Pirates of Black Cove was a game full of promise. By its outward appearance, it seemed like a combination of the ship battling mechanics of one of my favorite games, Sid Meier’s Pirates! alongside RTS land battling. Plus, the colorful style and the game’s apparent sense of humor, combined with a very cheap price, made the game seem like an easy purchase. Alas, like most things in life, appearances are deceiving and when something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Pirates of Black Cove is a shallow, buggy mess of a budget title, and holds only a few hours of anything even resembling enjoyable gameplay.
I am going to make this review short and sweet, as PoBC frankly does not deserve a lengthy discertation. At its core, the game is broken into two mechanics. The first is indeed very similar to the ship battles you may remember from earlier and better games like Sid Meier’s Pirates, and that game’s many ports and variations. You steer ships around, shoot cannons, and sink and board other ships. PoBC’s second mechanic is a RTS ground battle system where you control one or more hero units, as well as a multitude of peon melee or ranged units, in ground based missions. My chief complaint about both of these mechanics, as different as they are, is exactly the same: they are entirely too shallow. The game takes an extremely bare bones approach that at first feels light and arcadey, but quickly turns dull and monotonous.
Sid Meier’s Pirates! was great because it presented the player with an open world and essentially set you loose, to trade, take missions, or plunder to your heart’s content. Pirates of Black Cove seemingly has an open world (albeit much smaller) but the game is actually quite linear, with the player taking missions from three pirate factions, and slowly upgrading their pirate army and ship. However, the upgrades don’t seem to mean much, as the ship you start out with is more than capable of sinking pretty much anything the game has to throw at you, and the RTS battles can almost always be won by just bringing as many troops as possible into battle.
This may have been forgivable if the rest of the game was fun to play, but frankly, it isn’t. The missions are extremely repetitive, ranging from fetch quests to “go here and sink this ship.” In place of original gameplay, the game attempts to amuse the player with lots and lots of pirate humor. This, unfortunately, was a misstep.
The game’s sense of humor is… well, bad. Like young comedian at an open mic night bad. You will collect pirate jokes floating in bottles in the sea, for no other reason than to pop up bad pirate puns in the middle of your travels. Of the 50 or so jokes I found while playing the game, only 2 were actually amusing. This banal humor extends to the script, which is just remarkably unfunny, no matter how hard it tries. The best thing I can say about the writing is that it is at least understandable. There is also voice acting, for nearly every line of dialogue no less, but it sounds quite a bit like a community theater production of a rewritten Pirates of Penzance. It is all very enthusiastic, but still feels entirely unprofessional.
The graphics are fine, and the music is appropriately piratey. However, a major problem arises in the game’s stability. Simply put: I tried PoBC on three different machines, and all three experienced stuttering, hanging, and full on crashes. Now mind you, this game is not exactly Crysis. Looking at it, it should play like a dream on any computer built in the last 4 years. My systems are top-mid range, and had issues here. This speaks to poor coding and quality assurance.
So that’s really that. The game currently sells for $20 on Steam, but frankly there is less value here than Steam’s version of Sid Meier’s Pirates! which retails for $10. Pirates of Black Cove is a shallow, unfunny, and bug ridden mess. Cheaper and far better alternatives exist. I was initially very positive on this game, and I wish it turned out better, but having played it through, I cannot in good conscience recommend this game to anyone.