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Old-fashioned concept, but cool puzzle structure, November 19, 2008
Piracy 2.0 takes a not-especially-novel premise about a ship attacked in space (see also Orevore Courier, Across the Stars, et al.) and makes something better-than-average out of the results. As the captain of the Ceres, you have to escape the brig and find a way to regain control of, or at least neutralize, your ship before the pirates have a chance to use it as a pirate vessel.
What makes the game a standout is how many and interesting are your options once you've escaped confinement. The ship has a lot of different features -- weapons, navigation, abilities to shut off parts of the ship from one another, etc. -- and there are a number of different ways to use all those features to produce different outcomes. So the main part of the game feels not so much as though you're working through a stack of set puzzles, but as though you're really coming to grips with a complex system and then inventing ways to use it against the pirates. This is hugely satisfying. To make this work, the Ceres has been designed in a lot of detail (feelies for the game include a very classy-looking diagram of the ship, which is useful).
Detractors have noted some lack of polish in certain areas (actually, the game gets sturdier after you leave the first couple of rooms, contrary to the general trend of IF games), and there appear to be a couple of puzzle solutions that produce buggy results. (Spoiler - click to show)In particular, trying to escape in the lifeboats may kill you even though by rights you ought to be getting away, or so it seems -- and you can still be killed by the pirates in person if you rig the sleeping gas then escape by lifeboat, even though you should have left them far behind. With luck, these aspects will be improved in a future release of the game.
Even with more polish, Piracy will always be a bit derivative as a story. The world-building relies a lot on tropes from popular SF, and at that it's more Star Trek than Firefly. Your crewmates get some passing attention, enough to make them seem less like ciphers, but you won't be interacting too much with most of them.
But then, story isn't the main point of this game. It's meant to be fun and challenging, and it is. I found myself constantly on the edge of getting stuck... and constantly having that "well, let me just try THIS ONE THING" thought before I completely gave up. Despite some gameplay remnants of a much earlier age (an instant death room, randomized combat sequences), overall Piracy 2.0's design works very well. I would love to play more games that had a similarly rich, open-ended challenge -- one that didn't really feel like a "puzzle" (with all the artificial implications) at all.