Privateer 2: The Darkening
Review by Al Giovetti
Genre: interactive film and space flight simulator
Release: December 28, 1996
Producer: Erin Roberts
Story: Nick Elms and Phil Meller
Script: Diane Dwaine and Pete Milligan
Product manager: Patrick Bradshaw
Director: Steve Hilliker
Art: Adam Medhurst Music:Ray Shulman for Orinoco Sound, Chris Nicholls
Programmer: Dan Blackstone
Website: www.ea.osi.com, www.ea.com/origin.html
Requirements: System requirements for Privateer 2: The Darkening: Intel Pentium 75 MHz or 100% compatible (or greater), 8 MB of RAM or greater, 40 MB free Hard Drive space (or greater), 2x speed CD-ROM drive (or greater), MS-DOS 5.0 or higher, 100% Microsoft-compatible Mouse. DIGITAL: Sound Blaster (SB), SB Pro, SB 16, SB AWE, Ensoniq Soundscape, Gravis Ultrasound or 100% compatible. MUSIC: Sound Blaster, SB Pro, SB 16, SB AWE, Ensoniq Soundscape, Gravis Ultrasound, General MIDI or 100% compatible. Local Bus Video Card with 256-Color SVGA graphics supporting VESA 1.2 (or greater). RECOMMENDED: Intel Pentium 120 MHz or 100% compatible (or greater), 16 MB of RAM (or greater), 4x speed CD-ROM drive (or greater), 16-bit Sound Card, Joystick with CH-compatible Throttle.
History: One of the most successful and most innovative game series of all time is Chris Robert's Wing Commander series which has had many successful spinoffs. Of the Wing Commander titles, one of the most popular of all the games was the 1993 game, Privateer, and its mission disk, Righteous Fire. A new sequel is in the offing, Wing Commander Privateer: Privateer 2: The Darkening (P2D) will be based upon the further adventures of Lev Arris, a character who was simply known by the Privateer team as brown hair, in contrast to the blue hair of Christopher Blair, until this sequel. The Privateer Classic game is available now from Origin as part of Electronic Arts Gold Classic Series for $14.95 and well worth the price.
Firebird's Elite and Faster than Light's Sundog from the 1980's let players fly around in space, take on mercinary jobs, trade goods among planetary systems, and upgrade ship. Both games had totally free form game play with optional plotline. Both games had dozens of shield generators, missiles, beam weapons, and other ship systems enhancements.
Privateer 2: The Darkening is supposed to be a combined interactive movie and space flight simulator, like the Wing Commander III and IV. Like the original Privateer and Righteous Fire, you, as Lev Arris, choose to be a mercenary, smuggler, scout, escort, courier, honest merchant, bounty hunter, or pirate. You can fire on anyone, go anywhere, follow the plot line, or ignore the plot line. It is interesting to note that Origin/EA is dropping the Wing Commander prefix from the Privateer line of games.
Company line: The game marks the return of one of the most popular space combat adventures in computer gaming history. The original Privateer was released in 1993 and became an instant classic with its mission-based trading system that allowed players to upgrade their ships while exploring the seedy underworld of a futuristic universe.
"Privateer 2 is the definitive space epic," says ORIGIN Vice President of Marketing, Alex Carloss. "The success of its predecessor was the result of a concept that allows players infinite replayability and multiple mission and upgrade options. Privateer 2 has taken that concept and enhanced it. ORIGIN is taking the Privateer gaming experience to the next frontier."
The plot in Privateer 2 is richer, there are more than 100 different missions, and the trading system offers more planets, mining bases and space stations to visit as well as many options for lucrative opportunity than ever before. There's plenty of flexibility no matter where you go or what you do in Privateer 2. You can follow a plotted mission sequence or choose your own path through the universe. You can fly up to 18 intricately detailed ships; you'll fly against more than 60 others. Those ships are upgradable from a huge selection of advanced weaponry and equipment.
When it's all said and done, you decide what challenges you'll face every day. You can scout a dangerous sector, escort a vulnerable transport, deliver a valuable cargo, fly recon for the local military or follow clues which take you through multiple plot sequences.
The Story according to Origin: In Privateer 2 the player takes control of the main character, Lev Arris (played by Clive Owen) who awakens from cryogenic storage-a coldsleep that might have lasted for as long as ten years. Arris is suffering from a disease for which (ten years ago) there was no cure. His pod has been pulled from the wreckage of a star-freighter called Canera, which was mysteriously attacked by ships of an unknown origin. He has lost his memory and must now rediscover his identity by interacting with dangerously devious and sinister characters, some of whom are out to kill him. Lev Arris must endure a roller-coaster journey of bribery, corruption, deception and violence. Only by making the proper choices can he ever hope to make his way through this maze of deceit.
Plot: Lev Arris awakens from cryogenic storage, a cold sleep that might have lasted for as long as ten years. Lev's cryogenic sleep would have lasted even longer had not a crash brought him and the star freighter Canera, which was carrying his cryogenic chamber or pod, down to earth. The Canera crash was the result of an attack by rogue fighters, known by some as ships of unknown origin.
Lev is suffering from amnesia, and only knows his own name from the label on the cryogenic chamber. Lev ends up in the hospital with a lot of questions and no answers. Lying in his hosptial bed, Lev ponders who he really is and why he was the only survivor of the Canera crash.
Suddenly the action starts with Lev being kidnapped from his hospital room. The kidnappers are attacked by would be assassins while putting you on a ship. Lucky for Lev, who is being played by you, the assassins are foiled and the ship gets up and away to the Hermes system.
Upon arriving at the Hermes system, Lev determines that he has enough credit to buy a stout ship and out fit it for the life of a mercenary, merchant, freedom fighter, scout, star mapper, and other professions he did not even remember having the skills for. Lev must know decide whether to pursue his destiny and find out his identity by interacting with dangerously devious and sinister characters, some of whom are out to kill him or to simply slip quietly away into a life of his own choice out on the fringes of civilization.
No matter what he chooses, Lev Arris must endure a roller-coaster journey of bribery, corruption, deception and violence. But that is just a day in the life of a free lance fighter pilot out in the badlands. However, the decisions you make will decide his plight. Even if you choose not to pursue the plotline you will eventually have to decide how to deal with the Confederation, militia, and four rival pirate groups who inhabit the frontier systems with you.
Many events will cause other events to happen. What you do will really change the plotline of the game. Your choices will determine one of several parallel plotlines. If you do one thing it will change another somewhere else in the game. The game is also less forgiving than the original where missions are concerned. If you cannot complete a mission due to time constraints or other problems, you will not be ignored like in the previous game, but depending upon your lack of performance, you may be blackballed or killed. This addition of yet another level of difficulty may be good news for the grognards, but the moderately skilled and casual players may find this game a bit to much for them.
You also cannot just become a pirate or smuggler without some consequence. Since you basically cannot join a pirate clan and the pirates are always fighting with each other without any "honor among thieves," you will need to be careful not to fire on any green (Central Intelligence Services) or blue (neutral) ships. Once you make the mistake of shooting too much at any of these, you will become a marked man and fired on by every green ship in the game and not allowed to jump out of system until 3600 clicks from the nearest green ship.
You will fly up to 18 different ships, four times the original four ships, on hundreds of missions with a new series of technology upgrades, weapons, shields, missiles, and other junk. Erin Roberts promises a whole new line of guns and missiles to interest the game user. In the new installment, you will be able to hire wing persons for the first time. There will not be 18 different cockpit styles - according to Origin.
Cockpits will have a new way of working and a new style to fit the seedier side of the Wing Commander universe. The heads up displays (HUDs) only activate when needed automatically. When communications is activated, the communications console pops up on the basically empty screen, and returns itself into oblivion when no longer needed. This happens with all three main HUDs which may have multiple functions to display damage, weapons load out, shields, and other ships functions.
You were completely alone in the first two installments. The wing person aspect will add quite a bit to the game concept and play, now wing person commands will play a factor as in all the other Wing Commander series games. The wing person and their commands were one missing element with the original Privateer. The lack of wing persons is now corrected and I look forward to witnessing the implementation.
A new element will be the cargo ship, which you hire or purchase to carry your fortune around. If you lose the ship, you lose your fortune. I guess Erin Roberts does not want the far future to have space banks or light precious cargo that could be hauled in your fighter storage bay (such as gems - Ed.) as they were in the previous Privateer missions. You are faced with the virtual lack of the combination freighter and heavy fighter, like the Millenium Falcon of Star Wars. I guess in ten years from the last game, all of the freight carrying fighters were destroyed by some evil mutant fanatics screaming "eat righteous friers" for the local chicken joint.
Combat will be fast and furious in the newly developed three dimensional flight simulator engine. The game play will center around knowing what weapons will work with what ships giving the game an additional level of difficulty, as if we really needed one, and providing a strategic element to the game. Many may be put off by having to die while guess what weapons work where.
There are over 50 times more missions in The Darkening as in the original Privateer, with part of that makeup being 150 scripted missions, some of which will be part of the plot line taking Lev closer to his destiny. The other missions will be, like the original part of the free form interface that will allow you to either play or ignore the plot line and have a good time playing either way. Not only are their more ships and more missions, but there are more guns, missiles, equipment, and locations than in the original game.
Lev Arris is played by Clive Owen the young doctor in the 1995 PolyGram film "Century," Close My Eyes, The Turnaround, and Chancer. Also cast in the interactive movie portion of the game are David Warner who played the devil in Time Bandits, Jurgen Prochnow who played the Captain in "Das Boot," The Keep, Das Boot, and also worked in Judge Dredd, and The Dogs of War, John Hurt of Elephantman fame, David McCallum who was Illia Kuriarkan in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Invisible Man, Mathilda May from Lifeforce, and Christopher Walken, who has appeared in the interactive movie Ripper and movies The Deer Hunter, A View to a Kill, and Pulp Fiction. The live action sequences, which make up the more than three hours of interactive film footage in the game, were directed by Steve Hilliker, of London based Nelson Films Ltd. Filming for The Darkening was at famed Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire near London and took six-weeks in May of 1996. It looks like I missed yet another Origin filming. The script was written by accomplished writer, Diane Duane.
Bases are pretty much the same with bars, ship modification and construction, the automated galactic teller machine comport with attached communications module, and a few other special structures for special bases, like military offices, libraries and churches. The mercinary and merchants guild are replaced with the bulleting board kiosks or booths which provide offers for missions, news, cargo ships and wing persons to hire (you can hire only one of each), ship construction and parts, and purchase and sale of goods.
Trade is divided into seven groups of five items each for a total of 35 trade items: Industrial, Food, Medical, Hardware, Luxuries, Ores, and Black Market. Black Market goods are the same throughout the region and are not specific for specific planets. The green Central Intelligence Services (CIS) ships seem to maintain order and they will scan your cargo for contraband and attack you.
Raising money for upgrades will be by collecting bounties, flying missions for hire, delivering goods at a higher price than purchased after covering expenses for damage and fuel, smuggling if so inclined, and many other tasks for hire. Areas within bases will not be available to planetary transportation unless the plot calls for it. Also you cannot travel to bars or other locations on the planet unless you have researched the location in the public data files. The PAD will provide hints in this area when needed.
Interface: New for this time out is the personal access directory (PAD) Which helps Lev figure out the unique histories of the planets, their defensive systems, the names of important citizens and criminals, and other essential information. Lev checks inventories, read email and save and restore games from within the pad. An interesting three dimensional automapping system provides plotting of trade routes, navigational assistance, and tactical planning.
The weakest area of all in the game are the same for all Wing Commander games. One year a magazine awarded a Chris Roberts game with the Animated Graphic Adventure Game of the year. This is because the magazine felt that the game did not deserve the flight simulation of the year award. The commands are consistently less useful than those found in X-Wing or Tie-fighter for example. That helps you by targetting ships who are firing on the ships you are assigned to protect. A padlock or other view that would allow you to see more than just straight ahead, to the right, left, or rear would help, but it is not in the commands.
Graphics: The graphics I have seen look dark and ominous with appropriate levels of high-resolution, ultra-detailed locations, objects, and characters. Each of the planets has its own distinctive architectural styles consistent with the different histories for them. Combat results in some of the most spectacular explosions which are reported to be like the explosion of a fireworks display rocket that has multiple pieces of debris that all explode individually. Ships and planets are light sourced, shaded, textured and fully rendered in three dimensions.
Animation: The combat flight engine is supposed to be faster and smoother than ever before with some really remarkable animations and frame rates with less usage of processing capacity. The over three hours of full motion video in the game was shot on Digital Betacam in six weeks with 40 actors and 500 extras and promises to be a really great part of the game. None of the game was shot before blue screens.
Music score: The same high quality music that you have come to expect from a Wing Commander Project.
Voice actors: There is a full cast of English actors including John Hurt, Jurgen Prochnow, Brian Blessed, and others along with a group of Hollywood actors including David McCallum, and Christopher Walken. All in all there are 45 professional actors in from cameo to important character roles in the game. The acting and scripting of the full motion video portions is excellent.
The spelling of the text versions of the game is the English spelling which caused a remark from one of our English majors here, who said ", They have a lot of nerve and arrogance using the English spelling of words for a product produced in Texas." But we all have to remember that the Erin Roberts originally hails from England.
I do not believe that I have heard one of the name actors in the battles, but then who knows? The screams in battle become monotonous after killing over one thousand enemies. You begin to recognize the voices and the phrases before they are even completely out of the dying enemies mouths.
Sound effects: Particularly interesting are the various noises when you dock. Other than that there are an acceptable number of explosions and laser fire. The ion cannon sounds like an autocannon as it pumps out rounds. Well done but not exceptional.
Multiplayer: Unfortunately, there are no multiplayer options available. I would love to fly this one with my son or wife flying on my wing. One can only hope that the game companies get the point that others in the family want to be with us in an active role while we play.
Future plans: We are looking for the mission disks, since there were mission disks in the prior game, specifically Righteous Fire.
Web site: Simultaneous to Privateer 2's ship is the launch of the Privateer 2 site on the World Wide Web. Located on the ORIGIN home page at http//www.origin.ea.com, the Privateer 2 site includes screen shots, a filmography of the cast and background information on the game. Special launch week activities will include an online chat with members of the development team and an interactive preview of the game.
Rumors: The story was rumored originally to be written by Tracy Hickman. There was being discussed the possibility of a Privateer television series which would be released about the same time as the game. I have it on good authority that these are untrue rumors.
Hints: When Noram Blagger hires you to rescue his kidnapped daughter from a madman, the calculated nav points are 36, 120, 24, and 21. During the mission at the last nav point Scorpio, the kidnapper, will attack you from a blue colored ship both in space and on radar. Scorpio has already killed Noram's daughter (gruesome Ed.), but Noram pays the 14,000 credits anyway.
Cheats and Hints:
Reviewers: Jeff mentions that the Privateer is a pirate, but this is only true if Lev chooses to be one. Many people player through the Privateer 1 game and Righteous Fire add-on without engaging in any piratical activity.
Tom really got mad at the design team at Origin. Right from the decision to have an independent frieghter carry your cargo, Tom was set off. He did not like the shape of the PDA, the accessories used for the stars, English actors, the inability to jump away from a battle, the inability to skip animations. Tom says buy Blue Byte's Archimedian Dynasty and give Privateer the bypass.
Bugs: I could not get my version to run on my Pentium, even in the DOS native mode (you must reboot your system in DOS in order to run the game in Windows 95). The game continued to toss me out to DOS at critical times. The problem seems to be related to disk two and three. If you put disk one in the drive before you land on a planet, the crash often does not happen. Save the game often especially before and after accepting and completing missions.
Versions: When asked about a premier type version an Origin spokes person had this to say: "Do you mean a premiere-type version? If so, yes. It's being sold thru Sams stores only. It has P2 and the original game in it along with a cloth patch. Unfortuntately, I don't have any to send out."
Rod White, http://www.mortimer.com/users/pcme/news/darken/darken.htm, 20 May 1996
Dave Stanworth, http://gamesdomain.co.za/gdreview/zones/screens/screen30.html http://tcu.why.com/priv2.html
Rod White, http://www.mortimer.com/users/pcme/news/privnews/privnews.htm
Steve Bauman, Computer Games Strategy Plus, issue 71, October, 1996, pg. 20 - 21.
Jeffrey Tschiltsch, Computer Player, volume 3, number 5, October, 1996, pg. 53 - 55.
Al Giovetti, Wing Commander Privateer, Electronic Games, volume 2, number 4, January, 1994, pg. 92.
Al Giovetti, The PC Battleground: Wing Commander Privateer, Personal Computer Combat Simulations, volume 2, number 1, 1994, pg. 14.
Al Giovetti, Righteous Fire, Electronic Entertainment, volume 1, number 7, July, 1994, pg. 91.
Al Giovetti, Wing Commander Privateer, Computer Show
Jim Burdick, Computer and Net Player, volume 3, number 9, February, 1997, pg. 71, 90% C&NP Preferred
Andrew Sanchez, Boot, volume 1, number 7, March, 1997, pg. 69, 90%.
Tom Chick, Computer Games, issue 77, April, 1997, pg. 96 - 97, 40%.
Peter Olafson, PC Games, volume 4, number 3, March, 1997, pg. 78, 85%.
Martin E. Cirulis, Computer Gaming World, issue 153, April, 1997, 50%.
Next Generation, May, 1997, pg. 154, 90%.
Al Giovetti, The Computer Show Privateer 3 Preview
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