Amongst the tidal wave of new releases hitting us in September is the new title in the Port Royale series. Port Royale 3: Pirates and Merchants is the third instalment of the business simulation game, Port Royale, from developers Gaming Minds Studios and Publishers Kalypso Media.
At the title screen, players are greeted with a few options; the main ones of note being either a Free Play option or a Campaign option. I was instantly drawn to the Campaign mode, and was glad I made that decision, because the Free Play mode is definitely designed for those who have had previous experience with the franchise.
In the Free Play mode, players can customise all sorts of options such as Nation, Home Town, Starting Year, etc. One thing that did surprise me is that the options for difficulty are normal, advanced or professional, meaning the team at Gaming Mind Studios obviously thought players would want some sort of challenge when dipping their toe into this sea adventure.
The Campaign mode has two routes you can take, which you need to choose from instantly; Trader or Adventurer. The Trader focuses on living out the life of an economist, working to develop small towns into glorious cities, while the Adventurer focuses on learning sea combat and tackling pirates to win the hearts of maidens. For some reason I made the wrong decision and chose Trader, however I quickly rectified this and booted up an Adventurer campaign save shortly after completing the tutorial.
The tutorial for the game is worth discussing because regardless of the campaign route you choose, you will have to complete the same tutorial if you want to play both Trader and Adventurer. This is not a bad thing, as the tutorial is designed well enough to give you an overall understanding of the basics of trading and maintaining a town, as well as building a convoy or fleet of ships in which to attack. You are given little missions throughout the tutorial which are also presented alongside a video if you want to learn more. When completing the tutorial for the first time it took roughly forty minutes, however it only needed about fifteen minutes when I started out my second campaign save as an adventurer.
The story takes place in the Caribbean during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and is your typical boy meets girl story, with the player cast as a young male Spanish commoner thrown overboard in a storm and washed up at Port Royale. Here you get to make a name for yourself in the tutorial before trying to save Elena, the daughter of the Viceroy. Your adventure then truly starts. As a trader you make a name for yourself by being an aid to the Viceroy and running errands and as an adventurer you are more proactive, looking for clues on treasure maps and hunting pirates.
The Trader campaign really failed to engage me as a player and I can’t pinpoint why. There are different commodities produced in each town, and if you learn each one, then perhaps you can become a lot better at trading and making money in a faster manner to help you along, but I found sailing back and forth between cities got tiresome very quickly. On the other hand, when I was at my wits end with the game, and I found the Adventurer campaign, I actually started to enjoy myself.
The controls work quite well with Port Royale 3, which I have to admit was another part of the game I was very dubious about when first loading it up. I have never experienced a very well crafted control system in an RTS / Business simulator game on a console apart from the wonderful Halo Wars by Ensemble Studios. It was a nice surprise then to find that the control system with Port Royale 3 was actually quite intuitive. The only time this was not the case was with the combat.
The combat system tries to make it as easy as possible for you to blast your enemy out of the water, and if you want to sit back you can have the computer automate the combat, but where’s the fun in that? When you go into combat there is a lot going on as you control different ships. In addition to the three or four ships you control, you will also have to navigate around your enemies’ fleet, also containing numerous different ships, which means the screen can become a bit busy.
You can also boost your ship’s defence and attack capability by loading it with sailors to man the cannons and buying ammunition. To me it just felt a bit clumsy. I was expecting it to flow really well but it didn’t engage me and at points infuriated me, which was a bit of a shame. As I continued the game I found that it was easier to just let the computer automate the combat for you, however there are some instances where you need to control the battle manually in order to board ships, so you will need to be experienced with the combat system.
The final thing I would like to mention about the game, and perhaps warn players about, is the outdated graphics. I was shocked to see cut scenes presented to me via a voiceover on top of a poorly animated painting, both of which were reminiscent of something I would expect from a low budget Playstation 1 title. Once in the game it isn’t much better, with the animation of your tutor being something akin to what I remember graphics being like in the mid 90s. It is a great shame, because with current games in the market, these graphics will not cut it for what gamers now expect.
In closing, this game wasn’t really my bag. The story was poorly executed from the cutscenes to the plot and the controls threw me off a little. The game has a steep learning curve and no real incentive for you to continue playing. The game is open ended so you could continue your adventures but I had my fill of the game a long time ago. I am sure fans of the series will love the new instalment, but with so many other titles being released each week now as we build up for Christmas, I expect this to get little attention and would be hard pressed to recommend otherwise.