Recently released on August 2, Paradox Interactive and Nitro Games has brought us Pirates of Black Cove. Set in the golden age of piracy, Pirates is a mix of different genres and truly has a unique feel and a comical wit any gamer can enjoy. If you’re looking for a fun pirate-inspired adventure with an interesting story which doesn’t take itself too seriously, get out your best peg-leg and read on mateys.
As soon as the player begins the adventure, he is greeted with multiple pirate-y personas to choose from. Walker De Planc is the rough-and-tumble melee fighter focused on power, while Jolie Roger fills in as the quick and agile swordsman who relies heavily on speed and precision in combat. And last, but definitely not least, is Longshot Jack. As his name implies, his expertise lies with ranged weaponry. After picking his persona, the player will also choose from three special abilities with which to outfit the ship, with options ranging from explosive mines to a catapult which can launch fellow pirates onto enemy ships to take them over. Once players finish preparing their pirate, it’s right into the action with them.
The story starts just after the player’s chosen character has led a mutiny against Captain Longpants and taken over his ship. The primary story slowly unravels as players complete increasingly more difficult quests and slowly learn of the Black Cove Pirates’ plans. Ultimately, players will need to unite the various factions in order to stop the Black Cove Pirates and take them down once and for all. Along the way, players will participate in ship-to-ship battles, stealth missions, massive naval skirmishes, and even fight enormous mythical sea creatures. The crazy world of Pirates is primarily divided into three major factions: the Pirates, the Buccaneers, and the Corsairs. With each new faction players ally themselves with, they will gain access to new bonuses and battle units based on each faction’s fighting styles. Yet players must choose wisely as some buildings will cost more to invest in and more powerful units require more hard-earned gold to get them.
Earn enough factional reputation through completed missions and you will be given “champion” status with that group and that faction’s leader will join you as a hero character. This will also give you the ability to hire three more sub-units to control. Along your quests in the world of Pirates, you will meet a wide variety of interesting and quirky characters from the powerful trickster Saladin the Black, to the goofy-eyed and goggled mad alchemist, to even the leader of the pirate clan himself.
Broken up into two primary gameplay formats, Pirates will have players conducting full scale ground combat with their amassed armies of pirate fiends while also offering sea exploration and naval warfare on the fly. When first starting out, the game’s learning curve can be a bit daunting due to the controls and mechanics, but luckily the guys over at Nitro Games saw fit to set the player up with a very talkative first mate who will walk you through new gameplay elements as they’re introduced. Of course, this feature can be turned off so you can return those flintlocks to their holsters now.
Similar to many focus RTS titles on the market, Pirates gives the player direct control of a small handful of hero characters when in comes to mainland fighting, each with the ability to command three sub-units. Similar to titles like Warhammer 40k, each group averages between four to five characters which allows for quick control of combat using simple mouse commands. Although this works well, the ability to control each pirate in your posse would have been a nice feature. Units can be found and hired at different establishments at each of the major factions’ strongholds. Some are pricier than others, but what works best really comes down to the current mission and the way the player has customized their hero. Each hero character, beyond passive upgrades or effects earned by leveling up and “collecting badges,” has skills that can be used in battle to increase damage and affect squad units. These skills, more often than not, will turn the tide of any battle in which the hero is taking part. The ground missions are quick-paced and vary wildly to truly help keep the overall game from feeling stale or redundant at any point.
Not surprisingly, the naval battles are quite fun. Albeit a bit simplistic in nature, the nautical warfare in Pirates does contain some depth for veteran gamers. Each battle primarily consists of the nautical dancing of ships to align themselves up to deal a splash of cannon fire to their opponent’s starboard or port sides with a few special ship attacks mixed in here and there for spice. While the player is only given the choice of one of three special enhancements at the beginning of the game, new upgrades can be acquired at shipyard locations within each stronghold. These serve to help keep the battles from getting too repetitive or tedious.
Players can also seek out blueprints to unlock newer and more powerful ships and weapons to further enhance their capabilities. Sadly, however, as interesting as the naval battles are, the ‘sailing” aspect of the game leaves much to be desired. The ships tend to feel too slow for the most part and, while the game does have items you can pick up to allow you to quickly return to stronghold locations, they feel a bit tacked-on. The game definitely would have benefit from a quick-travel ability to cut back on the tedium.
The sheer number of options available to the player in-game is truly daunting, but greatly refreshing. The main character can be augmented with numerous special abilities which can be used in tandem with other hero’s special attacks and augments. The ship is given special weapons, editable paint jobs, and base upgrades via blueprints hidden throughout the world. Even the strongholds themselves allow the player to choose which barracks to invest in for the purpose of hiring new types of battle units. The controls work well enough in most aspects of the game, but I did find myself wondering if they could have been done better. Some of the nautical special abilities I found could have used just a nudge from an “auto -aim” feature, but they never really hindered the gameplay. These complaints are minor especially due in part with the beautifully crafted and well-designed menu and inventory systems.
Visually, Pirates has a refreshingly unique and quirky style to it. The world has a slightly matured feel to it, while at the same time the vibrant colors and crazy character designs lend themselves fantastically well to the overall comical feel of the game. Levels each have their own unique flair while still holding on to the same cohesive style of previous levels. You actually want to explore the whole map just to see what’s hidden in the corners. The world is beautifully rendered with realistic water effects, flowing high grass, and running rivers, all the while still holding onto that stylish charm. The only area I would personally like to have seen more time invested would have been the character animations and details of the ground combat models. They were by no means bad, but could have used more attention.
One of the notable features in Pirates is the scope of the voice acting. Every scene is fully voice-acted and, while the actors sometimes leave a bit to be desired, it does really add to the unique flair of the game. The clash of swords and explosions of cannon fire in battle are solid, yet could have been more engaging. The soundtrack does a great job of filling the sea air with Caribbean style music to really give you that “pirate” feeling and the ramped up music played during enemy encounters truly helps to incite a feeling of urgency. Sadly, however, the soundtrack is reasonably thin and can be a bit repetitive at times due to its sparseness.
All in all, Pirates of Black Cove is a fun romp through a classic stylized pirate world. It’s funny, the missions are varied and interesting, and the naval battles are great. Will you find the forgotten island and discover it’s massive mounds of booty, defeat the pirates of Black Cove and become the Pirate King? Well, that’s up to you, but I would definitely suggest Pirates to anyone looking for an interesting take on the RTS and adventure game genres.