Friday, January 02, 2009

Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy Review

Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy, developed by Stickman Studios and published by Blitz Games Studios.
The Good: Interesting multiplayer, lengthy campaign, ship upgrades, straightforward controls, nice graphics
The Not So Good: Bogus mechanics disregard wind and ammunition type, very iffy aiming, difficult due to being severely outnumbered in almost every mission, annoying voice acting
What say you? An arcade swashbuckling game with impossible targeting that lacks any sense of realism or fairness: 4/8

Of all the seafaring time periods, the one that’s most famous is the mid-1600’s in the Caribbean: age of the pirates. Maybe it’s the thrill of adventure, or maybe it’s Johnny Depp’s rugged handsomeness, but these nefarious acts of villainy have received quite a bit of attention in both cinema and in computer gaming. Pirate-themed computer games seem to fall into two categories: adventure games like Sea Dogs and action games like Pirates!. Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy falls into the latter category, putting you on a modest ship in pursuit of infamy (I read subtitles!). This budget-priced game takes a more casual approach to the setting, as opposed to the more realistic and arduous titles of years gone by. Does this more light-hearted action translate into a more entertaining game?

You certainly get more than what you pay for in terms of the graphics: Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy looks outstanding, for the most part anyway. The ocean looks fantastic with plentiful waves on the surface and details underneath. Although the game’s world always seems to have decent weather at sea (no heavy winds to make big waves), it’s clear that a lot of work was put into making the ocean look somewhat interesting. The land areas, although repetitive (look! another hilly tropical island!), do have a nice level of detail to them. In addition, the shells flying through the air are impressive and hit the ocean with a satisfying splash. The ships, on the other hand, are quite underwhelming, as they have poor animations (the flags flutter with the camera and not the wind) and explosions are rare: normally, just a kick of dust comes up when a shell impacts a ship. The sinking animation (that’s singular, folks) also becomes repetitive after a while. Still, Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy looks much better than you would expect a budget-priced game to appear. The sound fares worse: the music is OK, but the voice acting is horrible, annoying, and clich├ęd. Some people might like the totally over-the-top pirate accents, but I just find them grating.

Don’t get Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy confused with more authentic naval simulations: this is an arcade game, through and through. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as long as the game is fun, right? For all those single players out there, Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy (using the full title makes my review longer) features a lengthy, fifty-six mission branching campaign: once you unlock a new area of the game world (usually by acquiring a new map from a sunk ship), you can complete the missions in any order. This is nice since certain ships are geared towards specific mission types (like coastal bombardment or tracking down speedy merchant ships), and the objectives are constantly scrolled on the screen for easy reference. Your goal is to accumulate infamy (remember, it’s Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy) by successfully completing missions. Infamy constantly decreases over time, rewarding faster and more powerful ships that can complete missions more quickly. Single missions can only be completed once, but you can repeat merchant missions as many times as you choose. You can continue the campaign until you complete all of the missions or die, which, for me, happened after the second mission. That’s right: second. Of fifty-six. You really need to spam merchant missions in order to accumulate enough gold to significantly upgrade your ship, which, frankly, is quite boring and repetitive. More interesting is the multiplayer, which pits two teams against each other with the goal of destroying enemy ships and bases. Games can get quite interesting, with large battles taking place in hotly contested portions of the maps, in addition to having third-party forces blowing everyone up. Each team has a home base for repair purposes and to collect plundered gold and land targets that can be destroyed for points. You can also capture neutral ships that provide varied bonuses: an increased score (or decreased for the opposing team) or a cache of gold. Here, the difficulty of the missions doesn’t come into play as you are going against human competition. The multiplayer portion of Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy plays out more like a first person shooter and it’s a nice change of pace from the overly difficult single player campaign.

Between missions, you spend your time in the town upgrading your ship, purchasing new ones, saving your game, and choosing the next mission. You can upgrade your boat in three areas: speed, firepower, and durability (hit points). In addition, you can invest some cash into increasing crew morale, purchasing new ammunition, or repairing your (usually) heavily damaged ship. Upgrades to not offer discounts if you purchased lower-level improvements. New ships are required for later in the game when things get tougher (like the second mission onward) and objectives become more varied. You will have to manually save your game between missions in the tavern, because the autosave frequency is unknown and apparently very large (your next mission will probably be your last). Since the very easy missions are easy and the easy missions are extremely difficult, make sure you save frequently!

Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy features a control scheme reminiscent of first person shooters: WASD. You will have to constantly hold down the “W” key in order to move forward, but the turn keys don’t return to zero (meaning hitting the “A” key twice will result in always moving left until you change it). How much sense does that make? Also, ships can go backwards. I guess Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy isn’t going for realism. I’m more used to a throttle control for the speed, which represented how much sail is out (you know, like a real boat); I suppose it’s more of a personal preference, but I dislike the FPS-like control scheme. Firing is easy, though: press the left mouse button to fire the port cannons, and the right mouse button for the starboard cannons. It couldn’t be simpler or more straightforward and intuitive.

Where Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy sinks is with aiming. It’s so extraordinarily difficult to aim because shots do not go straight out from your ship and I have no idea how they are aimed (if at all). Most of the time the shells end up way behind where I think they are going to be (possibly due to the ship’s momentum), and more practice just ended up confusing me more. The game seriously needs some sort of indicator or targeting reticule to assist in aiming; it’s not like this would ruin the realism of the game since ships can go backwards anyway. Destroying land targets is difficult since shells go over and around them, as I cannot gauge how to control your angle of attack. Being outnumbered doesn’t help matters: ships are initially just as powerful and strong as you are, so why does it make sense to pit your vessel against multiple opponents at one time during supposedly “easy” missions? In addition, the AI defensive structures have perfect aim that hits you every time and since it’s difficult (and semi-random) to hit them back, you are at a grave disadvantage.

Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy fails because of two reasons: the difficulty and the aiming, which are related problems. You should always ease new players into a game, not make them outnumbered the second mission in. There is certainly a lot of content in the single player campaign with fifty-six missions, but I doubt many people will get to experience all of them thanks to the severe difficulty. The developers have severely misjudged how difficult the single player campaign is: you should never lose your second mission in a fifty-six mission campaign. Period. Compounding this problem is the horrible and inconsistent aiming: it seems more like chance than skill, as cannonballs fly every which way and do not fire straight out of your vessel, aimed at some arbitrary point that is inconsistently located nowhere near your target. The game needs a firing arc or some indication of where your cannons are going to travel when you press the “fire” buttons. The controls come straight from a first person shooter, which is really what this game aspires to be, but they don’t carry over well to a ship game, in my opinion, because of the total lack of realism (hit reverse, captain!). These shortcomings are too bad, as the multiplayer is intriguing and the graphics are quite pleasing (although the voice acting is definitely irritating). Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy has the exact opposite problem that most independent games I review have: the features are robust, but the game mechanics are broken to the point of complete annoyance.