I was addicted to the game Tropico for a long while when it first came out, so it was natural that I would get to take a first look at Tropico 2: Pirate Cove when it came out. If you are familiar with Tropico then you will be able to hop into Pirate Cove without much transition. If you are unfamiliar with Tropico, have no fear, just like the first one, the learning curve is not bad at all. By the games very nature, you can learn as you go.
Tropico began in 1950 and you were the newly ‘elected’ dictator of a small Caribbean island. In Tropico 2: Pirate Cove, we travel back in time an additional 300 years. And we find our selves quite likely on the same island. Whatever the opening of your particular story, you are now in charge of the island, and it is your job to keep things running smoothly while making a tidy bit of gold for yourself. What that means is keeping everybody pirates and slaves and captives fed and happy. The captives want law and order and the pirates want anarchy, so it is can be a delicate balance at times.
Just like the original Tropico, Pirate Cove, is mainly a city management game, where you have to consider the needs of your inhabitants and the needs of the city. Unlike the original, you have two distinct groups that need to be managed along with the ability to send your pirates off on missions to explore, get booty, or to capture new slaves (I mean workers). Your construction plans must not only ensure that everyone has their basic needs for food and drink (Rum) to be met, but that the pirates needs for gambling, wenching, and generally living the typical pirates life are met. Then there is also the needs of the slaves for religion and security.
Speaking of wenching, I was poking around one day, and the female captain of my pirate ship was visiting one of the wenching huts staffed by a girl. I don’t know if that was a game error or my pirates are just a liberated bunch.
There are a couple of different play modes in Pirate Cove including single missions, a customizable sandbox mode and a full campaign featuring linked missions and a ongoing plot. The linked missions are new to the Tropico series. The single missions are based upon the lives of infamous pirates like Calico Jack and William Kidd or even Good Ole Cap’n Hook. While the sand box does not have a set objective, the other missions include objectives such as staying in power during troubling times, amassing a huge amount of gold, or in the early missions, just getting a pirate ship build for one of your captains.
The captains that you can chose from as mentioned above are completely customizable. You can make them an expert duelist, a voodoo master or an expert diplomat for example. Each of these advantages has a tangible effect such as a 20 percent bonus to diplomacy for the diplomat. To balance out the good, you must also choose a negative for your pirate such as cowardice, greed or being a religious fanatic. As you can imagine, each of these negative traits also has an effect. For example the religious fanatic has trouble with slaves that are not of his or her religion.
The game starts out with an overhead view of the island that you can zoom in and out to either see a specific area of your island or the whole map. The detail of the houses and buildings is good once they are built, but just like in Tropico, the buildings are just a yellow shell that gets slowly darker until the building is magically created. I said this the first time when I reviewed Tropico and I will say it again, I much prefer the way a little game called Knights and Merchants handled this where you actually got to see construction of the building as it was taking place. It is ok in Pirate Cove, but I always left more of an accomplishment in the other game.
Each island typically starts with a few basic buildings and if you are lucky, a ship. From this modest beginning you must make your island. The very first thing you always build is a construction hut. Since you have to build it, I have never understood why it was not already in place. From here you will need to build gambling pits, brothels and housing plots to keep your pirates happy. To get started the first thing you will need is a logging camp and a lumber mill.
And naturally your pirates are going to want weapons, so you might as well go a head and build an iron mine and a place to process and work with the iron. And the list goes on and on. In the campaign this gets a bit annoying, because not everything you construct is carried over from mission to mission, nor is it always put in the same spot. Once you have a building built, you can simply click on it to manage the staff, set the customer levels and a variety of other options. Typically most establishments have three settings that help you determine the pricing and the type of clientele that might visit from pirate scum to rich captains. Farms and similar buildings also report their output.
Along with construction, there are also edicts to help with diplomacy and population management among other things. Your diplomatic choices such as "Don’t touch Spanish shipping," could get you a letter of Marque, or the total hatred and invasion by the French and English. On the population control side, there are press gangs to enlist new pirates from your slave population. I found this was a great way to keep around a slave that is about to run away. There is also the free beer and rum option, which is fun every once in a while, and helps with the unhappy denizens of your island.
You get reports on your people when they are about to do something significant, such as run away, or if someone special arrives on the island, such as someone you can ransom for 100 gold. If you want to know what a specific person is thinking you can click on them to put a wealth of detail about their age and birthplace plus what they are doing and thinking, at your fingertips. There is also a logbook that you can open which gives general statistics from which you can also click on individual people. The only problem is that you cannot have the ransom edict open and the logbook open to the page where it tells who you can ransom, and just click on their picture in the book. That would be far easier.
The graphics in tropico 2: Pirate Cove are basically the same as they were in Tropico, just with the added pirate look and feel. I hope Tropico 3 comes with some new graphics, but I have no complaints as far as the graphics go in Pirate Cove. On the musical side of the game, things are better. Composer Daniel Indart’s maritime ditties help the time pass enjoyably during each long mission. The music put me in the mood to pick up a cutlass and go raiding yet another ship. The voice of my first mate Smitty on the other hand got annoying very quickly. I found him more annoying than the guy in Tropico. The other sound effects such as ships bells and lumber cutting helped, but I found myself not missing them when I turned down the Sound FX volume.
The interface is pretty good in Tropico 2. I had no trouble hopping right in and playing, and was able to figure things out pretty quickly. I do wish that all my options were visible at one time with the ones that were not available grayed out, but I dealt with it in Tropico and I dealt with it this time as well. It would just be nice from the start to know that once I complete the shipyard, that other options will then appear.
The difficulty level is good, if frustrating at times. Just like in real life, ordering something to be done and it getting done are two different things. You have to check to make sure things are happening as you expect. The problem is that there is very little you can do to help the problem even if you ordered it done and the guy doing it is not moving fast enough to solve the problem. Or at least that was my experience. It always felt like when one thing in the game went wrong, other things were sure to follow. Such as a lack of food followed by your pirate ship sinking. But if these things did not happen, the game would not be any fun.
Overall, I found Tropico 2: Pirate Cove to be as much fun as Tropico, which I still pop into my CD drive every once in a while. Just like the original, there is a lot going on in Pirate Cove, and managing everything successfully for the long hall is manageable for any skill level, yet challenging at all the same levels.
The game play is very enjoyable and should be challenging to all levels of experience. The sound FX get old, but you can turn them off independently of the music, which is very good because I liked the soundtrack. It fit the theme of the game well and made the long play sessions seem shorter. I found the story lines to be well thought out and the open play area to be just as enjoyable. I worry about the longevity of the game, but as I look back, I keep popping this one back into my CD drive right along with the original. It gets a respectable 4 GiN Gems for their pirate booty.