirates of Black Love”?

    Just me then.

  27. Laurentius says:

    Unfortunately it’s everything but Pirtaes!. Core elemnt “yo ho ho here’s my ship and now i’m gonna sail, Aargh” is not there, you don’t sail, there is no wind, your ship accelarate like a motorboat, FAIL.

    • MrNice says:

      No wind in a game about sail ships is indeed crazy, also the guns spread quite much so it’s easy to hit the other ships but hard to avoid fire.
      It’s not possible to capture a galleon with sloop like you could in Pirate.You have to grind your way through ship upgrage.

  28. macks says:

    Seems very grindy and glitchy so far. I’ve played for 1.5 hours now and have yet to encounter anything actually fun.

  29. Shockeh says:

    So, I’d love to play this, but what I’m hankering for really is just to play more Pirates!. Is this going to scratch that itch, or shall I just sink for the original?

  30. Rich Tea says:

    Think I’ll give this a miss after seeing the solid negativity about the game.

    Hadn’t really considered the concept of a pirate RPG/RTS crossover, but it’s definitely something I think could work. Might be nice without the hideous cartoon element too; I’m imagining something more akin to Empire: TW only darker.

    It’s a niche with a lot of potential.

  31. Teddy Leach says:

    Why are pirates called pirates?

  32. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    Hmmm. I would think pillaging then razing buildings would work better.

  33. Maktaka says:

    Tried playing, but the mouse sensitivity is unplayably high with no way to change it. Sorry, not dealing with that garbage.

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