Privateer: Righteous Fire
|a game by||Origin Systems|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 1 vote|
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In which a jiffy bag containing six Privateer disks and three add-on speech disks 'fall into Duncan's lap'.
Paul (Lakin, Editor): How do you feel about doing four pages on this space combat and trading game? You get to fly around hundreds of solar systems, visit planets and space stations, interact verbally with other characters, trade goods ranging from base metals to narcotics and generally upgrade your original cargo ship until it's a ninjascopic fighting platform... and then you can head off to war. Dunc (MacDonald, Excited reviewer): Wow! What is it? StarLord? Elite 2?
Paul: Neither. It's Privateer.
Paul: What do you mean. '...Ah'?
Dunc: Er. isn't that a cross between Wing Commander and Strike Commanded?
Paul: Yes. So?
Dunc: Well, I wouldn't say that either of those games are exactly my favourite?
Paul: True, true, but I don't see what are you worried about - after all who's to say you won't like this game?
In fact you might even love it, and then you'll be too embarrassed to come back into the office and admit it. won't you?
Dunc: Hmmm. You've got a point. Okay, hand the jiffy bag over - I'll take it home and try the game out in safety. Catch you later.
In which Duncan engages in some torturous introspection on a crowded tube train, heading south on the Northern Line.
'Could I possibly have your scat?' asked an old crippled woman who was struggling with three heavy Tesco carrier bags. I told her that no, she couldn't have my seat, and added that she ought to have bought less shopping. She muttered something under her breath but I was already in a world of my own, thumbing through the Privateer documentation. Separating the wheat from the chaff (i.e. the instructions from the novella), I soon felt a mild tingle of excitement. It looked as if the strategy elements of the game structure were going to be much nearer Strike Commander than Wing Commander or Wing Commander 2: in other words it looked as if there was actually going to be some freedom of choice involved - it wasn't going to simply be a film which allowed you to occasionally take the controls. But then I wondered about these all-important controls, which led, of course, to thoughts of the combat sequences themselves. What was Privateer'going to look like, once you were in a fight? After all, it was sort of a sequel to the Wing Commander games. But then again it had come out after Strike Commander. Had Origin used the original Wing Commander graphics engine? Or the new Strike Commander one? I played through an imaginary movie of the possibilities, and instantly realised that I hoped Origin hadn't gone for the former; after all. the bitmapped ships and planets of the Wing Commander series had never worked for me, not even back in the innocent days of 1989 (or whenever it was). So I moved on in my mind-movie to the Privuteer/Strike Commander scenario. Now, the problem with Strike Commander was that it had tried to be too clever for its own good, and had used all the new 'revolutionary' graphics techniques to the point where - as far as I was concerned - they detracted from the gameplay. The horizon on the guru shaded landscapes had been foreshortened so the game wouldn't slow down too much. The sense of altitude was missing completely.
And so were several other things. Most important, though, was the fact that much of the ground detail " didn't really seem to be 'at one with' the ground itself; the guru shaded landscapes seemed to be part of one subroutine while the objects seemed to be part of another - and they appeared to have been sort of glued together with the programming equivalent of flour and water paste. Basically Strike Commander shat all over Wing Commander but still didn't quite come off. But then something hit me. A sudden realisation. In space not only can no-one hear you scream, but there's also no land - no ground and no water. In other words there'd be no need for vast tracts of guru shading if Privateer was done in the 'modern' Origin style. At this point in my thought process the tube reached my destination, and so I disembarked and headed towards the escalator.
In which Duncan continues to muse over modern graphics techniques and space combat games while buying some cheese in his local Londis store.
The girl behind the counter was looking very tanned: she'd been on holiday for the last two weeks in Ibiza and appeared to be in excellent spirits. However, she was still as inept as ever at using the till. I stood there patiently, jiffy bag in hand, as she entered and reentered the incorrect price for my cheese. I drifted off back into the imagined possibilities of Privateer's possible pros and cons, back into the land of guru shading. Ah, yes. So in a space combat game such clever tricks could be confined solely to the rendering of planets - which would generally be distant anyway. So all the textury bitmappy stuff could then be overlaid across the various polygon spaceships and there still wouldn't be much slowdown. In fact there'd be no reason why X-Wirtg shouldn't be shown up. And then I considered the fact that X-Wing hadn't really had a story - or not an interactive story, anyway. It had simply been a series of missions, with some atmospherics plastered over the top. So could Privateer, with character interaction, a twisting branching storyline, and texture mapped polygon spaceships, be even better? I didn't see any reason why not. 'I don't see any reason why not,' I said aloud. 'You don't see any reason why not what?' said the girl behind the counter, finally entering the correct price. 'It's a long story,' I replied as the till opened with a ping. She gave me a dismissive look and handed me my cheese - along with C3.65 in extremely small change. 'We're out of pound coins, 50s, 20s, tens, fives and twos,' she explained glibly.
In which Duncan finally stuck Privateer on his hard drive after having taken the precaution of freeing up 25 megs just in case there was no 'disk space check' on the install program.
So there it was. Installed. Just over 20 megsworth -including the additional sampled speech pack (i.e. extra dosh if one wanted to buy the game in its entirety). But now was the moment of truth. Would Privateer be better than X-Wirtg or what? Only one way to find out, so I typed priv and waited for the intro sequence.
And there it was. Intro akimbo. Lots of annoying pauses between the different scenes, but that didn't seem to matter because the pre-orchestrated spaceships moved brilliantly. They looked like bitmaps, but were as solid and scalable as polygons. Was it texture mapping? Or was it some brand new. and even cleverer than ever Origin routine which allowed pure bitmaps to be fully composed in three dimensions? I was still mulling this over when the intro ended and 1 found myself looking at a static screen on which there was a picture of my ship resting on a launching pad. I could click with the mouse on a door on the right to enter the space station and engage in some character interaction - or I could click on 'launch' and see what the in-space shooty shooty graphics looked like. So what do you reckon? What would you have done first?
In which, much later that evening, Duncan is on the phone to a PC owning chum.
Boz: ...Flat and jerky, eh?
Dunc: Yeah, it's exactly the same as Wing Commander.
Boz: So what do the ships look like close up? Is that the same too?
Dunc: Yup. everything goes blocky. It's like someone's come up and draped a patchwork quilt over the screen.
Boz: But what about the 'feel?
Dunc: What? You mean the controls?
Boz: Yes. how does it feel through the joystick?
Dunc: Oh. well, that's the same as Wing Commander too. There's no sensation of momentum. As soon as you stop moving the stick, the ship stops turning. And even though there are X-Wing style mini asteroids coming towards you the whole time to indicate speed, it still seems as if you're somehow stationary, in some kind of turret. And the spaceships you're shooting at turn, spin and dart away almost at random - you can't 'lead' the targets, and you've just got to hope for the best. There's just no bearing on reality. The laws of motion seem to have been overlooked completely. I mean. I know it's the future and all that, and I know you could put the spaceships' handling down to some sort of instantly correcting intuitive retro rocket systems, or even down to some kind of gravity drive that negates all laws of physics, but at the end of the day - even if you do make the imagination leap - the combat sequences still feel like a pile of cack.
Dunc: I know, I had high hopes as well. I wish Origin hadn't bothered putting Strike Commander together and had instead put all their guru shading/texture bitmapped eggs into this basket instead. Then it could have been fantastic. I mean, the size of the star system feels great.
Boz: As big as Elite?
Dunc: No. but it's plenty big enough. You have to fly to hyperspace points, and you use your navigation maps to get around. You really feel like distance is being, covered. Unfortunately you keep on getting attacked, and space combat in Privateer is nothing less than a chore: you have to pummel away at the enemy for hours until their shields are depleted. You can target them with your radio and try to talk your way out of a battle, but they're generally not interested - especially at the beginning of the game when you've got useless weapons. Seeing as the only way to get good weapons is to trade, and seeing as the only way to trade is to fly between planets and so on, the inevitable tiresome combat sequences drag you into a Catch 22 'can't be bothered' situation.
Boz: But that initial difficulty sounds quite good -quite challenging...
Dunc: And it would be if the fighting was more realistic. I think the only way to get anything out of Privateer is to already be a confirmed Wing Commander and Wing Commander 2 nut.
Boz: And I'm not. Blimey, it's half past one. Time to crash out. See you later.
Dunc: Yeah, catch you later.
In which Duncan is asleep in bed, and is having a nightmare.
Weird rock monster: But you cannot even play the first Wing Commander... make no mistake. I have watched you. you display the skills of an infant chimpanzee. I. however, know all the tricks, the turns, the feints. With such skills I could upgrade my equipment quickly - and I would use my long distance scanners to full effect, where as you seem to ignore them. My shots would hit home. The game would open up. I would be satiated.
Steam train driver: My friend the stone is correct. I can see that Privateer is hard for you. but I myself can chug on. and on. and on. and on. The further one goes, the more one understands. The more one understands, the further one may go. Stick to the tracks my friend, stick to the tracks. (Hoot hoot).
Captain Kirk (suddenly appearing): But my friend here is no novice, allow me to defend him.
RoCk monster (now a flower for some reason): But he hates bitmaps, he is beyond defence, he is nothing.
Captain Kirk: He is not nothing. He is the reincarnation of Isaac Newton. Dunc: Yeah? Blimey.
Captain Kirk: He is also the reincarnation ofjimi Hendrix. Dunc: Excellent.
Rock/h.owe;r monster: This may be so - but I must have the final say. Captain Kirk: Then tell me! Tell us all.
Rock/fiower monster: If you've played X-Wing then Privateer will seem disjointed: the fighting sequences will be beyond your understanding, and you will not proceed. If your only true love is Wing Commander, however, then Privateer will offer more than you could imagine the flying parts are complimented by the plot parts and the plot parts are complimented by the flying parts. There is duality at work here. The game is like two giant eggs: two ovoid spokes on an unpredictably resonant hub!
Dunc: (waking up): Er, that's roughly what I was trying to say apart from the bit about the eggs and the spokes and the hub. Basically if you can put up with Privateer's crap fighting sequences, you'll soon become totally involved. If you can't, you won't. Comprendo?