Review

Pirates of Black Cove Review (PC)

Arr, Jim-Lad! I spy the almighty Ship Paradox off the port bow. Thar be tales of a brand new pirate game hidden behind its thick-timbered hull. Splice the mainbrace and whey anchor! Let’s find out if their precious cargo is a trove of treasure and booty, or whether it ought to walk the plank and make the long downward journey to Davy Jones’ Locker.
 

Pirate and Proud
Ahem, sorry about that, Microsoft Word’s language setting was stuck on “Annoying Pirate”. Now that’s sorted. Let’s get on with the review. Your career as an aquatic bandit kicks off by selecting one of three pre-set Pirate avatars. I opted for the young buck Walker de Planc, who is a dab hand at swashbuckling and has an “Oirish” accent more stilted than bilge water. Customisation of this character is initially limited to one special ability and one special weapon for your ship (more on those later).

The game begins proper in typical pirate fashion – with a mutiny. After one too many licks of the cat, you and your soon-to-be crew “relieve” your oppressive captain of his station, and you get to take his place. From there you sail to the cunningly-named Pirate Island in order to acquaint yourself with the head of the pirate order and set about establishing a reputation for yourself as a terror of the seas.

As you can probably tell from the name of my chosen pirate, Black Cove is a game with its tongue firmly in its bearded cheek. This is very much a casual RPG. Its design philosophy focuses on being fun and not too demanding on the player. For the most part it succeeds, but in a couple of areas it belly-flops into the briny deep rather spectacularly.

As is customary, let’s start with the good. I’ve already sketched out how the story begins, but it quickly turns from simple “go forth and be piratical”, to a grand, ocean-spanning quest to find the Forgotten Isle, wherein dwell the eponymous Black Cove pirates, cursed rovers of the oceans who even shiver the timbers of their slightly less insidious brethren. The reason anyone would want to find such an odious place? I’ll give you a clue – it begins with T and ends with “reasure”, and treasure to pirates is like artificial light to a moth.

Despite this darker core to the plot, the telling of the tale is extremely light-hearted. The voice acting is fittingly pantomime (I’m assuming it’s deliberate) and jokes are fired at you like grapeshot from a galleon’s cannons. Most of them are awful, but they’re awful in a Christmas cracker sense rather than an offensive uncle at Christmas sense.

In fact, the game boasts a thousand collectable pirate jokes dotted around the game map, although many of them revolve around any word in the English language which has the stem “AR”, and at less than fifty they began to repeat themselves. But since forcing someone to come up with a thousand unique pirate jokes probably counts as a crime against humanity, I’ll let this go.

While the game isn’t grog-chokingly hilarious, it is very entertaining, and definitely preferable to a po-faced approach. The same goes for how the game looks and plays. There are two distinct play styles – terrorising the Caribbean with your ship, and exploring the islands and coastlands on foot. We’ll discuss the former first, because it’s by far the better of the two.

The game map encompasses the entire Caribbean Sea, including Central America and the Brazilian coastline. The map is drenched with tropical hues, and the fantastic water effects from Commander: Conquest of the Americas (Nitro Games’ last release) make a return. The seas are also full of life. Whales and dolphins swim merrily about just below the ocean’s surface, and gulls and parrots circle in the air above you, often following your ship as you go about your pirate-y business. And of course, there are ships aplenty, laden with precious booty just waiting to be liberated by your cannons.

Ship-to-ship combat is definitely where Black Cove is at its most fun. Any ship that you see is ripe for pirating. Combat is a simple case of lining up your shot and unleashing a full broadside at your enemy. Cannonballs rip through sails and shatter hulls, and damaged ships spew smoke and fire. As I said, this is very much a casual RPG, so don’t expect things like wind strength and direction to affect your ship. Having said that, hitting your opponent while avoiding their cannon fire does take a bit of skill, and triumphing in battle is always satisfying.
 
The crew of the Black Pearl really hated Fisherman's Friends
This simple system is mixed up somewhat by the inclusion of special weapons. I originally picked a harpoon and barrel weapon which is used to slow down fleeing vessels. However, a much more useful and fun weapon is the “Manapult”. This fires one of your crew members at the opposing ship, who will then attempt to capture the vessel. If successful, this ship will follow you around the ocean and aid you in combat. Later on in the game, more absurd special weapons become available such as homing rockets.

To acquire these weapons, you have to lub some land and visit the various faction strongholds in the game. These include Pirates, Buccaneers and Corsairs, each with a distinct cultural and architectural style. At this point the game transforms into a sort of top-down-RPG-cum-strategy-game. At these safe havens you can upgrade your ship, buy new ships, accept faction and story missions, and bolster your crew with a variety of ridiculous ne’er do wells.

There’s a certain degree of depth here, although it may be more appropriate to call it substance. To recruit new units such as pistoleers and musketeers, you first must rebuild the schools which train them. This means earning money via completing faction missions, sinking ships, or stealing from the vast number of settlements that dot the Caribbean islands.

Sadly, it’s also on land where Black Cove ironically falls overboard. Land combat is not so much casual as lazy, going from sporting trendy jeans and a t-shirt to wearing a stained vest and no pants. Winning a battle is a case of selecting all your units and mobbing each enemy in turn. This is the case for every land mission. Since the game is equally divided between ocean and land, this becomes very tedious very quickly.

It’s a real shame that the land combat is so insipid, because aesthetically it’s just as appealing as fighting on the waves. The units are varied and interesting, with a few stand-out scrappers such as the insane cannoneer, a towering black fellow who cradles his own portable artillery piece in his muscular arms. Also, the unit animations are lovingly detailed. Enemy musketeers often fly backwards when they fire their weapons, and melee units fence with grace and finesse. The trouble is you can hardly see any of it because all units cluster on top of one another, resulting in a confused and disappointing dog-pile of death.

There are other problems too. Quite a few missions require you to destroy multiple objectives which are completely identical, also known as arbitrary game lengthening exercises. One such quest involves having to destroy outlets of the popular seafood bar Shrimpbucks, which are dotted all over the globe, yet this was nowhere near as bad as searching for a voodoo princess. First I had to walk up to the four huts in the corners of the island. Then the game told me to put a guard on each of the huts. Finally, said voodoo princess appeared in the middle of the map, right next to the enormous skull-shaped temple where I’d immediately headed to as soon as I arrived on the island. None of this padding is necessary because the game is long enough anyway.

Lastly, the game isn’t particularly good at tutoring new players. For the life of me I could not find an option to change, or indeed see the control set up. This is either because A) It isn’t there B) it is stupidly hidden away or C) I completely overlooked it and therefore am a massive idiot. I don’t think it’s the latter, mainly because I’ve managed to find the control set up in every other game I’ve played ever. There is a tutorial which can be accessed by pressing the F1 key, but the game never tells you to press the F1 key to access the tutorial. In fact the tutorial is generally inconsistent, also neglecting to inform you how to use your special ship attack, which incidentally is defaulted to the Spacebar.
 
There's a wide variety of unique pirate units

For all its faults though, Pirates of Black Cove is a very endearing game. Its playful nature, its colourful vision of a pirate-infested Caribbean, and it’s knowingly terrible jokes make it an inoffensive and pleasantly innocent experience Don’t bring me that horizon, because I quite like it here.

Top Game Moment: Successfully hitting a fleeing ship with a Manapult, and watching the cartoon-style fight break out on the opposing ship’s deck.

Videos

Comments

By chiefone (SI Veteran Member) on Aug 03, 2011
chiefone
Pretty good for a paradox game that is not based upon hearts of iron. I might pick this up.
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Aug 03, 2011
nocutius
Too bad about the land battles and the few unnecessarily long missions. Stuff like that can really hurt a game. Still looks interesting and might be worth checking put eventually.
By Gyorn (SI Core) on Aug 06, 2011
Gyorn
"But since forcing someone to come up with a thousand unique pirate jokes probably counts as a crime against humanity, I’ll let this go."
Ye lilly-liverARRRd landlubbARRR! Tis' for the gretARRRR fun of playARRRRs! ;)
Anyway, nice review, although it might be worth to mention that theres a lot of crash bugs right now. However if the devs manage to keep their patch speed up this wont be an issue some days from now.

@chiefone:
Paradox is only the publisher, its developed by Nitro Games. Its a whole lot more casual than the 'real' Paradox games, dont expect anything like HoI. Its still plenty of fun :)
By RickLane (I just got here) on Aug 07, 2011
RickLane
Oddly, it only crashed once for me, after which the game was pretty stable. Otherwise I certainly would have mentioned it. But it does seem that a lot of people are having problems. Shame.
By viking84 (I just got here) on Aug 07, 2011
viking84
hey everybody i have a question, ive been playing pbc and its pretty cool, i am now the champion of the pirates and bucaneers, but now i have no missions!! ? im not done with the corsairs but i have gone around the whole map to all the mansions looking for a new mission but i can find any and move on! any help please ? thanks
By Gyorn (SI Core) on Aug 07, 2011
Gyorn
You might want to ask here: http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?588-Pirates-of-Black-Cove
Im only champion of the pirates as of now so i cant realy help you myself.
By ZoZoN (SI Newbie) on Aug 25, 2011
ZoZoN
Yhis looks pretty cool, but i'm wait with bouth this.
By written (SI Newbie) on Sep 02, 2011
written
Looks intersting
By er139 (I just got here) on Sep 02, 2011
er139
I completely agree StrategyInformer review is spot on, game graphics are great, game is unfinishable due to bugs, Paradox is working on it's 4th patch for pirates (unknown release date).