Dual Review: Pirates of Black Cove and From Dust
Sometimes games are just too small to fill up an entire article.
So once again we return with yet another Dual Review. This week I turn my attention to two more downloadable games in the $15 to $20 range.
There are bad games, and then there are really bad games. Games that make me consider downing a fistful of Hydrocodone with a tequila chaser. But every now a game comes along that reminds me that life can be wonderful and that there is hope. From Dust is one of those.
Back in 2010 at E3 designer Eric Chahi and developer Ubisoft Montpellier promised to provide a new and exciting take on the god-game genre that would allow players to manipulate a dynamic game world in new and exciting ways and watch as it reacted to them in an almost organic fashion. Happily the game that they produced, From Dust, lives up to those promises.
From Dust is a god-game cut from the same cloth as Black and White and Populous. While Black and White had players manipulating their followers and their settlements, From Dust gives players control over the earth and sea. From Dust begins with a small tribe of mask wearing aborigines trapped within a land of storms and chaotic elements. They summon forth the Breath, a stream of golden flowing energy with the power to literally shape the land. As the Breath, players can draw up dirt, water, lava or plants, and deposit them in other locations. In order to survive the tribesmen need the Breath to protect them while leading them to the giant, bonelike totems they build their villages around. While players can do little to control tribesmen other than telling them when to head towards a totem, it’s still their job to make sure the little guys survive the trip. If a river blocks their path, earth can be scooped from one spot and then dumped in the river to form a bridge. The beauty of From Dust is that even simple actions might have unforeseen and terrible repercussions.
In From Dust players are faced with 2 enemies in the Breath’s quest to protect the tribesmen. The first is the environment itself as the world is a violent and chaotic place. Volcanos send lava flowing across the land and start forest fires. Rivers wash away earth and people, rains flood and drown, and mighty tsunamis submerge the land destroying everything. The second enemy is the game’s physics engine. Water and lava flow across the land in a rather realistic fashion, and damming one stream merely diverts it somewhere else. It’s not uncommon to find that an attempt to divert the flow of a river in order to allow tribesmen access to a new totem has inexplicably sent the torrent of water straight into another village, destroying it. Even the weather acts as an antagonistic force. Rain can flood rivers and burst dams, it can turn deserts fertile causing forests to spread out to the edges of lava flows which in turn ignite the forest in a blaze that can race across an island, killing everything in its path.
Divert the Lava and the village floods. Divert the flood and the village burns. Do nothing and the flood washes the villagers into the lava flow…craaaaaap!
As the Breath, From Dust’s story mode has players guiding the tribesmen from island to island in search of the Ancients, powerful beings who created the world and left behind the totems. Each map introduces new gameplay elements like trees that absorb water, set fires or explode, as well as new powers for the Breath. Once a village grows around a totem, it provides the Breath with a new power such as the ability to turn water into unmoving gelatinous goo, evaporate water and dry up rivers, or dump an infinite amount of dirt wherever you’d like. Special items that make villages immune to water or fire can also be found on each level, but the trick is finding them in time. Each island map has a theme such as water hidden in the desert or when fire and water collide, and one or two major threats such as periodic tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. From Dust also includes a challenge mode where players race against a clock to achieve a small yet annoyingly difficult objective. The one thing really missing from the game is the presence of a sandbox mode. It’s not too disappointing though as once beaten, maps can be replayed indefinitely.
Holding back a 60 foot high tidal wave would be a lot more impressive if you didn’t have to do it every 5 minutes.
From Dust is an amazing game and a wonderful testament to creativity in game design. It’s simple, complex and utterly beautiful. Which makes it all the harder for me to mention its terrible flaws. From Dust was originally released on Xbox LIVE and its Steam and PSN versions followed a few months later. The version I played was the one released on Steam and it was little more than a port of the Xbox LIVE version. The Breath could be controlled either with the mouse or with the keyboard, but not with both as the camera focus was fixed with the Breath at its center. While merely awkward when played with a mouse and keyboard it’s a good indicator that From Dust was designed with a controller and thumbstick in mind. Also the Steam version of From Dust does include DRM that requires the game have a constant internet connection. This comes after Ubisoft swore prior to release that it would not. This outright lying by the developer actually resulted in that rarest of occurrences, Steam actually refunding consumer’s purchases.
While it’s an utterly fantastic game, the DRM and console port related issues stop me from giving its Steam release a perfect score. So if you’re a PC gamer and you’re looking for a good god game in the $15 range on Steam I recommend you Try it, but only if you’re willing to put up with restrictive DRM and a less than optimal control scheme. However if you own an X-Box 360 or a PlayStation 3, you won’t have to worry about any of that crap so I heartily recommend you Buy it.
Pirates of Black Cove:
Back in 1987 Sid Meier released one of the great gems of early gaming, Sid Meier’s Pirates. It was remade in 2004 and it not only received amazing reviews from critics and gamers alike, but went down in gaming history as being one of the best pirate video games of all time. Hell, even 7 years later it’s still difficult to find a game that can outperform Sid Meier’s Pirates. However, august saw the rise of a new challenger to the pirate game throne in Pirates of Black Cove. Developed by Nitro Games and produced by Paradox Interactive Pirates of Black Cove promised to provide players with the opportunity to once again roam the seas as a pirate captain. Prior to its release, Pirates of Black Cove looked like a fresh and exciting spiritual successor to Sid Meier’s Pirates. The game looked fantastic, the screenshots were intriguing, and the trailer filled many with anticipation. Once played though, the only emotion Pirates of Black Cove actually evoked was disappointment.
Pirates of Black Cove is one of those tragic cases where a game’s hype was far more exciting and enjoyable the actual game. While the gameplay trailer shows fast action, intense battles, and tons of piratey goodness, the actual game is slow, stupid, and intensely dull.
Seen above: About 90% of the gameplay content of Pirates of Black Cove.
Players are given control of one of 3 generic pirate captains (sword guy, rifle guy, and balanced girl) and placed in charge of a ship filled with drunken pirates. For the most part the ship is controlled from above using the mouse and ASDW keys to steer, turn and fire cannons. As the ship navigates a fantastical, alternate version of the 16th century Caribbean, it can engage other ships in combat, travel to ports where goods and quests can be found, and explore the islands. Sadly though, the towns are dull and while new buildings can be built (essentially unlocked) they do little to expand the settlements. Your pirate ship can be upgraded by finding blueprints which are traded in at shops to unlock more advanced ships and weapons, but the blueprints are scattered randomly across the map and exploration in Pirates of Black Cove is a painfully dull affair. On land the gameplay switches over to a very simple real-time RTS with players controlling their pirate captain and crew. Units are selected and moved about using the mouse, and combat is little more than clicking on enemy unit and watching as your pirates run swarm the target. It’s nothing new and nothing that hasn’t been done better by a hundred other games.
As I played Pirates of Black Cove I came to realize what it was that the game reminded me of. Pirates of Black Cove looks, sounds, and plays like a mid-1990’s educational game aimed at the 7 to 12 crowed. The music is upbeat, the setting is happy and the gameplay is utterly simplistic. All it lacks is a cartoon parrot with a funny voice trying to teach you how to spell. Though this feeling was thrown off by the occasional attempt to be edgy by including unamusing murder related jokes, Rastafarian pirates and weed jokes that would be considered pathetic by Cheech and Chong's standards.
Fun Fact: drinking 20oz of Everclear will actually kill fewer brain cells than an hour of Pirates of Black Cove.*
Only a truly dedicated fan of the pirate genre should even bother to give Pirates of Black Cove a second glance, and even then all they’ll find is a terribly dull game. The only thing that Pirates of Black Cove does well is lie to potential buyers about how fantastic the game is, and even then it still fails as a demo is available on Steam. If you have any urge to play this game then I beg that you please try out the demo before even contemplating giving the developers of Pirates of Black Cove any of your money because there’s no way in hell they deserve your $20. The only people I could possibly recommend this game to are parents looking for a good, simple game for their children and who can overlook a few murder and drug related jokes. For everyone else, Fry It.
*Gross exaggeration, however it is unwise to operate heavy machinery, drive a motorized vehicle, or handle firearms within 1 hour of playing Pirates of Black Cove.