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iOS Review: Crimson: Steam Pirates

Brad Cummings
United States
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The Stats:
Compatibility: iPad.
Current Price: Free.
Developer/Publisher: Harebrained Schemes/Bungie Aerospace
Version: 1.0
Size: 142 MB
Multiplayer: Pass and Play on one device.
AI: Yes, within the scenarios.
Itunes link:


The Good:
- Overall quality design. Simplifies the complexities of a pen and paper miniatures game into a smooth video game design.
- Freemium pattern seems to work here, allowing you to try before you by, as this title may not be for everyone.
The Bad:
- Its simplicity may not appeal to all.
- There are a few minor control bugs, and I would love to see online multiplayer as well as global leaderboards.
Crimson: Steam Pirates is a turned based tactical ship battle game that has been said to relate to the miniatures system Pirates of the Spanish Main. It was developed by Harebrain Schemes and has received a lot of press as it was published by Bungie.

In Crimson: Steam Pirates players control a fleet of steam powered ships (and in some cases airships) to complete the objective of each mission. Currently, apart from 2 multiplayer duel maps, play is limited to the scenarios provided by the game. Players must use the tools given to them to complete each mission. These missions included capturing enemy ships, collecting gold, destroying certain enemies, and many more. Players control and direct their ships by dragging out the path they wish them to follow. The game automatically determines how far each ship can go and how long it takes to make certain maneuvers such as turning and reversing. When directing their ships, players must avoid obstacles and their other ships to avoid getting being sent off course. The crew on each ship will provide that ship with special abilities. Ships can only use one ability per turn and usually players must wait at least one turn before using that ability again. These abilities include: repair, full steam (increases movement), double powder (longer range shooting) and many more. Combat is done automatically as soon as an enemy ship is in range. Players can check the firing arc of their ship by holding down on its image. Though damage and other maladies will be shown visually on the ship, players can click on the ship to get more specific information about it. The controls of the game are simple but there is more depth lying under the beautiful exterior than is initially apparent.

Crimson: Steam Pirates has had a great deal of hype surrounding it (for an iOS game) because it is published by Bungie. Many of you reading this may have already downloaded this app based solely on this fact. However, hype aside Crimson: Steam Pirates is a fun and simple miniatures-esque game with more depth than may initially be apparent. Its Bungie accolades adds not only a large popular draw but a great and sleek video game polish.

Crimson: Steam Pirates in interface and graphics offers a mesh of two worlds. On one hand you have the sleek and stylized approach of a video game and on the other you have a strategic miniatures games with layers of depth and planning. The video game side attempts to hide the more strategic information in a series of menus in order to provide smooth gameplay. You can move your ships by clicking and dragging. Once all ships are in position you start the turn by hitting the play button. This the extent of basic gameplay but there is much more craftily hidden underneath. By clicking on the helm of each ship you bring up their special abilities. These are all shown by fairly straightforward symbols and when you select one the game will list the special ability and what it does below. Some of these abilities only come into play in certain situations. The repair ability will repair your ship only when it is damaged. The game provides visual cues if your ship is damaged, such as fires on the decks and a sinking ship. However, if you wish to get more technical you can click on the ship to see its exact damage status. The boarding ability is also similar as it only comes in to play at certain points. Again the game offers more information through menus, you can click on a ship to see its crew and decide which members will help in certain boarding situations. The combat system is another one that can seem simple, firing is done automatically when ships are in range, but actually packs more underneath than you first expect. Complications include: certain weapons will only work against certain foes, ships will only fire when a target is within range, and smaller ships pack less firepower but can move more quickly and through shallow water. Examples of these layers of information and complexity can be seen throughout the game, and it does an excellent job of packaging and organizing all of this information. A few bugs do occur, such as when you are tying to access special abilities of different ships that are near each other, it can be quite difficult to select the right one. There also is no easy way to save your game, if you happen to quit out for some reason, your game progress will be lost. This can be very frustrating in longer more complicated missions. Overall Crimson: Steam Pirates will impress you with its interface and design, however there are a few small flies in a very pleasing ointment.

The menu design features photographic images of actual individuals in steam punk outfits. This is carried on throughout the app even in the crew images on the different ships. The images are fun and very thematic (though honestly this type of art is not my style), and serve to tie the whole package together. They also help connect the game to Crimson Skies, a previous PC release that appears to be of the same game universe. The menu carries on the sleek design of the in-game play. To access the basic options they simply scroll in, rather than taking the user to a separate screen. It is a very clean package.

The game comes with 8 mission included in the free install. For $1.99 you can access 8 new missions that boast new features and abilities. One other package of content is planned with others on the way, I am sure. The average player will beat the first 8 missions in around 3-4 hours. This is a great amount of content for free, my only question is about replayability. The game does offer a point score for each mission, so you can attempt missions again in hopes of achieving a better score. You can compare these scores with other friends using a built in facebook connection. Sadly, currently none of my friends have the game so I am the top of a leaderboard of one. The addition of a global leaderboard would provide players a better ranking to go by and possibly motivation to replay completed missions. Though leaderboards currently provide little replay motivation, I do see myself wanting to reattempt early missions just to try new strategies, now that I am more experienced.

I really enjoy this system. It starts out simple but a lot of depth is shown as the missions get more challenging and they array of special abilities increases. It becomes a strategic exercise to determine which abilities to use and at what times. Do you use your full steam ability to jump into the action or do you save it to make a quick escape? As more tools are unlocked for different scenarios, I am dying to try to combine them in missions outside of the confines of the scenarios. Currently, there are two multiplayer scenarios that allow for this kind of play. One has one player defending a damaged ship from two waves of attackers and another has players rushing to rescue stranded crew members to add their abilities to their team. Both are fun but work only in pass and play. This is a great system and will work well in some situations. However, I wish online multiplayer was one of this app’s features.
This app has quickly risen to the top downloads on the app store and would provide an ample player pool for realtime or asynchronous online multiplayer. The game offers a single player campaign that is fun and interesting, however, like many campaigns it feels like training. Like in Star Craft, once the campaign is done it is time to test your skills online. It would provide a perfect sandbox in which to test new abilities and new combinations. Do not get me wrong, Crimson: Steam Pirates is an excellent system, online multiplayer would just open a whole new world.

Crimson: Steam Pirates probably doesn’t need my praise. The Bungie name alone (though they are only publisher, not developer) is enough to give this game an initial push. I only mention it here to reinforce that though the game is a simple tactical game on the surface, it offers an underlying complexity that can entertain and challenge.
Rating: 3/4 Good
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