Before I get onto Privateer, a random bit of news. I picked up a Metro newspaper on the train into work this morning and was more than a bit surprised to see a picture of Richard Garriot on the front page. It had passed me by completely but he is one of the first lot of space tourists and just blasted off the other day. As a token Brit (he was born over here in England) he’s taken a copy of the Metro making it the first newspaper in space. He will be carrying out a few simple experiments that school children designed as part of a competition in the paper. There isn’t much scientific basis for these but there will no doubt be videos of him attempting to skip in space and the like on the Metro website in the next few days.
Back to Privateer. This is a game, I’ve played through just the one time years back and I hacked my save game to give myself enough money to get the best equipment from the start. I wasn’t hugely impressed at the time but the fact was my PC didn’t have enough grunt to run it making it very difficult to play. Despite being based on the Wing Commander engine it required a much more powerful machine and although I met (exactly) the minimum requirements on the box it wasn’t really playable.
This was the last series to be based on the Wing Commander engine before Origin made the transition to full 3D for its flight sims. It came with an optional speech pack and was not a cheap game in the first place as I remember. Its a game I’ve been quite looking forward to playing as I’ve never given it a fair chance before now and have heard a lot of positive things about it.
The introduction shows me being attacked by 3 pirates, fighting them off and accidentally shooting some strange looking spaceship with green glowing bits with a stray missile which powers up after I’ve gone.
Its a great sequence, (apart from the usual level of voice acting) and it sets the scene for the games storyline nicely. The manual gives a bit more background on your character which to be extremely brief tells how you inherit a spaceship, lose your existing career on a merchant vessel when it is damaged beyond repair and get forced into the life of a Privateer. In the best traditions of an Origin RPG you aren’t really given any information on the game and have to figure things out yourself on the way.
The game starts with my inheritted ship sitting on the spacepad. From here I can explore the space station in Wing Commander style.
There is a bar and a bartender to talk to. I guess the bartenders will give general clues about where to go and what stocks to take where, etc..
This base has a ship dealer and I will be spending a lot of time customising and repairing my ship here. Pretty much everything you can think of is upgradable and there really are a huge number of choices. I will need some money first though.
The mission computer in the hall provides me with a choice of 6 randomly generated missions. These follow the usual formulas. Patrol nav points, defend a station, track down and destroy a certain ship, fly cargo etc.
I pick a mission and take off. The first thing of note is that I can hardly see anything. I’m not sure if this is a performance thing or if it will get better with newer ships. The graphics are quite a bit nicer than Wing Commander though.
Space stations in particular look awesome and the textures are high-res enough that they just keep looking better the closer you get.
Combat is quite tricky. It seems to be much more picky about you getting an exact hit than Wing Commander was and some of these ships are quite thin. It makes missiles a lot more useful.
The whole system of the game is open to me from the start (at least once I buy a jump drive) with loads of bases and planets to explore. Jump points here are big blue clouds which you have to be inside to jump to the appropriate system.
Once I’ve done a few missions I look into joining the mercenaries guild.
After a brief chat, I pay my 5000 credits to join up. This gives me harder higher paying missions to take on.
I don’t attempt to jump out to another system for quite a while but stick with the troy system I start in. It has 2 mining stations + an agricultural planet. The graphics and sound are all completely different when landing on a planet which is a nice touch.
After about 20-30 missions, I have a look at buying a better ship. I can afford it but don’t have enough left to kit it out with any decent equipment so I load up a save game and stick with what I’ve got. I decide to try to pick up the games plot instead which I gather starts in the New Detroit system.
This means jumping out of system for the first time.
I stop off at a pleasure planet along the way. Once again its a completely new set of graphics and sound.
I make it to New Detroit, which on landing has a sort of Blade Runner feel to it
In the bar is a man called Sandoval who gives me my first plot mission.
Its a simple cargo delivery mission. As collateral he gives me some sort of alien artifact which is blatantly a hot item he doesn’t want to keep hold of.
The mission is nice and simple. I fly to Newcastle, land and come back without incident.
When I get back Sandoval has gone and Tayla is in his place.
I don’t get my payment from Sandoval and I’m stuck with this alien artifact which the police apparently want to get their hands on as well. Tayla claims to have more info but wants me to fly 4 missions before she will tell me. The first of these is to take some plastics to a pirate base.
On the way out I run into my first Confed ships. There is no way I’m in a position to take on a Broadsword so I don’t want to make these guys angry.
I get to the base and get the next job of drug smuggling to Hector. I attempt this mission but my ship just isn’t up to it by a long way. I gather I can come back and retry the mission later so I fly off to upgrade my ship at this point.
My new ship has a slightly better view (still small), is a bit quicker and better armoured but I can only carry one missle rack as far as I know. I can certainly only afford one. My favorite strategy so far has been to use heatseekers fired in pairs (not possible in earlier Wing Commanders) to strike the same point in an enemy simultaneously and destroy it in one go. This has been working well but I’m now back to using lasers most of the time.
I’ve not really got very far yet but have spent some considerable time on this game already. My initial impressions were very positive, the presentation of the game all round is just awesome. This is another game that uses general midi instead of MT-32 – I didn’t think much of the music on an AWE32 originally but here on a real sound canvas it is just superb and possibly the best score of any Origin game to date. Its not music you would sit down and listen to but is ambient and just fits with the environments perfectly. The graphics are equally impressive and the varied environments give some real incentive to just explore the sector. The Wing Commander engine has been enhanced almost beyond recognition here. The higher resolution ships look great, especially the bases but beyond that everything moves much more smoothly. In Wing Commander the game tended to run faster and faster with a quicker PC, this just runs smoother. With the large number of angles for each ship the game looks good enough that you really don’t miss 3D graphics at all.
The options for upgrading my ship are extremely complex and I will need to amass a lot of money to get the best ship. I was hoping to follow along the plot missions making money along the way but this seems to be a non starter. I’ll confess to losing a bit of interest around the time I upgraded to the 2nd ship. I was expecting an improvement but the fact is I was better off in my old ship. This is despite having around 130000 credits saved over and above the well equipped ship I already had to fit it with some nice stuff. It will no doubt be better than my first ship when I’ve upgraded it more still but in the meanwhile I’m limited to flying essentially the same missions over and over again to get the money for new parts. If I try to take on anything else I usually run into trouble. I would estimate I’m about 500,000 – 700,000 credits away from fully fitting out the ship I’m in although I’m sure I’ll be able to try some different missions and/or pick up the plot again long before that point. Despite my minor complaints, I’m completely hooked on this game and if I didn’t have to work I would probably have spent all of today on it.