It seems like gamers tend to love titles that center around pirates and zombies, and I’m no exception. Pirates of Black Cove is obviously all about the former, and I think it lives up to its namesake by running the gamut between a casual game that anyone can play and a complex RPG/Adventure that will keep hardcore players up late at night too.
Of course any game about pirates has to be compared to THE game about pirates, the one by Sid Meier. We’ve reviewed that game quite well in several incarnations, including the recent remake that upped the graphics for a more modern look. I do love Sid Meier’s Pirates and have spent many a late night sailing to just one more port in that game. But, you have to admit that it skews really casual. That’s cool, but what I really wanted was a pirate type game that is easy to play, but has some more depth to it than that classic title, without it straying so far into simulation territory that I need a real sextant and a slide rule to plot my next course. And that is where I think Pirates of Black Cove really shines. It hits that sweet spot nicely where lots of people can enjoy it.
To be more specific, someone like me who had played some hardcore RTS games will probably figure out a winning strategy fairly quickly, but can still enjoy some level of challenge, especially from some of the harder missions. Someone who is a total casual gamer may feel lost at first with open worlds being kind of scary for someone unaccustomed to life off the rails. But I don’t think they have to put too much into Pirates of Black Cove to become a competent player. There’s a fairly good tutorial that will explain the basics of gameplay, and from there it’s just a matter of trying new things and seeing what works and what doesn’t. We call that part of a game: the fun.
Also, before I get too far, this game was reviewed with all the latest patches as of September. When the game came out initially, there were a few annoying problems with the AI of some units, especially at sea, and some graphical mistakes. Quite a lot of patches were issued to fix these problems and I can report that PoBC seems to be completely bug free at this point. But be sure to patch it up as soon as you get it. If you are downloading it from an online service like Steam or GamersGate, you will probably get the new patches automatically, but do yourself a favor and check to make sure you have the latest version.
In Pirates of Black Cove, you play one of several heroes in a truly open world. You can go to work for one of three major factions in the game, or set out and try to earn your fortune on your own. That is one of the best aspects of the game. You can chart your own course.
There are actually two major types of gameplay settings in PoBC, seafaring and land-based exploration. The seafaring part of the game is absolutely gorgeous, with water reflections and waves literally dancing across the screen as you sail. Battles are intense and look similarly gorgeous, with smoke and fire, sails being ripped apart by cannon balls, and lots of dynamic splashing. You have several different missions available on the high seas too, from escorting treasure ships to ambushing frigates belonging to other factions to fighting a kraken. I even once worked really hard to free a whale, which was a pretty unique mission.
On land, you have what is almost an RTS title. Unlike some pirate games, when you enter a town it’s not just a picture where you can select what you want to do. No, in PoBC you actually get to walk around towns, some of which are pretty extensive. You can pick up a lot of missions in while there, either with the various factions in the game or just pick-up ones that you can stumble across. To help you with missions on land, you can hire an army. And there are several unique unit types available. Each person has scores based on their speed, toughness and how much damage they can do. And there are special troops like marksmen or those who can fire stink bombs and paralyze your enemies (and your own troops if you are not careful). Build a balanced army or a mob of one type, whatever works best for you.
I found that exploring the landscape was a lot of fun, and with a little practice, my pirate army was darn tough. I suppose some might say that once you learn the tricks of the trade, that the game is rather easy for land fights. But I didn’t have a problem with this. Again, the game I think finds a perfect balance where casual players can enjoy it and more hardcore ones will also have a good time.
Another aspect of PoBC is the humor. This game is funny. There were times when I was almost rolling on the floor. The pirates themselves crack all kinds of funny jokes. I lost track at how many of these were in the game, but I would guess probably more than a hundred. But the game itself is also kind of humorous in both missions you get and also the technology you use. Take for example the human sling shot, which is used to fire a hapless pirate at an enemy vessel. When he lands, if he lands, he will attempt to take over the other ship as a prize. But I have to admit it was fun just launching them into space sometimes.
Besides the dialog and the jokes, the soundtrack for the game is really good. I love the steel drum. Someone put a lot of time and effort into making some really catchy tunes with a Caribbean beat. They do tend to repeat sometimes, but they never became annoying. Quite the opposite happened actually. I just started associating those songs with traveling by sea. It became a natural extension of the journey.
But of all the aspects of PoBC, the one I liked most was the open world. The game world is so beautiful that it’s a pleasure to explore. And I could even find short cuts by skirting between islands, or whole missions hidden in out-of-the-way places. It’s nice when a game rewards you for looking around. I truly felt free in the game, which I suspect is what lured a lot of people to piracy in real life. That and the perfect difficulty settings will make Pirates of Black Cove quite popular with gamers.
So you have an RPG, an RTS, an adventure game and a comedic script. That’s a lot of booty for one sea chest. As such, Pirates of Black Cove earns four GiN Gems, which we hope can fit alongside the many other rewards this game will likely earn.