Privateer: Righteous Fire

Several months ago Origin blessed us hardcore Wing Commander freaks with Privateer, the only WC game to allow players to interact in the Terran-Kilrathi war from the perspective of a private citizen trying to make a buck.  While Privateer was a welcome and original addition to the Wing Commander series, it could have been much more.  Once you had finished the main plot and built up your ship to the limits of that game, there was nothing interesting left to do.  There were still missions available to fly, but in a high-powered ship they were laughably easy.  There was also no more monetary incentive to taking missions, since all the cool gear had already been bought.

Now we have Righteous Fire, the first add-on disk for Privateer.  It offers more missions, another plot, and more stuff to buy.  Unfortunately, it still falls prey to the original game's failings.

Righteous Fire installs to the directory that contains Privateer, and brings the game's total hard drive tally to about 26 megs including the original speech pack.  To gain access to its missions players type RF at the command line instead of PRIV.  RF's saved games also have a different file extension than those of the original game.  This allows multiple players on the same machine to play either the original Privateer plot or that of Righteous Fire, and is a good way to allow these two games to co-exist in the same directory without creating file management headaches.

Righteous Fire adds a few features absent from Privateer.  For instance, you can now press SHIFT-S to increase your shield level while flying; / sets your ship instantly to maximum velocity; your personal computer now keeps a tally of your kills and shows you how many of each group (Kilrathi, Retros, Pirates, etc.) you have brought down, and shows you whether those groups feel hostile, friendly, or neutral toward you.  On the down side, because RF doesn't upgrade the original Privateer files these additions do not carry over to the original Privateer game.  The game still crashes quite often as well.  I was hoping for an upgrade or patch for the original Privateer executable file; alas, this was not to be.

Another annoying feature, or maybe I should say non-feature, is that RF offers no additional support of the Privateer speech pack.  You still hear the old speech from the original game, but all the new dialogue appears in captions only.  I have never appreciated Origin's "price-gouging" system of making people pay extra for the speech that should have been included in their pricey games, so I was doubly pissed when RF acted as a sort  of audio downgrade.  The worst part is that on three occasions you will have key conversations with other pilots as you are fighting with them.  Trying to read a series of captions while engaged in a dogfight is not exactly the most palatable gaming experience I've ever had.  Under these circumstances I often found it necessary to read the dialogue once, blow myself up, and start over from a saved game and concentrate on the battle.  Tedious.  Very tedious.

Although there are certainly weak points to Righteous Fire, there are a fair share of good things that deserve mentioning.  The best and most obvious one is that RF extends the life of Privateer.  I had forgotten how much I love the Privateer universe until I sat down to play RF, and it was a very welcome homecoming.  RF also includes a few new items to buy, thus providing a monetary incentive to fly missions even if they aren't necessary to advance the plot.  Among the new items are a new gun type (fusion cannons), a tougher armor, gun coolers, shield regenerators, enhancers for thrust and speed, and a faster version of the repair droid.  While these are nice additions, they aren't all that exciting.  All the thrust enhancer does is allow you to reach maximum velocity faster; it does its job well, but I never felt a need for it before or after I purchased it.  Likewise, the speed enhancer, overpriced at 200,000 credits, increases your max speed by 85 KPS (170 KPS with afterburners firing), but I never once felt my speed was hindering my fighting abilities.  Probably the best new item is the isometal armor; it's cheap like all other armors, but it takes a beating like nothing I've seen before.  I sense a Timex ad in the making here.

As with Privateer, Righteous Fire's missions are all combat oriented.  This all but requires you to be flying a Centurion decked out with serious hardware.  Naturally, you can import your old Privateer ship.  One good point is that the Centurion will now support level four engines and shields.  Combined with the new isometal armor, this gives you an extremely well-protected ship with a good supply of weapons power, even if you're using the new fusion cannons.  Speaking of the fusion guns, at 100,000 apiece they're a good investment, if not strictly necessary; they don't seem to damage enemy shields any more than other guns, but they your targets' armor will shred like the clothes off a ten dollar hooker.

Righteous Fire has a strong plot; it's a good thing, too, because the game itself will get very monotonous before it's done, but I'll get to that in a bit.  It starts one year after the end of the Privateer plot.  You are taking an extended vacation on a pleasure planet, when someone steals your Steltek Gun, the hyper-awesome mega-weapon you were awarded for completing Privateer.  Naturally, you climb into the cockpit once again to track down the thief and give him a gentle reminder not to take your stuff.  I thought it was irritating that the install guide didn't tell you where the plot begins.  Talking to a few bartenders will steer you toward Oxford, which is a logical enough place to start gathering clues.  There are also two opportunities to fly missions that are really extensions of the main plot.  These are reached by talking to fixers at Perry Naval Base and Edom Base in New Constantinople.  Once you start flying you'll realize that the Retros, the technology-hating religious fanatics who were only mildly annoying in the first game, are now organized and pose a serious threat to the Confederation.  Your search for the thief will lead you deep into the new Retro organization, and you may even find a few Kilrathi to fry, too.

The big problem with RF is that it's far too easy.  If you have a Centurion with good gear you're practically untouchable.  In the entire game I only found three missions that I considered even remotely challenging.  A Kilrathi ace, a horde of Retros armed with Steltek guns, nothing could touch me.  Origin should have taken into consideration the hefty ships people are likely to be playing with and made the missions a lot harder.  I rarely felt that I was in any danger, so the game quickly degenerated into wave after wave of repetitive combat that was about as challenging as shooting rats with a BFG-9000.

For the most part, I was disappointed with Righteous Fire.  It's fair, but like the game it supports, it could have been so much more.  I expect Origin to follow the pattern they've set with the other Wing Commander games and release one more expansion disk and then a CD-ROM bundle.  With the next disk I hope Origin wises up and produces some challenging missions.  The addition of another ship type would also be a great boost.  If you loved playing Privateer and want something else to do in that universe, by all means pick up Righteous Fire.  But if you're burned out from wasting one too many pirates in your awesome Centurion death machine, don't bother.  It was nice to get back into Privateer, and to play through the mysterious plot, but for me, Righteous Fire got old too quick.