Pirates of Black Cove Review
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Pirates dominate our lives in ways that Ninjas and Aliens can only dream about. From their appearance on the side of pasty shops through to International Talk like a Pirate Day they have successfully infiltrated our modern world to the point where it is almost acceptable to be both drunk and dressed like a pirate on the tube. Almost. Within the gaming world classics such as the Monkey Island series and Sid Meier’s Pirates! have set high standards for the piratical games that follow, with the inevitable comparisons to these giants leaving many deserving games overlooked. Nitro Games’ Pirates of Black Cove has sought to address this by aiming for the middle ground and releasing as a budget title. Whether it succeeds or not we’ll find out, but I’ll tell you this for free – it’s already scored points by not forcing a bloody annoying dancing mini game on its players.
From the outset the arcade feel of the game is apparent. The hyper realism of sea navigation seen in the later Total Wars has been forsaken for a more classic style, somewhere in between that of Age of Booty and Sid Meier’s. Movement in the open waters is controlled by the WASD keys, with broadside fire ordered either by pressing Q or E (for port and starboard fire respectively) or by clicking the mouse to the side of the ship from which you want to fire. There are also a number of forward firing special weapons that allow you to mix the sea battle action up a little – a personal favourite is the Slowdown Harpoon which, surprisingly enough, slows down any ship that it hits.
Also evident is the infusion of humour in the game. As you sail around the Caribbean you have the chance to collect up to 1001 jokes which are pun-tastic on the scale of Richard Whitely. Dialogue is littered with tongue in cheek references and at times you feel that your character is about to break the fourth wall so amused are they at their own piratical colleagues. Utilising the arcade feel of the game Nitro Games are able to squeeze this humour in everywhere. A genius example of this is that French ships utter 'Merde!' when sunk; while not to everyone's taste it meets expectations of the genre and raised a smile on this old sea dog's face.
At the start of the game you have the choice to pick one of three characters to play as, each with their own special abilitiy: melee, ranged and mixed. Your choice doesn’t have a huge impact on the game or on the way you approach it, but be certain that you can listen to the actor voicing your choice for long periods as quest dialogue can be expansive. The accent of Walker de Planc in particular seems to slip between Irish, Cornish and random Pirate, frequently in mid-sentence. For a native English speaker it jars, but as the game progresses it becomes apparent that it is representative of the product as a whole. While the world provided is ‘open’, insofar that you can sail anywhere within the classic Caribbean landscape of the Golden Age of pirates, the quests you must complete to progress the storyline are incredibly linear. This ensures that you never really sail the open seas, instead you sail between pre-set waypoints plundering the odd merchant ship en route.
While the sea sections feel linear they are the better half of the game. The rest of the action will see you on land, progressing through various town and island locations in an RTS style reminiscent of Warcraft 2. To gain troops you engage in simple town building in the pirate hubs you have unlocked, with each building you construct allowing you to hire that troop type from that hub. Combat is somewhat one-dimensional, with the most effective tactic being to mob-rush whichever enemy appears onscreen. This is further compounded by the fact that some of the towns can be quite large, and so once you have worked you way slowly through the streets killing each enemy and hopefully loading up on plunder you are rewarded by minutes upon endless minutes of waiting while you dally slowly back to your boat.
Throughout Pirates of Black Cove it feels as though scope creep has condemned what could have been a fun game into one that falls short of the mark. Giving players a crafting system based on ingredients you can pickup certainly fits in with the RPG aspect of levelling your character up, but the lack of an intuitive interface that allows you to use your creations painlessly during combat makes it appear as bolted on functionality rather than a core concept. Requiring both blueprints (found in shipwrecks on the sea maps) and gold to purchase upgrades and new ships should have encouraged exploration and engagement with the open world, but instead key upgrades appear tied to progression through the story and performing the linear quest lines gives access to plenty of both. Possibly the worst feature of Pirates of Black Cove however is the difficulty; it never ramps up above easy, and if you ever find yourself (somehow) in trouble the instant health kits you can use on both the sea and land maps quickly remove you from danger.
Pirates of Black Cove isn’t a bad game, it just falls short of being good. Nitro Games have worked tirelessly post-launch to quickly and comprehensively iron out reported bugs, and this is to be commended. However, there is a clear lack of focus on the core concepts that should form the basis for the main gameplay within Pirates. In attempting to deliver a budget arcade style game Nitro Games identified a position in the market in which their product could exist – by not delivering the compelling arcade style required to succeed they have ensured that this position remains open for a competitor to fill.