Day 179 – Privateer 2 : The Darkening

Privateer 2 is a game in the same mould as WC4 in that its another space sim using loads of FMV with familiar actors and real sets. It wasn’t originally intended to be a sequel to Privateer – the gameplay shows plenty of similarities but it isn’t set in the Wing Commander universe.

To start with the movies, it was filmed in the UK which means a load of supporting actors that I recognise from various TV shows but it has its share of big names as well to say the least. Clive Owen takes the lead role. He is still starring in films today (such as Sin City) and is ideal to play the main character. The biggest names in the supporting cast include John Hurt, David Warner & Christopher Walken. There’s also appearances by less famous names such as Brian Blessed who plays a fat bloke who shouts a lot for a change + Mathilda May who is probably most famous for spending the first half of the film Lifeforce without clothes rather than her acting ability. It’s a decent cast anyway and far better than the usual interactive movie. The movies and universe in general are very different to the sort of thing we saw in WC4. The P2 universe is stranger, quirkier and generally more alien. It doesn’t take itself seriously and a lot of the FMV goes for laughs.

The game was headed up by Erin Roberts (Chris’s brother) although he didn’t attempt to direct the movies himself. It used a fancy new B-Render engine for the flight sections which was certainly very smooth although it gave little feedback to the player as I recall. Just like Privateer 1, I’ve never finished this without cheating myself a load of money at the start. I felt like I’d missed a big part of the game doing this when I replayed Privateer. Lets hope thats the case with this sequel.

The game has the flashiest looking install sequence yet. The character in the game has a little electronic gadget called a PAD which you use as the interface when you are not flying. This PAD is also used as the installation interface here. While the game is copying files to the hard disk you get a bit of text with backstory. On a modern CD drive there is barely time to read this.

I’m playing the DOS version in the Dosbox as usual here. I’m finding that the Windows version crashes the moment I try to take off. Dosbox isn’t 100% reliable here either actually. It sometimes hangs when starting video sequences when I use the dynamic core – I really need to use this to get space flight not to slow down near planets though so it looks like I’ll have to swap core every time I land and take off in this game which could be a pain.

The intro is split into a few sections. The first part shows the cargo ship Cannera being attacked and crash landing. The way this is filmed is really eccentric with strange camera angles, loads of short cuts and some odd acting performances. There are some unnecessary stunts thrown in for good measure and some reasonable special effects, such as the glass screen on the craft exploding when it crashes.

The video compression isn’t as nice as that used for WC4 – its OK but it all looks a bit dark. It’s still a decent start to the game.

Next is a credits sequence set against a backdrop of a city going in and out of focus.

Then its back to the intro. I wake up in a hospital with no memory of who I am. I was in a cryo-pod in the crashed ship and have been revived as the sole survivor of the crash. The name of my character is Ser Lev Arris. Ser seems to be the equivalent of Mr. in the P2 universe.

We cut to 2 weeks later and I’m physically back in good shape but still don’t remember anything. My nurse has been doing so background research on me and found that until 2 weeks back I didn’t exist. For some reason there are no records of my existence but about a week ago a large account was opened up for me and I have a decent credit balance. “If only I wasn’t overdrawn in the memory bank.”

A couple of dodgy looking guys come into the hospital, knocking people around. They claim to be journalists wanting to interview me but I don’t think journalists go around shooting receptionists for no reason.

Another 2 dodgy looking types (women this time) come into the hospital. They claim to be wanting to visit me also.

In the meanwhile I’m chatting with my nurse in a dramatic looking room with a huge window. A ship draws up behind it and shoots the window out. The two guys burst into the room shooting my nurse in the forehead. Then then start aiming at me and hit me in the knee knocking me to the ground. They drag me into the ship but manage to get shot themselves by the two women who show up at this moment. One of them uses a remote control to autopilot the ship away with me in it still semi-conscious.

I’m shown a landing sequence now as the ship comes into land at its destination. There is one of these for each planet in the system (there aren’t all that many planets though if I remember right). It’s all CGI and really detailed.

I’ve no idea who I am or what to do so the first thing I do is go for a drink at the nearest bar.

This bar is as strange as anywhere else in this world and full of “vicious loudmouth cutthroats” to quote the bartender (played by John Hurt. I buy a meal off him and ask if he knows about any deals. I get a choice of whether to take him up on this or not. This works just the same as any choice in WC4. By accepting his offer I get a much larger choice of ships to buy when I’m on this planet.

When I leave the bar I get to choose where to go next using my PAD. The interface for this game is quick slick – it shows me lifting the PAD to the screen is a really smooth animation and I can see my thumb moving around in the corner as I move the mouse.

I head for customs which has a few odd looking people around including a guy banging his head against the wall continuously. I can enter the booth here which is a one-stop shop for everything.

The interface for the booth is again really slick with all the buttons and screens smoothly shifting around.

There is only one ship I can afford with my finances at the moment from the bewildering selection on offer. I can choose my lasers and missiles and the like. It’s all the sort of thing we saw in Privateer and is immediately intuitive.

I launch into space and am immediately attacked. The graphics engine is definitely impressive. It’s very different to Wing Commander, much more colourful and smoother but the combat is really odd compared to what I’m used to. I just seem to be tracking the ship along shooting it while it carries along the same as ever blissfully unaware that I’m shooting it. The lasers in this game are strange in themselves. They have an extremely rapid rate of fire so I don’t need to attempt to time my shots – P2 is missing one of the main factors for a space sim here. It means I just have to track the target while holding down the fire button and removes a bit of the skill and strategy of dogfighting.

In fact there is no feel of being in a dogfight here. When I think of the epic battles at the end of WC4 with explosions all around me, this feels clean and sterile. I can’t tell when I’m being shot except by looking at my shield levels dropping. This is possibly a more realistic approach to space combat although whether it will be as much fun I’m not so sure.

I have a choice of radar types – there is the 3D Elite style and the traditional Wing Commander style. I much prefer the WC radar so I’ll be using that the whole time.

My spaceships voice is played by Dani Behr of all people who had probably just finished presenting The Word back in 1996. She then disappeared off into obscurity before being on this years I’m a Celebrity. If they had to pick a presenter from The Word, I guess I should be thankful it isn’t Terry Christian.

My nav map shows the entire system. It’s in 3D and I can swivel it around if I want but it works find just looking at it as a 2D map. I head for Crius where my hospital was.

Jump points are very different to Privateer. I can jump to any adjacent jump point from anywhere. I only have to wait for my jump drive to recharge between each jump (a few seconds). I can’t jump if there are hostile craft around though so there is no running for the jump point like in Privateer and I’m forced to fight.

I have another fight on the way to Crius. It feels much the same as the first one. Something I do like here is that I get a bounty for killing pirates like this. This was missing in Privateer 1 and was something I always thought should have been there, just like in Elite.

I have to fly close to the planet before asking for permission to land when I get to my destination. The detail on the planets is really nice and these are real 3D objects for the first time in an Origin game and even rotate on their axis.

I get a nice landing sequence when I dock with the planet.

Then there is a bit of a recall sequence showing my nurse telling me about the pod I was in. It was at least 10 years old and some sort of custom built model. It hasn’t been kept in a hospital as their was no id number. Dr Loomis who treated me had gone on holiday before I was revived – I had some sort of disease which had been fatal but a cure had been discovered since I had been frozen.

All the planets have their own look and feel and Crius is no different. I hop on the train.

Dr. Loomis is back from holiday and I meet up with him. He doesn’t look too pleased to see me. He has been put under pressure to forget my case ever happened but doesn’t tell me who by. My pod was taken away already. He doesn’t really help me out at all and I’m left none the wiser for now.

I have a look at the bar here – its called the Surgeons Blunder bar and has a very strange dance troop in the middle but there is no one here to talk to right now.

I’m left with little option but to just go off and try to make a bit of money. I can’t take on any missions yet as there are none on the bulletin board. I expect I need to get a few more kills before anyone will accept me so I set off on a cargo run instead. I can’t carry cargo myself in P2. Instead I have to hire a cargo ship for a price (depending on size) and then escort this to the destination. This is a bit odd but it’s not a bad system as such provided you don’t mind escort missions.

I’ve spent more time watching video than anything else so far but that should change from here on out. The video sections are definitely odd, I’d forgotten how odd but they are entertaining and arguably better than the rest of the game from the little I’ve seen so far.

The space flight is even stranger than the movies. The usual things are all there but even little aspects like taunts comes across differently. The voice acting for these uses deliberately funny accents and rhythms and the video that we’ve been seeing right back to WC1 is replaced by a static image. I’m undecided about this game at this stage but I’m not overly optimistic that the flight sections are going to be all that good from what I’ve seen. The graphics were great at the time without a doubt but it all feels soulless – to me the spaceflight has the feel of a game turned out by a small independent company or a fan project.

Its early days and if nothing else, this is going to be a change from the usual Wing Commander gameplay. I’m reckoning I need to amass about 300,000 credits to get the best ship and equipment so I’ll see if I can’t figure out a decent trade route and get started on this next.

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