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Full Motion Video seems to be what ORIGIN does best these days, and Privateer 2 is certainly no exception. In fact, the title is more like a trippy science-fiction show broken up by brief interludes of gaming than it is a “traditional” computer game. It’s sort of like watching Dr. Who, and stopping to play a space sim during the commercials. In this respect, The Darkening is top notch. The production values are the highest you will see in any FMV game, and the acting is superb. Clive Owen is particularly effective as “Ser” Lev Arris, the game’s amnesiac hero. He plays the part perfectly, with suave toughness and sensitivity, and you will really feel compelled to help him discover his past. On the way, you will run into the greatest cast of actors ever assembled for a computer game, including John Hurt, Jurgen Prochnow, and the ominous Christopher Walken. I don’t know how much Origin paid these guys, but most of them gave performances that easily rivalled some of their motion picture work.
Okay, we know the video looks great, but what about the actual gameplay? Privateer 2 also offers the most impressive space sim engine you have ever seen. You’ll be amazed by how fast this game runs in full graphics mode. In one battle with over twenty ships on-screen at once, I experienced no noticeable slowdown. The action is fast and furious as you punch your way through enemy lines in eighteen different ships, each completely customizable with different weapons, systems, and equipment upgrades. Some of these goodies are incredibly hardcore. The “Nuke ‘em” device is the most ridiculously powerful weapon you’ll ever find in a space shooter — it’s like strapping a BFG to an X-Wing!
As good as the space combat in Privateer 2 is, the game lost more points here than it gained. What made the original Privateer so great was its open-endedness and total immersion in the universe. For some inane reason, Roberts actual eliminated most of the small, cool details that made the original such a classic. You are no longer able to carry on communications with any ship in your space, unless the vessel is an attacking enemy or actually part of the pre-scripted missions. In the original Privateer, simply telling a merchant “your cargo’s safe with me” might have been enough to turn him from hostile attacker to neutral observer. In Privateer 2, your affiliations to certain groups are not recorded, so such communications are unnecessary. And it looks like Origin has given into political correctness and eliminated slaves as a black market item. One of the funnest things about Privateer was the ability to play a low-life slave trader, tractor-beaming ejected pilots from destroyed ships, and selling them for a huge profit at the nearest spaceport. In Privateer 2 you can smuggle human organs — big deal.
But the biggest letdown in The Darkening is the fact you don’t actually get to fly the merchant ships and make the cargo runs yourself! All of the eighteen ships available are fightercraft, with very limited cargo capacity. If you want to play trader, you’ll have to hire a merchant ship with its own pilot. Let’s face it, flying escort for the Milennium Falcon is just not as much fun as flying the Milennium Falcon!
Overall, Privateer 2: The Darkening is a solid game that could have easily stood its own ground. But by taking the name Privateer and calling itself a sequel, it disappointed legions of fans who have waited for, and deserve more. If you’re looking for an extension of the original Privateer, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
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