The most fun we've had on the high seas since Sid Meier's Pirates
Things are kind of rough for Thomas Blood right now. After shattering his family’s reputation and generations of service to the British Crown – by attempting to kill Queen Victoria no less – Blood has been picked up by the Royal Navy, chained, and shipped off to a mining colony. What’s worse is that he was only trying to kill the Queen because she asked him too. Still, there’s always a good pirate like Captain Blackheart just waiting to free such a scoundrel and add him to her band of renegades.
As a newly christened pirate, players will guide Blood and his slowly growing armada on a variety of high seas adventures in the late 19th century. But these high seas aren’t quite the same ones that existed in our 1888. In the world of Crimson, the Confederacy succeeded in secession thanks to backing from the British, and now patrols the waters of the Caribbean as the Navy of the Confederate States of America. Also, piracy lasted about half a century longer than it did in our world. Also also – everything’s delightfully steampunk, thanks to about 100 years of technological development based on the lost works of Leonardo Da Vinci.
Clearly, this is an alternate timeline with a rich history. Still, the story only makes up half of the appeal here. Once you dig through the cool story (much of which is expanded upon outside of the game on the developer’s website), Crimson: Steam Pirates really shines is exactly where you’d want it to – in its gameplay. That’s not to say we’re not delighted to go on a mission with Mark Twain to rescue Nikolai Tesla and have him reward us with awesome lightning tech, but we’re just so pleased with how much fun these missions are to play.
Gameplay here is turn-based, allowing players to set a course for each of their ships and give each a specific command before clicking “play” and watching the action unfold. Different ships have different speeds and hull strengths, as well as different crews with different abilities, meaning no two ships will play exactly alike. As the game progresses you’ll sometimes be joined by some neat vehicles asides from just boats, like zeppelins and submarines. Each level will give you a specific set of vehicles to work with, and losing any one of them will cost you the mission, so you’ll need to really think out your moves in advance to make the best possible use of your armada.
Missions will range from things like “capture this ship,” to “destroy these forts” and “rescue this ally.” The gameplay remains pretty much unchanged for each, but sharp level design means no two levels ever feel too much the same.
Crimson: Steam Pirates also supports local multiplayer, with two modes that really trump any kind of ho-hum deathmatch you might have expected to find here. In the first of these, one player will try to protect a single disabled ship from the attacks of the other. In the second, players will be rescuing stranded sailors out of the water in an attempt to build a crew with the special abilities needed to blow your opponent out of the water.
As fun as it is though, there are so many ways that Crimson: Steam Pirates could be improved upon. For example – if I can hook mission-specific ships to capture them, why can’t I hook any ships? Even if these don’t carry over to the next mission, it would be great to be given the option of boarding vs bombarding when going up against an opposing navy. And why I can’t I upgrade or tweak my ships in any way? To me, a simple upgrade system seems like a no brainer. And while the local multiplayer is great, there’s zero reason Crimson wouldn’t work online. If anything, it’s a perfect candidate for asynchronous multiplayer. Not including online play seems like a pretty sizable oversight for a game like this.
But in the end, there’s one complaint that simply trumps everything else – we just wish there were more of it. I suppose that’s more of a compliment than a complaint, but even with the in-app purchase of Chapter 2, you’re only getting 16 chapters. And since there’s very little replay value to these, and no online play to guarantee you’ll always have an opponent, Crimson becomes a game that you’ll love but ultimately delete from your iPad after a single play through – at least until Chapter 3 comes out.
Crimson: Steam Pirates is easily amongst the best games on the iPad so far, but at the same time, it feels like only the framework for something that could be much bigger. Don’t get me wrong – Crimson: Steam Pirates is an absolute must play—it’s just that there’s more we’d love to see them do with it. Here’s to hoping that future updates deliver on some of the wish list that we’ve put together in this review.
- Fantastic alternate history setting and story. Great turn-based combat that feels perfect on a touch screen. Well designed levels mean no two ever feel alike. Great local multiplayer.
- Lacks online multiplayer. Very little replay value.