The latest installment of Origin Systems' prized Wing Commander saga is little more than a clever piece of marketing posing as part of the series. Privateer 2 is a sequel for two reasons only: 1) it shamelessly borrows the original Privateer's strong game design made legendary by Firebird's classic intergalactic trading game Elite, and 2) see part 1. So if you're hoping for the latest Wing Commander game, well, you'll just have to keep on hoping.
Privateer 2 is touted as a Wing Commander game, but no obvious connection exists. What we have instead of a true sequel is an aesthetically pleasing space flight sim seasoned with high budget full motion video and garnished with more bugs and glitches than this reviewer has ever seen in a product boasting Origin's seal of approval. This is no surprise: Privateer 2 was developed by Electronic Arts of Manchester, and delivered to Origin only for last-minute fixes, updates, and improvements. Origin had to clean up after a mess.
Privateer 2 was more than two years in the making. And though marketing may have you believe that this is a testament to its quality, what this lengthy development phase means is that your high-end Pentium machine will likely prove incompatible with the software in any number of ways. For starters, Privateer 2 will not run under Windows 95. Go ahead and dump out to DOS mode if you so much as hope to view the title screen. Its FMV is a technological step in the wrong direction, being darker and more pixelated than Wing Commander IV - and if you own a Rendition Verite-based graphics accelerator card, you won't be able to watch more than ten seconds' worth without your machine grinding to a halt. The game also tends to crash during landing sequences after grueling combat missions or commodity runs. Too bad you can't save until you're safely back at base. Origin's patch is supposed to address all these problems and more, but such a patch cannot mend the frustrating sentiment that Privateer 2 (despite multiple delays) was rushed out the door.
If you can accept its multiple shortcomings, you will find that Privateer 2 is actually a fairly solid game. Its space flight engine is top-notch, featuring highly detailed and very attractive polygonal spacecraft complete with realistic lighting and innovative special effects, such as real-time lens flare. The game's plot, focusing on the hero's misplaced identity, is intriguing and well-acted for the most part, and Privateer 2's interface is fresh and attractive. Yet the enemy AI is mediocre at best, and the plot is almost completely linear. Even the interface may quickly become cumbersome and annoying, with its useless animated buttons and chirpy sound effects. Privateer 2 is set to a MIDI soundtrack (rather than the now-standard redbook or digital audio formats), and you can rest assured it will sound awful unless you're running a Roland Sound Canvas or a comparable MIDI sound board. Its sound effects are average, while the FMV dialogue is oft times unintelligible because of over-sampled background music.
Perhaps Privateer 2 simply pushed all the wrong buttons. To its benefit, this game offers a lengthy quest and a vast variety of spacecraft to fly and fight against. Its simple, almost arcade-like space combat engine is clean, fluid, and visually powerful. If this title hadn't stumbled in so many technical areas, and if it hadn't so wrongfully claimed the Wing Commander name for itself, then poor old Privateer 2 may have found a warmer place in this reviewer's heart.