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Pixel Piracy / 10th of March 2016

From the makers of Terraria and the seven-man development team, Quadro Delta, comes a pixelised jaunt across the high seas where the player assembles themselves a rag-tag crew of scoundrels to rule the waves and drink the bars dry of their otherwise copious amounts of rum. Pixel Piracy is a game that has been intended to allow players to live their pirate fantasies from the comfort of their own homes, and on paper anyway, it pretty much has everything that a gamer is going to look for, from an upgradeable ship to RPG levelling and crew management, yet sadly, it still doesn’t manage to enthral or entertain in any way whatsoever.

Contrarily then, the game opens with a surprising amount of humour and character, prompting the player to respond to four questions in order to set up their game by selecting a most recent event, a starting item and hunger and morale depletion rates along with the gender of their character. There are some limited character customisation options (name, face, hat and jacket) that the player can play around with before Blackbeard’s ghosts guides the player through the basics, introducing them to their mission – a quest to defeat four legendary pirates; Alexander Poysky, Vitali Kirpu, John Merchant and Jay Egas, doing so will render the player as the world’s most fearsome pirate to have ever set sail. Naturally, this won’t be an easy task, so the player is forced to hire themselves a crew, underlings that they, as the ship’s captain, can order around. As one might expect, the crew expands as the game progresses, and what once started out a crew of just two (including the player) can soon swell into a well-oiled organisation that affords players the opportunity to divide their ever growing collection of swashbuckling buccaneers into different groups that can be switched between with the press of a button.

Likewise, the Crew Manifest - which allows the player to examine their crew members – can be accessed with the “Y” button (triangle on PS4), here they can see a crew member’s basic stats, these highlight their current level of health, hunger (they must be kept fed in order to remain happy), experience, salary, current level and group. From here, players also have easy access to the inventory so that they can see, or change, what weapons and accessories are equipped, and check out the character’s attributes. As characters level up they earn points which can be used to improve any of six different traits; strength, vitality, intelligence, dexterity, agility and luck. Additionally, there are also skills that can be learned via skill books which can be either found out on one of the world’s many islands or purchased from shops.

The game features several different stores, the bulk of whom are pretty self-explanatory, for instance, the ship shop will offer cannons (plus ammunition), along with maps, pictures and furniture to make the ship a more habitable place, though additionally, new sails can be found to provide an increase in sailing speed, shackles that allow the crew to capture slaves during a battle and food to keep them happy. More interestingly, there’s also what’s known as a Mayor Shop where the player can purchase valuable new skills that enable them to garner more XP, evade incoming attacks, fish, repair their trusty old ship and, believe it or not, swim. For some bizarre reason, these pirates didn’t bother to learn the gentle art of rhythmical water slashing before taking to the high seas, which means that, in a rather antiquated way, contact with the water results in instant death, and to confound this, it is quite possible to be knocked backwards off of the shore of an island after first landing there. This makes combat seem a bit trying at first, and sadly, that doesn’t ever really change.

There’s really not a lot to the combat system to be honest; the player lands on one of the game’s many ships or islands, bumps into either wildlife of pirates and then proceeds to mash the attack button in the hopes that something will eventually die. Of course, when starting out, the character, and his or her crew, are all practically useless, unable to deal much in the way of damage, and most frustratingly of all, their accuracy is practically non-existent, which means that even when attempting to destroy an inanimate object, decimating it takes an inordinate amount of time. This is certainly not helped by fiddly controls which make it problematic to instruct crew members to perform whatever tasks are deemed necessary, though these are also rather limited in scope, but utterly essential as the AI that guides them is so primitive that they cannot identify enemies without being prompted – a trait that carries over into the ship’s gunners too who have no idea as to what a “friendly” port is. As if that wasn’t enough, the distance that players have to be away from foes before being able to issue an attack order is just plain silly, they have stand almost toe-to-toe with them, negating their ability to simply stand back and let the crew do the fighting. Finally, and on a much smaller note (pun intended), the on-screen text, particularly the battle messages, are too diminutive to read, so any information that the game wishes to divulge in regards to the on-screen action is invariably lost on those whose faces aren’t pressed up against their television screens.

The controls utilised in Pixel Piracy are very simple, coming down to just the two sticks (for movement and issuing orders), a selection button and the two bumpers which allow the player to swiftly switch between groups on the fly (as mentioned earlier). However, even this system fails to allow the action to flow properly, coming across as overly cumbersome, especially in combat where the screen shakes ever so slightly following each attack which makes it all the more difficult to use its already fiddly system, typically leaving the player standing about inactive as they try to issue orders to their not so intelligent subordinates. The only positive feature to note about this is that the enemies aren’t so bright either, standing off as friendly troops retreat to heal before returning for another foray, which means that confrontations, except those against the four legendary pirates, are not the most taxing of affairs, but battles can take far too long to finish, rendering this wearisome game a real slog at the best of times.

There’s really not a lot to the combat system to be honest; the player lands on one of the game’s many ships or islands, bumps into either wildlife of pirates and then proceeds to mash the attack button in the hopes that something will eventually die. Of course, when starting out, the character, and his or her crew, are all practically useless, unable to deal much in the way of damage, and most frustratingly of all, their accuracy is practically non-existent, which means that even when attempting to destroy an inanimate object, decimating it takes an inordinate amount of time. This is certainly not helped by fiddly controls which make it problematic to instruct crew members to perform whatever tasks are deemed necessary, though these are also rather limited in scope, but utterly essential as the AI that guides them is so primitive that they cannot identify enemies without being prompted – a trait that carries over into the ship’s gunners too who have no idea as to what a “friendly” port is. As if that wasn’t enough, the distance that players have to be away from foes before being able to issue an attack order is just plain silly, they have stand almost toe-to-toe with them, negating their ability to simply stand back and let the crew do the fighting. Finally, and on a much smaller note (pun intended), the on-screen text, particularly the battle messages, are too diminutive to read, so any information that the game wishes to divulge in regards to the on-screen action is invariably lost on those whose faces aren’t pressed up against their television screens.

The controls utilised in Pixel Piracy are very simple, coming down to just the two sticks (for movement and issuing orders), a selection button and the two bumpers which allow the player to swiftly switch between groups on the fly (as mentioned earlier). However, even this system fails to allow the action to flow properly, coming across as overly cumbersome, especially in combat where the screen shakes ever so slightly following each attack which makes it all the more difficult to use its already fiddly system, typically leaving the player standing about inactive as they try to issue orders to their not so intelligent subordinates. The only positive feature to note about this is that the enemies aren’t so bright either, standing off as friendly troops retreat to heal before returning for another foray, which means that confrontations, except those against the four legendary pirates, are not the most taxing of affairs, but battles can take far too long to finish, rendering this wearisome game a real slog at the best of times.

Pixel Piracy utilises an open world design that takes the concept to extremes, simply dumping the player in a map full of locations with absolutely no direction whatsoever, which, along with the rest of its myriad faults, renders the game as one of the least interesting gaming experiences that I have ever come across. Its sound design also leaves a lot to be desired, with ridiculously loud bangs and clatterings of swords punctuating the general serenity of the game to seemingly highlight some new event, yet instead, all that it did in my case was irritate me immensely, much like the ludicrously repetitive dialogue. I was rather stunned to find that the player’s character actually mutters the same line over and over again throughout combat, which only serves to make an already tedious system even worse.

Normally, I try to put forward as positive a case as a can for any game, but this is actually as good as it gets for Pixel Piracy, it’s without a shadow of a doubt the worst game that I’ve played in recent years. I cannot help but feel that its developers tasked themselves with including a checklist full of features, but forgot to create anything engaging to tie it all together, making it an entirely soulless exercise in the art of pirate simulation and a game that I cannot, under any circumstances, recommend as a purchase.
James Paton
 
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