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.