If any of you here are old enough to remember the classic Sid Meier's Pirates! (published by MicroProse, the first one in 1987 and the Gold version in 1993) games, Privateer's Bounty is very much alike to them, of course using all the latest advances of technology. Age of Sail 2: Privateer's Bounty is a naval battle simulation game set in the early 18th and late 19th century, developed by Russian developer Akella. The first Age of Sail game was released back in 1996 by Talonsoft, whilst the sequel to it was released last year. Originally Privateer's Bounty was intended to be an expansion pack for the second installment of Age of Sail, but gradually it grew to become a full-featured project. The original Age of Sail 2 has had quite a lot of problems and gameplay issues, while still not lacking charm. Let's see where Akella took the game from there...
In the game you will be able to play three new open-ended campaigns with 20 missions, where each can end in one way or another. 11 different nations are represented, which include all the major and not-so-major navy forces of that era. You can play as either the commander of the entire fleet involved in them, or as a captain of only one ship. The campaigns include one where you're trying to find an expedition lost in the North Sea, on where battling it out in the Mediterranean and another one where you're looking for the legendary pirate's Francis Drake's lost gold. As well the game includes all 6 original campaigns from Age of Sail 2, so if you didn't play it yet, it'll boost up this title's value by much. There are over 1200 authentic warships represented in the game, totaling up to 20 classes of ships (including 5 new to Privateer's Bounty). As well there's an extensive mission editor included, so you could always make your own missions for the game and even modify existing missions.
The basic rules of gameplay are: you are given a ship, or ships to command. You select their movement speed, modes of fire of your cannons and everything else that captains would have to do. You would even have to tell your crew to repair the sails during battle, so your ships could still maneuver. While fighting a battle there are a lot of things you'd have to watch out for, such as the wind, your geographical position... You can take other ships on "abordage", which is French for getting your crew to board enemy ship and fight hand to hand with the enemy. During battle you could slow down the speed or accelerate it up to 32x the original speed. For your convenience you can turn on and off the fog of war, which will make the battle more comfortable for some players. After each successfully completed mission you can buy new ships, fix the damaged ones, buy better weapons and hire new crew members, if money permits of course. Every one of your crew members has an "experience" rating that lowers or heightens his skill during battle, and which can be acquired by passing through a lot of battles (without dieing obviously)
Even though the gameplay generally remains similar to Age of Sail 2, a lot of improvements have been done. The AI is not as dodgy anymore, and usually the enemy ships will give you a good run for your money; the improvements also include friendly ships and your crew – although the computer AI is still not perfect – sometimes it will drive its ships to coast for no reason or on one occasion two enemy ships even bumped into each other. Another great option included is auto-control, where you can let your ships select what to do on their own, which lowers down the amount of micromanagement you had to do in Age of Sail 2. However, that does come with a cost: for some reason the AI that will take over the ship's cannons in auto-fire mode will shoot at friendly units as well, which I can't justify in any way. Yet another thing they've revamped in Privateer's Bounty is the control interface, which was cleaned up and made much easier to control than in Age of Sail 2. It's much more user-friendly now. Also the ships' damage model was improved over Age of Sail 2's one, and it is really, really close to realistic (or at least what I think is close to realistic since I've never witnessed a naval battle with my own eyes, at least not in this incarnation.).
Missions vary from destroying all enemy ships in battle, to making a specific enemy ship surrender, to protecting your own ships and more... There's also a short training mission available that will explain you how to play the game. However, the one problem that I've found is that you don't always have to follow all mission objectives to pass a mission - often when it says that you need to make some ship surrender, you can destroy it and pass the mission so... However, overall the game is fun to play and will keep you drawn for hours to the especially huge battles – and it's a good thing that there's a save/load option provided with it, which however doesn't write save games properly in certain locations, resulting in crashes while trying to load them (happened twice during 10 hours of gameplay or so)...
The game is powered by the STORM graphics engine, developed by Akella especially for their Age of Sail and Sea Dogs series. The environment is fully 3D and you can select zoom and camera angles at all times. The graphics themselves are nothing short of stunning... The ship models are very well done, and you can actually see them taking damage as the battle progresses; sails will be torn, hulls will be breached, cannons will be destroyed and crewmates will die. Cannon smoke will be visible during battles, and you will see the impact of the cannon balls on enemy and your own ships, as well as them missing the targets. The surrounding atmosphere is up-to-par: sea gulls will be flying around your ships and you will witness some spectacular sunsets and sunrises that will make you say "Damn, wish I was a sailor". The waves look realistic and the sea looks as if it's alive - although it does seem to be way too calm for some reason, even in harder weather conditions... The weather effects are also stunning, with rain and snow being between them. However all this great visual performance does come with a price - a price taking its toll on the FPS performance.. When a lot of ships are on the map it is drastically reduced, and requires lowering down the game settings just to be able to play the game with normal frame rates. However, this happens only during huge battles with tenths of ships involved, so it won't affect the gameplay in most of the missions.
The music is classical, sounding as it was ripped out from some pirate movies - which is a good thing of course. It does change according to situations and generally provides a great game atmosphere. The sound quality of the music is also very high, which might be explained by Akella's support of Creative's EAX standard in the game. The sounds are also very well done, with a lot of variety and precision. Meaning that for example there will be different types of sounds for different cannons and the cannons will actually sound like cannons – although I did notice some sound bugs on certain levels. The voice acting is usually good, even though it might become somewhat repetitive and bland at times.
Multiplayer mode is really fun, with up to 16 players being able to compete at once. You can imagine huge battles being fought - and yes, it's really fun. Multiplayer is sponsrored by Gamespy arcade, so you're always sure to find yourself a party.
Privateer's Bounty is a very nice naval strategy game - probably the best one available on the market, at least until Sea Dogs 2 comes out. It features awesome graphics, much improved, although still not perfect gameplay comparing to Age of Sail 2, good overall sound and a very fun multiplayer. There are some bugs in there still, but they are all minor and don't spoil the game experience much. It has also a very good overall value due to inclusion of all the original Age of Sail 2 missions and the new mission editor - which means you can have hours and hours of fun while playing this game.