Create your own pirate army in this R-rated strategy game dubbed Cutthroats: Terror on the High Seas -- that's "Arrr-matey!" It's an involved quest that runs you through an adventure of many years and several ships. The action is slow moving, even when it's happening, so don't expect the story to be filled with suspense.
However, the possibilities of destruction that your career entail are endless. The adventure begins with a single pirate vessel and a limited crew. The ship, a sloop, is small but maneuverable. Eventually, you'll own several ships with many types of cargo and people.
The game contains a very complex adventure in which you'll need to use multiple interfaces. On the map screen, you can track the attitude, wealth, population and import/export of any town by placing the cursor over the map pin and clicking the RMB. This is a very useful feature for several reasons. Towns showing a frowning face in the attitude icon might not want to trade with you, thus, docking at these towns will prove fruitless. If your goal is to raid a town, you'll want to check their population first. The smaller the town, the less gun turrets and other obstacles that will prevent you from pillaging or razzing.
The wealth and population of villages go hand in hand and the former is something to consider before your journey. For example, if a town has lots of money, you can probably sell one of your larger ships to them. Most towns with only a few gold bars in the wealth icon won't have enough money to buy all of your goods, let alone a large ship.
Lastly, imports and exports are critical considerations should you choose to be a trader. If a town is exporting cocoa, for instance, you can buy it for less than at any other location since they need to unload their surplus. By purchasing the cocoa, then selling it to a town that needs the product (cocoa is shown under their import icon), you make a profit.
The map screen is important but it's only part of what you use for an interface. When another ship is nearby, you're prompted to go to the Crow's Nest where you decide your next action. The enemy ship (or friendly, as the case may be) you encounter flies its national flag and shows its intentions via the communication flag. You can do the same thing; however, the national flags don't seem to help much in some situations.
As an example, if you have a reputation of ruthlessness, a Spanish, French, Dutch or English ship will still attack. Usually the Spanish ships attack in pairs if you don't have a large fleet or are low on marines. The flags do help if you're not well known and, if your fame is at a low level, you won't be as recognizable and can mask as the enemy. Regardless, there comes a point in time when the nationality flags become useless due to your reputation and fame.
The communication flags, however, are very useful. Some ships exchange information if you both fly the appropriate flag while others request food and escort services from time to time -- this is a two way street and you can make similar requests as well. The most useful flag is the No Quarter skull and crossbones. Once you've pillaged and killed many times, your reputation becomes so fierce you can simply raise this flag and the opposition will surrender.
If you find yourself in a bind and out of ammunition, you can raise the flag of surrender and start anew at the nearest port (unless you're convicted of piracy, at which point the game ends). If you don't like using the map screen, you can utilize the Crow's Nest to go from town to town but it takes much longer.
The third major screen or interface is the battle view. When you attack or get attacked by a vessel or raid or pillage a town, you access the battle screen. This is also the point of most detail found in the game but it's still not very impressive. It's difficult to discern who has fired their cannons at who because all you see are puffs of smoke.
Spanish battle ships look colorful and impressive but, when you capture one, they completely change. It's annoying that your fleet always ends up dull looking, no matter what the captured ship initially looked like. For example, after capturing a Brig vessel, it eventually looks and handles exactly like a Fluyte. Instead of getting a maneuverable, tough cool-looking ship, you end up with a sluggish, ugly cargo vessel.
During the course of the game, the difference between a Frigate (large warship) and a Fluyte (sluggish cargo vessel) is hard to determine. In addition, it would have been helpful if the type of ship were stated next to the name at all times. Battle mode encompasses several different facets to explore besides simply firing your guns. For example, you can select various types of ammunition to load in your cannons such as double, chain and single shot.
If need be, you can also abandon ship, puncture its hull, blow it up and escape with your rowboats. When attacking an enemy, you can concentrate fire on their hull, sails, deck or the entire ship. If you attempt to board the other ship, a window pops up and shows your marine numbers versus the enemies. Do not attempt to board and capture a ship unless you have plenty marines to do the job!
Lastly, when you dock at a town you have several options. You can trade goods, talk to the governor, repair and buy ships, weapons, ammunition and guns. Every governor, though, seems to have the same things to say. The idea behind talking with the governor is to bribe him to get a better reputation and attain access to trading with the town.
Cutthroats: Terror on the High Seas can become an up-all-night strategy experience but first you must learn the basics. Once you figure out how to make money and gain a reputation, the game really takes off. If you stick with it, vessels will just surrender to you rather than put up a fight. When you get that far, the difficulty factor becomes keeping your crew happy (especially when there are 400 of them or more).
The graphics are not stunning and the sounds get repetitive very quickly but it's a complex game with a huge manual and many possibilities. The game is time consuming but not difficult to figure out and the manual has in-depth coverage of every important aspect. If you're willing to make a significant time investment in determining how the game plays, you'll be rewarded with a good strategy experience.
Graphics: The graphics serve their purpose to the least possible extent. Your vessels aren't varied enough in appearance while enemy vessels can look much different (such as the gold color of the Spanish Brigs). Even at its most detailed point, the game has rough graphics. The water in the battle mode flows in an interesting fashion but the actual color of both ships and water is very pixelated.
Sound: The sound is minimal with some quiet background music in certain areas. Each time you select an action, a member of your crew utters a remark (e.g., "Aye aye captain"). Since this is a long running game, it would have been nice to hear your crew say something different once in awhile. After an hour of play, you'll have heard every remark the crew will ever say.
Enjoyment: Once you get a few ships together and find your way to a few towns, the game gets to be lots of fun. Your career will be varied each and every time you play; thus, if your career goes down to Davy Jones' locker, you can still get a fresh start at a new port.
Replay Value: Not only can you choose what year in which your campaign begins but also, every time you play, your fleet will be different. However, the game will always play the same even if you're in a different year. Each year simply has unique attitudes for each town (plus in one year, the pirate port has been captured).
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