Wing Commander: Privateer Review

I've been hestitant on typing up a review on an old-school retro game, but since I actually managed to play through the whole of Wing Commander: Privateer again, I thought I might as well. The problem with reviewing a game this old (Privateer came out in 1993) is that it may seem unfair comparing it to games of the modern era. The cynic in me (and I'm sure many of you too) think that companies like Good Old Games (GOG) are just cashing in on nostalgia - i.e. an old gamer will remember Old-School Game X fondly and then purchase the game to replay it, only to find the experience is bittersweet. Games do evolve and whether we like it or not, we as gamers get lazy. For example, we don't like clicking 4 times to select a unit and get them moving when we can do it with two clicks. Only a few of the die-hard retro gamers would truly find these classics fun anymore. So what is the point of reviewing a game that surely can't compete with modern games, even if it was a classic in its hey-day?

But that's when it dawned on me. The game review is still a means of informing the buyer . It doesn't matter if the game is a new release or a re-release, the game has to be judged on its merits. After all, some gamers out there may have heard good things about this so-called "classic" game but would they get the same impression of the game when they played it?

This is where a review like this comes in. I will try to be as impartial as I can when reviewing the actual score, but I will also give a 1993 score if you will, a score for the game as if it was brand new and I was back in 1993 reviewing it :).

Sound (2/5)
The sound samplerate is low, the voice acting is pretty terrible and the taunts you get from ship pilots can get quite repetitive (Pirate: "You're about to suck void buddy!"). Still, it’s functional.

Back in 1993, having voice in a game at all was quite novel. This is the time when CDs were only starting to become popular as a format for storing games. A lot of floppy discs were still floating around. I would've given this game 5/5 for Sound in the old days...

Music (3/5)
The music is actually quite good in terms of employing a common theme. You'll always hear a certain fanfare that is incorporated into the combat and background music. The only problem is that it's in the venerable MIDI format and nowadays, music tends to be of a much higher quality.

Back when this originally came out though, I'd say it would've got a 5/5.

Graphics (3/5)
Wow it's amazing how far graphics have come! Okay these graphics aren't going to win any awards. Low-res bitmaps for ships and planets? Even the 3D renders in cutscenes look basic. However there's something about the conversation cutscene style that appeals to me (even if the lip-syncing is atrocious) and the fact that different base types look quite different to each other is a plus.

Also each ship has a different cockpit - and you don't find that too often in games (recent exceptions being Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. and Test Drive Unlimited series). It really gives that extra level of immersion and ensures the game doesn't become similar to playing with a spreadsheet.

Back when this originally came out the graphics would've been cutting edge. Unfortunately, this means you were likely to have suffered because of it - Wing Commander games were notorious for being memory hogs, meaning the game would've got a 4/5 from me if it was 1993.

Plot (4/5)
Game plots, if they exist in the first place, are renowned for being cliché and Privateer is no exception. It's the usual plot where you stumble upon a mysterious alien artefact and you're being chased by almost everyone since they want to get their hands on it. However, the fact you're a smuggler makes the game more entertaining (Han Solo was a favourite character for many in Star Wars, after all).

The Wing Commander universe, in which the game is set, is really rich though. One of Origin's fortes was immersing the player into the game world. Even the manual is a mock guide to the Gemini Sector (in which the game is set). Even though the game is so old, it'd still give modern games a run for their money.

When the game was originally released, I would've also given it a 4/5 for plot.

Gameplay (3/5)
I'm giving an extra point to Privateer since there is definitely a lack of decent space trading simulator games out there and Privateer was one of my favourites in its day. It's still pretty good in some respect. This is a fun game to play although the trading and mercenary missions may get a bit boring after awhile especially considering there are no side quests to speak of.

As with any space trading simulator you've got a choice of ships and various upgrades (guns, shield generators, armour, etc.) to purchase. A nice feature which seems to be absent in many newer games, is having the ability to tinker with the engines and guns of your machine. It is possible in Privateer to redirect power to shields, guns or speed, giving the player freedom on where to put their ship's power to good use. Want to outrun some enemies? Take some energy from shields and allow yourself to use your afterburners forever. Don't want your guns to overheat all the time? Turn some off to ensure a steady barrage. The choice is yours.

However, being old also means the game lacks the good features of modern gaming. It's quite hard to keep tabs of what you're meant to be doing in terms of the main plot as your log doesn't tell you what to do after you've completed a mission (i.e. which planet to go to or where to go for your next mission). Sure, sometimes you have to listen carefully to bartender gossip or what your last mission handler (or fixer) says, which is fine. However, there were a couple of missions which involves aimlessly wandering the sector's bars until you found your next mission - which is not very choice.

Since side quests were a rarity in any game except RPGs and user-friendly mission logs weren't the norm back in 1993, I'd rate the gameplay at 4/5 for when Privateer was new.

Replayability (4/5)
At first glance, you'll think the game is rather linear, as the main storyline doesn't give you much choice (you actually can reject main storyline missions, but if you don't accept them, you can't proceed any further with the main plot).

However, just like any good space trading sim, the player has the freedom to continue exploring, trading and fighting across the galaxy for as long as he/she likes. You also have four ships to choose from and you can also choose on whether to fight on the side of the law or not.

Unfortunately, there isn't much incentive to fight for one particular faction or not since racking up the kills don’t exactly reward you with any ranks or rewards.

The game back in 1993 would've also got a 4/5 for replayability, as there were already other games (like Frontier: Elite II) which did better in the replayability department.

Polish (3/5)
Unfortunately, even DOSBOX cannot bring the game to its original glory. For example, the music usually slows down when you're in the cockpit although goes back to normal speed on planets or during cutscenes. A minor glitch but it is quite annoying.

Also, although the mouse is given as an input device option (joystick and keyboard are the other two), it's very hard to control the ship with it and there's no way to alter the sensitivity.

I did also encounter a couple of times where the game just froze on me. Fortunately after a few reloading of games I managed to get past the part.

From what I remember of the original game, I had very little issues with it. So it would've got a 5/5.

Score - 6/10

A somewhat dated classic, but a good example of how Origin immerses the player into their worlds.

If I were reviewing this game in 1993 however, I'd have no qualms in giving it a 9/10.

If you want to get the game, visit Good Old Games.


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