Buccaneer

a game by SSI
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 8/10, based on 1 review
User Rating: 9.0/10 - 2 votes
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Overview

All right, I admit it -- I have been a pirate fan since I was a small boy. Their stories always have fascinated me. Even my desktop has a pirate theme and opens with a stirring rendition of a song from Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean.

So it was with genuine personal excitement that I anticipated the release of Buccaneer, even though the company distributing it -- SSI -- is best known for exacting strategic military simulations that lack the sense of fun I was craving. However, I was not disappointed -- Buccaneer is truly a high seas adventure that never leaves you bored or puzzled about what to do next. The game successfully combines elements of combat and action on land and sea with strategy and resource management in such a way than fans of neither orientation will be at all disappointed. Although technically a simulation, it plays very much like a game.

Pirate-oriented computer games have a brief but interesting history. The breakthrough game in this category was Sid Meier's Pirates!, published by Microprose in the late 1980s, with great gameplay but extremely crude graphics, given the limitations of what was available at the time. That game was followed up in 1993 by the Microprose release of Pirates! Gold, a similar game that had better SVGA graphics but somehow lost some of the fun of its predecessor. After that time, there have been few games issued completely focusing on pirates, with a notable exception being an excellent shareware game from Imagisoft called Redhook's Revenge.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

The central strength of the gameplay in Buccaneer is the huge array of options. You can play the game by starting a campaign or by fighting a battle, the second choice being for those die-hard action fans who want to cut to the chase. There are six different campaigns available, each with multiple possible endings and an emphasis on revenge, treasure, family honor, or love. As a part of the campaigns, you visit taverns, supply houses, shipyards, and the governor, and fight ships or forts, all with the ultimate aim of gaining wealth and better ships, keeping your crew loyal and happy (you must watch out for mutinies), and ultimately acquiring amnesty, wealthy retirement, or a governorship as a final reward. You may choose from a variety of different ships to begin each campaign or battle, each with very different performance qualities, and you may play at three levels of difficulty ranging from "smooth sailing" to "batten down the hatches." You can view the ship-to-ship action in "Look Thru"' mode or "Cannon Port" mode, with the latter providing a unique and exciting view of enemy vessels directly from the spot where you are shooting the cannon. There is ready access to a journey map of the Caribbean that helps with travel and navigation and to a Captain's Log that provides a nicely-organized set of information on your ship's condition and on your current mission. The game is equally enjoyable in single-player mode and in multiplayer mode, where up to four players via the Internet or up to two players via modem can engage in ship-to-ship combat; this multiplayer mode is extremely well-implemented.

While both keyboard and joystick are supported as controls for the game (the mouse is also used for menu navigation), I find that a gamepad is the best method of keeping a handle on the wide variety of tasks needed for success in the game while dealing with the rather precisely controlled movements needed in the action sequences. The menu screens are not only well-designed and easy to use but also beautiful to look at, with a dagger (with wonderful audio and visual effects when you use it) a superb choice as the pointer. Most importantly to many game players, you can save and load at will.

I have two minor disappointments with the game. One is that, even on a very fast machine, the wait times when the game is transitioning between sections are quite long, interrupting the smoothness of the gameplay. The other is that when you attack a village or engage an enemy ship's crew in hand-to-hand combat, your control over the outcome -- which is largely determined by the number of opposing people fighting -- is quite limited. In Pirates! Gold, for example, you actually controlled the swordplay when you were fighting an opponent, but not so here. Otherwise, you feel very much in control in the game, and the artificial intelligence of opponents is more than enough to provide a challenge.

Graphics

The graphics in this game are truly outstanding, but in a way different from most other computer games. Having a 3D video accelerator card really enhances the beautiful images and animation (with my 3Dfx card, the game was considerably smoother than it would be otherwise). But what shines here about the visuals is not the detail (it cannot compare to Riven, which sets the standard here), nor the fluidity of motion (it cannot hold up to Extreme Assault in this regard), nor the varied use of 16-bit color (it is nowhere near as colorful as a game like POD); rather, it is the authenticity of the graphics, which really do look like the most famous pirate paintings. The publicity for this product claims it contains "museum-quality" art, and that claim is not an overstatement: the images compare well to the work of the famous pirate artists Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth, and one example of the historical accuracy is that when one chooses among pirate flags one is choosing among the real flags actually used, not some computer-generated random set of skulls-and-crossbones. All of the artwork has a unified feel, and so the depiction of the ships, towns, and the ocean are designed not to look photo-realistic but rather to remind us of images from the seventeenth century.

Audio

Everything about this game's sound is absolutely first-rate. The music is rousing orchestral melodies, reminding me of the musical scores of some pirate movies, with the only downside being the absence of well-known pirate songs as part of the mix. The sound effects are brilliant, and the voice elements are extremely well-done. It is really nice when background text about a campaign appears on the screen and you also get to hear a vocal rendition of it rather than to have to read through it yourself.

Documentation

The documentation for this game is simply excellent. The manual is full-sized, with over 60 pages filled with comprehensive background information and black-and-white photographs as well as with fascinating pirate lore. It is extremely well-written and well presented.

System Requirements and Comments

The minimum requirements for the game are a Pentium 120 megahertz CPU, 16 MB RAM, 60 MB hard disk space, a 4X CD-ROM drive, a 1 MB SVGA graphics card and a color SVGA monitor, a Windows-compatible sound card, a mouse, and the Windows 95 operating system. This game seems to be a bit more CPU-intensive than many current games, and as such a fast machine is really desirable.

Bottom Line

In the end, this game is a real masterpiece, especially for pirate fans like me. Its careful design, attention to the historical record, and incredible beauty make it a real winner. While the overall scope of the game is neither innovative nor subtly complex, the execution has never been done better. Anyone who has ever dreamed of being a pirate and roaming the high seas ought to go right out and buy this game.

Download Buccaneer

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP