Privateer. (merchant-spaceship simulation from Origin) (Software Review) (computer game) (Evaluation)
by David Gerding
Always playing the good guy can be downright dull. Privateer, the latest in Origin's Wing Commander line, honors this simple truism. In Wing Commander I and II, you fly for the glory of the Confederation, defending humanity and restoring your personal honor. In Privateer, success is measured in the size of the day's profits and the grafting knowledge that you've salvaged some salable merchandise from the debris of a would-be pirate--a pirate who won't be troubling you or anybody else again.
You begin your career at the helm of a rusty old Tarsus-class merchant ship. You're a free agent, and the possibilities for a fast buck abound. You can earn a consistent dollar as a merchant, shutting needed goods between systems and quadrants. Choose the life of a smuggler, and you can get rich quick running drugs and guns, though you'll be dogged by a militia. As a mercenary, you're a gun for hire, taking out pirates and Kilrathi alike. If your favorite Star Wards character was Han Solo, this is the game for you.
Pirates, Kilrathi aces, and the ever-vigilant militia aren't the only obstacles standing between you and a healthy bank account. You'll also encounter Retros, fanatical religious terrorists determined to destroy the evil of technology, one ship at a time.
As if these challenges weren't enough, you soon find yourself in possession of a priceless alien artifact whose owners have a habit of turning up dead. The word in the space lanes is that you're next. Between staying alive and making a living, you must now unravel a mystery whose clues are hidden in the far-flung systems of four quadrants and countless miles of empty space.
Despite some technical glitches, Origin has turned out a real winner in Privateer. Playability and depth are realized with a rich assortment of game elements. There are four ship types to fly, as well as a wide selection of add-on weaponry, defenses, and other hardware to purchase. The game is physically large as well, with over 60 solar systems to visit.
The graphics are much improved over those in earlier Wing Command games, and on a fast 486 system, the animation can look downright gorgious. Those who like the look of the previous Wing Commanders will really like the look of Privateer.
Pushing the technological envelope is not without risk. On a 386 the frame rate became so jerky that it became difficult to aim with any accuracy, as the motion of the crosshairs become too crude to track enemy ships. A 486 is suggested to really enjoy the game. Also, there are some minor bugs that will intermittently hang systems with some sound card settings, but work-arounds are avaialble from Origin.
Privateer is a real accomplishment. Origin continues to build on a familiar universe, this time from a new angle. Best fo all, you're not locked into a story line here. You can fly around as long as you want, building your ship, before you take on the mysterious alien artifact. And once you've completed the story line, you can continue building your coffers and enhancing your ship by taking on cargo or mercenary missions--at least until the first expansion disk comes around.