Wing Commander: Privateer 2 -- The Darkening represents a significant change from the open-ended gameplay of its predecessor. You complete missions such as hiring and escorting a freighter to deliver cargo to earn money for upgrades, buying better fighters, or hiring wingmen. The freedom to fly the cargo runs yourself, though, has been stripped from the mix of possibilities, as you're limited to flying only fighters, albeit customizable with unique weapons and systems.
The story is revealed through high quality FMV cut-scenes, but unlike the original, you're restricted to following the main story with little or no communication with other ships or the chance to make meaningful decisions. The MS-DOS game requires heavy tweaking and perseverance to run under Windows and is known for its tendency to crash often. The lack of a floating save option guarantees loss of significant playtime when you die before a save point.
You play as Lev Arris, an amnesiac who awakens in a hospital knowing only that he was pulled from a crashed freighter and found in a damaged cryogenic pod. Your memories are gone, but you have a sizable bank account. Solving the mystery of who you are, and what you're trying to accomplish is the crux of the story.
The Darkening can hold little claim to the Wing Commander: Privateer title, as the familiar cast of characters and races is gone, replaced by cardboard contenders. Inexplicably, designer Erin Roberts ignored the rich history of the Wing Commander: Privateer universe so lovingly crafted by his brother Chris in earlier installments. The lack of open-ended gameplay, so crucial to its predecessor's success, coupled with low sound and music quality, flagrant loss of continuity, and the game's propensity to crash, detract from the nice graphics and smooth framerates.
As unfulfilling as the game is, the highpoint is without doubt the superb acting of Christopher Walken and John Hurt, but even that can't overcome the lamentable separation from its solid roots.
You are Ser Lev Arris in this "sequel" to the original Privateer. Go on a search to regain your identity and memory in this interactive movie/space combat game. Along the way, you can trade commodities, go on missions, attack strange mutants, rescue damsels in distress, meet weird characters, and visit unusual planets. You can hire wingmen and cargo ships, upgrade your ship or buy new ones, and watch lots of live-action movies.
Privateer 2: The Darkening is an excellent sequel to Origin's classic Wing Commander: Privateer, although Origin made the unfortunate decision to sacrifice gameplay depth in favor of slick full-motion video sequences a la Wing Commander III. Which is not to say the The Darkening is a bad game. Far from it: it is fun, it has the best flight engine thus far in a Wing Commander game (until later releases like Prophecy anyway), it boasts excellent production value including an impressive cast (including Christopher Walken and John Hurt), it has an intriguing 'space opera' plot, and it offers dozens of challenging and lengthy missions.
So why is The Darkening inferior to Privateer? The answer, I think, is that the game loses the carefree, go-anywhere-you-want feel of the original game. Since Origin went the FMV route, where most missions are introduced and the plot unfolded via movie clips, this means the gameworld is much smaller than in Privateer, and the game much more linear. This limited freedom makes the game feel much more like a Wing Commander game than a Privateer game. Which is not a bad thing, except that one would expect the game titled Privateer 2 to be a true sequel to Privateer and maintain its freelancing spirit. There are still enough profiteering opportunities (buying & selling cargo between planets, for example), but the extent of freedom is much less compared to the original.
There are also other oversights that will irk fans of Privateer. One big blow that significantly reduces the replayability of Privateer 2 is the absence of RMG, Random Mission Generator. This feature is part of what makes the first Privateer so replayable. Playing the same missions over and over in The Darkening, is naturally much more boring, so you would be less likely to re-install it after you beat the game. The game is also plagued with more than a few bugs, a sign that Origin rushed it out the door before it was 100% ready.
The Darkening does offer some big improvements over the original, although it is naturally to expect that: technology in 1996 is naturally superior to what Origin had in 1993. This means you will be treated with great-looking 3D graphics, and a great flight engine that would set the new standard for all subsequent Wing Commander games. Despite a smaller gameworld, there are more ships to pilot and destroy, and more planets you can land on. Overall, The Darkening is a great game with top-notch graphics and acting. If you regard the game as a plot-driven Wing Commander game than a true heir of , Privateer's free-wheeling spirit, you will have a blast. Highly recommended.
People who downloaded Privateer 2: The Darkening have also downloaded:
Privateer: Righteous Fire, Wing Commander Privateer (CD-ROM), Wing Commander: Privateer, Wing Commander: Prophecy - Gold, Wing Commander 3: Heart of the Tiger, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, Wing Commander: Privateer - Gemini Gold, Wing Commander 1
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