Port Royale

Published by Ascaron Entertainment
Distributed by
Bigben Interactive
Developed by Ascaron Entertainment
Platform: PC CD-ROM
Released - Out Now
Price : £29.99

One of the most addictive trading strategy games of recent times is Patrician II. Basically the idea of the game was to sail the seas and trade your way to becoming a Patrician. The location for the game was Europe, where you sailed in the North and Baltic seas, and centred on ports belonging to the Hanseatic League. It wasn't just about trading though, you had to take an interest in your home community and be seen to do good deeds that benefited the whole community. You could even attempt to become Lord Mayor of the town or even the Alderman of the Hanseatic League if you really performed superbly. This short description doesn't do the game justice, it's simply fantastic. Let's see if Port Royale can successfully follow this great title.

Port Royale builds upon the success of Patrician II and is similar in many ways. However, there is one crucial difference, the game is based in the Caribbean in the 16th Century. Yes this is classic pirate territory and it does add extra spice to the gameplay. In essence Port Royale is very similar to Patrician II, especially in the early game where you are establishing yourself in the game. As before you begin with a ship, a storage building and a small amount of gold. You'll take the surplus goods of your town and sell them to a town where they are scarce. The economy is a dynamic one and the price fluctuates in accordance with how plentiful a particular good is. Eventually you'll progress to starting up your own business. This can be far more lucrative as you'll only have to pay for the raw materials, which as you all know are far cheaper than buying the finished article. After you've established lucrative trade runs, which can be automatically set up, you're free to do other things such as accept missions from your local governor, visit the local inn to obtain missions from all sorts of individuals or simply play a game of dice. You can even go pirate hunting or acquire a Letter of Marque and terrorise your opponents, you can even loot their towns by land attacks.

Although you can set up business in other towns as well as your hometown it always pays to keep the needs of your home town close to heart. Making sure you don't let famine fall on your town and providing such facilities as hospitals for its citizens are tasks always worth undertaking. Events such as plagues and fires are random and you never know when they will happen to your town so it's worth placing the town in a good position to deal with them. You have to bear in mind that other traders will reside in your town and favour that would have gone to you can easily go to someone else if you're not pleasing the citizens enough. Completing missions for your governor will also put you in a good light with the town. You should also keep an eye on the morale of you ships' crew too as they can become dissatisfied if you don't look after them.

A noticeable change from Patrician II is the absence of a campaign. Port Royale features a tutorial and an open-ended game for the single player. At first I thought this was to the detriment of the game. After playing the open-ended game for many hours though I haven't really missed the campaign, although I still feel the tutorial campaign in Patrician II was excellent and gave you insight on how to progress from a shopkeeper to a Patrician.

The open-ended game lets you set a few variables that allow you to make the game a very different experience each time you play. You can play as one of four nations, Spain, England, France or the Netherlands. You can choose to play from one of four starting dates and this choice when combined with your choice of nation will have far reaching consequences. The dates you can start from are 1570, where the Spanish are all-powerful and hold a majority of the towns. In 1600 the French are developing into a force to be reckoned with and have 10 towns under their control. 1630 sees the English making their presence felt with 12 towns under their control. Finally 1660 sees the Spanish in severe decline but overall it's pretty much a level playing field whether you plays as the English, French, Spanish or Dutch. You can also choose what career level the game will end at, as well as an unlimited, or a 1-5 year game and you can also set the difficulty of the sea battles. There are some other modifiers you can choose from. You choose which town you want to start in and whether you start with a Sloop and have 20,000 gold, a Brig and have 12,000 gold or a Pinnace and have 30,000 gold. You can also choose whether you're a buccaneer or trade expert and whether you are enterprising, charismatic or have enhanced aiming accuracy. These variations mean the replay value is almost endless and that no two games will ever play the same.

One area of the game that has been beefed up is the naval combat. As you progress through the game you'll experience more and more interruptions from pirates and you can either leave the battle to the AI or you can control them yourself. I'd recommend that you take control yourself, as the battles are impressive. You have three types of cannon balls that you can use. There are massive cannon balls, which are used to damage your opponent's hull. Chain-shot are smaller cannon balls, connected with a chain that are used to damage the ships sails. Finally there is grapeshot, which explodes on being fired and can take out many of the enemy's crew. You don't have to destroy the enemy ships either as your crew can board the ship and that enables you to take the loot as well as claim the ship.

Graphically Port Royale is a big jump from Patrician II. The sea map view is still 2D, but looks great. The town view and the sea battles are all in 3D though and look fantastic. You can zoom in or out but you are unable to rotate the view at all but this wouldn't achieve anything if you could do it. You can make buildings, that are not yours, transparent in order to make finding your own building easier, which is a blessing at the beginning of the game. Top marks have to go to the developers for the water effects, as the seas look brilliant. Each nation has their own architecture which is brilliant and makes playing as different nations feel worthwhile somehow.

Port Royale is absolutely superb for deaf gamers with the only glitch being that the introduction is not subtitled. The tutorial and all in-game information is subtitled. The game uses a mixture of icons and text to relay information to you and it's a system that works flawlessly. The log button will gain a red outline when there is news for you to read and all in game video clips have a text message to tell you what is happening. It's quite superb in its provision for deaf gamers.

Gamers have waited a long time for a modern equivalent to Sid Meier's Pirates! but in Port Royale that's exactly what we have and fans of that old classic will love this. Fans of Patrician II will also love it too. I've tried to mention what I can about the game but the chances are there are some great bits I haven't. There is just so much right with the game that once you've familiarised yourself with it, you'll have trouble getting away from it.

Overall Game Rating: 9.2/10
Brilliant! I've had trouble getting away from the game in order to do this review. I would have liked to have seen a tutorial campaign like in Patrician II but otherwise it's a brilliant effort. A strategy classic.

Deaf Gamers comment:
Intro isn't subtitled but brilliant in every other way.