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Game Review

The "van Hoorn" Snow is a serviceable ship. She can hold her own in any waters, especially when her crew stands hale and hearty. But this day an ill wind blows and a pair of 22-Gun Corsairs are cutting us apart, plank from beam.

"Come about and feed 'em chain shot," I order, in an attempt to slow the speedy blaggards and afford us a decent chance. As the men scramble to reload, though, our portside gunwales take another splintering blast of cannon fire and look about to give way. But luck is with us as the aft six-pounder lands true and snaps the lead pirate's main mast. There's our chance for escape. "Make full sail, lads," I scream. "Move smartly, now. Haul wind!"

OK, the dialogue is all in my imagination. And I'm actually sitting in front of a PC monitor, safe and sound in my basement office. But the action is 100 percent Pirates of the Burning Sea, the Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) from Flying Lab Software.

Three-Corner Hat, Check
When showing up for seagoing duty, players swagger into a 1720s Caribbean that's been divvied up by the Spanish, French and English—with pirates grabbing whatever they can sink their hooks into. Gamers create a male or female character and decide on a country to call their own. Then they assume the role of either a naval officer, a privateer or a free trader. And those who choose to be pirates are nothing more than scallywag scoundrels—arrgh!

These roles cover the three basic pursuits of the game. Officers shine in high-sea warfare and get first shot at the larger, fortified ships. Privateers are adventurers who blend melee swashbuckling and sea battles. And free traders get the big cargo ships to drive the world's economy. Pirates, meanwhile, don't get to have "careers." They just do dastardly piratey things.

Cutlass, Check
You start out in a major port of your chosen country with a nice little ship and crew to call your own. The game eases you up to speed with a variety of fun land and sea quests that teach you basic skills. For instance, you get to choose from three different swashbuckling styles—Dirty fighting with a cutlass and sly attacks; Fencing with a rapier, delivering high-damage thrusts; and Florentine, a defensive style using a short sword and dagger.

Quests range from joining conflicts between countries to personal deliveries to treasure hunts to bodyguard duties. And with each fulfilled task and uncovered treasure you earn a fistful of doubloons that you can apply to purchasing better weapons and upgrading your ship's appointments (hull reinforcements, cannons, etc.). If you really want to start earning cash you can build a lumberyard or an ore mill. Then you can start making such things as sails, ships and gunpowder that other players will bid on and hand over their hard-earned gold for.

Spyglass, Check
Sea battles, however, are easily the high point of Pirates gameplay. Being conscious of your ship's capabilities in different weather conditions; tactically staging maneuvers around your opponent (and keeping those cannons pointed in his direction); choosing the best munitions to either slow the enemy, damage his hull or diminish his crew; and judging the right moment to grapple and board an opposing ship are all part of the high-seas stratagem. Whether you're battling AI opponents or other online players (optional port battles can result in an epic 48-ship free-for-all) the plotting, planning and team play can send shivers up and down your timbers.

Potential gamers with dreams of treasure in their hold and salt air in their face should remember, however, that Pirates of the Burning Sea isn't just about planning attacks and constructing defenses. It's about actually attacking and being struck. And though not unduly gory like some games, all that swordplay on ship decks and in sandy coves results in some blood-spurting thrusts and hacks. Characters do die at your hand.

Sensual content involves a few flirty quests and a view of a sheik's harem. The game also offers female avatars the option of dressing in rather skimpy attire—including cleavage- and midriff-baring outfits.

The Clock, Check It
But as with any MMOG the longest plank to walk is the amount of time you can spend behind an eye patch and in front of your computer screen. Pirates of the Burning Sea does not demand that you grind away for days just to get to the fun parts. But time can end up being a stolen treasure nonetheless. This being an online game with a monthly subscription fee, the quests are perpetual. And when you finally earn that big warship you've been saving up for, it almost begs you to sail for a couple more hours just to see how she rides the waves.

So beware me hearties. Here be a game that could well offer ye an ocean's-worth o' merriment. But too much time spent sending others to their watery graves could end up drownin' the likes of you as well.

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Bob Hoose

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