Developed by ASCARON, the same company that brought us Patrician II, Port Royale is set in the Age of Sail, and gives players the opportunity to explore the bustling world of the Caribbean in the 16th and 17th centuries. Gameplay involves exploring a game world of four million square miles (four times larger than Patrician II), over 60 towns, and four nations -- Dutch, English, Spanish, and French. Players must develop keen pirate instincts as they siege towns, battle other ships, and search for hidden gold. Sea battles can involve over 20 ships, but players can choose to put their ships on auto-pilot during the fighting. Much like Patrician II, players must also worry about developing trade routes, establishing a reputation in their targeted towns, and constructing essential trade buildings when necessary.
Port Royale is the result of the combined effort of Ascaron and Tri-Synergy. It combines the best elements of an action adventure game with economic strategy based in the Caribbean during the golden age of piracy.
During the 1600's and early 1700's, the Caribbean was a wild frontier - skirmishes and minor wars between colonial nations caused many a ship owner to be pressed into service as a privateer. At the same time, ships loaded with goods sailing to Europe proved an irresistible temptation to pirates and cutthroats. Armed with pistols, cutlass and cannon, and recruiting crews from criminals and runaway slaves, the high seas had never been more dangerous or more profitable.
First, you can't look at these game without thinking of Microprose' classic game Pirates! It's very much the same game, only expanded into a detail oriented game, with sophisticated trading system. Pirates! was a fantastic game, and many people (myself included) lost days, weeks, months of our lives to it. Port Royale is no different, save its graphics and sound and even more things for you to do. The interface is mostly point and click, and the game-play is non-linear - you get to do what you want to do, whether it's pursue missions, engage in trade, or jump feet first into a sea battle. It's a big world, and you can approach it as a privateer, a trader or a pirate. Overall, Port Royale is a terribly addicting game.
It's not easy to start the game; as a fledgling sailor you choose your nation of origin (England, Spain France or Holland) and that determines where you start. You can make some minor adjustments to the gaming environment. For example, you can choose the era. For example, by starting in 1570, you'll find that Spain has a pretty large number of ports, which is historically accurate. During that period Spain had the most powerful navy in the world. By starting later, you'll find that Spain's grip on the Caribbean has loosened, and that other countries have started to do well.
You also can choose how your reputation advances, either through sea battles or through trade. In an attempt to better your financial and social situation, you have many avenues open to pursue exploration and trade. You have options to accept missions from local governors, secure Letters of Marque which allow you to become a privateer for a nation, or you can just rob everyone in sight and become a ruthless bloodthirsty pirate. You can build farms and plantations, hire sailors and ship captains to build your fleet, and establish trade routes to line your pockets. If all of this seems a bit much, rest assured that you don't have to micromanage your entire empire - you can assign certain routine tasks to the computer to handle.
Starting with only one unarmed ship, and a handful of gold coins, you buy trade items and hire a crew in an attempt to make your fortune. At this point, the learning curve becomes apparent.
There is a tutorial that takes about an hour to complete, and it pays to take notes. The game isn't so hard to learn. It's just that you have a lot of options.
As you sail from town to town, you'll discover that each port has it's own array of supplies available. By careful planning, your sea route can become quite profitable, resulting in not only monetary gain, but social gain as well - you can become a Governor of an island if you play your cards right. But be prepared for changes because the game does a good job of keeping the markets dynamic - prices rise and fall. Maintaining a fleet helps protect your favored trading routes, which in turn makes you rich and popular. And a good way to get more ships it to capture them by engaging in sea battles.
The map itself is huge! There are over 60 ports, not to counting secret locations, hideouts, and buried treasures. While sailing is done in real time, you do have a time dilation option - you can speed up the clock for those long voyages...
Port Royale uses a simple real-time combat system. You can sink enemy ships, or capture and use them for your own fleet. And some of the more notorious pirates, can be captured and ransomed or turned in for cash (John Fleury made me 6500 gold coins richer), but pirate hunting is hard, and often it seems a complete waste of time. Even so, it's hard not to pursue a pirate that you know is close by. Naturally, the more famous (or infamous) you become, the more likely others will want a piece of you. For example, if you become a ruthless pirate, many ports will refuse entry to you, and you may become the target of military convoys. Of course, if you assemble a large enough fleet, you can attempt to capture them...
The battle graphics are superb, and much more exciting that the "walking around town" graphics. Real looking explosions, people running around, and when ships get hit you see the damage. (Although, when you zoom in, things get a little chunky.) Even the sound in this game is good, and not just in the battles - there is an assortment of period appropriate music and sound effects; the little ambient noises you'd expect to hear, like people working, and the sounds of the ocean..
Battles can be conducted automatically, or manually. Using the manual option allows you to attempt to disable the enemy boat's sails with chain shot, destroy the boat's hull with cannonballs, or kill off the crew with grapeshot. The AI is quite good at figuring out your strategy, so it will act according. Just because you're bigger than your enemy doesn't guarantee a win - you really have to stay sharp and keep an eye on the situation. Often, if you don't destroy the boat outright, you have the option of capturing it. You can have up to 10 ships in your fleet, which is useful when attacking ports and towns. It's significantly harder to capture a port than it is to capture a ship - don't say I didn't warn you. And don't forget to stock the galley. Forgetting to feed your crew is a sure fire way to become a less than favored captain.
Overall, Port Royale is a new version of a classic game, well crafted and very entertaining. While many may think it is just a cheap knock off to coincide with that Disney Movie, think again. With a strong AI, a tried and true game concept, and beautiful graphics and sound, Port Royale is a great game.
People who downloaded Port Royale: Gold, Power and Pirates have also downloaded:
Port Royale 2, Pirates! Gold for Windows, Patrician 3: Rise of the Hanse, Pirate Hunter, Pharaoh and Cleopatra, Sid Meier's Pirates!, Railroad Tycoon 3, Populous: The Beginning
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