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Port Royale 2

If you’re going to base a game around any period in time and place, then the 17th century Caribbean has to be a sound choice. It’s no coincidence that so many films have concentrated on the same territory, with the beautiful scenery, intense sea battles, fortunes to be made, pirates and all the lingo that comes with them. All you have to do is mention words like ‘treasure’, ‘cove’ and ‘rum’ to set peoples’ imaginations going. Port Royale 2 really capitalises on this – it even comes with a separate fold out map of the Caribbean – but fails to excite and deliver on quite the scale that other games manage.

Essentially, Port Royale 2 is an open-ended strategy game where your objective is really one thing – to make as much money as possible. With the English, French, Spanish and Dutch vying for control of the region, you can make a tidy profit from both trading and fighting. You take on the roll of a young adventurer who aims to establish a large trading empire in the area by building up a fleet of ships and a group of businesses. Towns can be taken over, competitors bought out and ships plundered. It all starts to sound very exciting, but when you start up the game for the first time and delve into the gameplay, a horrible realisation will strike you; that it isn’t at all as thrilling as it makes out.

Now excuse me for not taking a measured and patient approach to things, but when I play a game, I want to be drawn in with my attention valued by the game. I should be welcomed and eased into the game world, where everything is explained carefully for me. Port Royale 2‘s tutorials greet you and introduce you to every aspect of the gameplay, but it’s done in such a tiresome and mind-numbing way that you can’t help but be put off by it. Each lesson teaches you just about all you need to know by getting you to progress through a sequence of little checkpoints, after which a little bell sounds. Click this, bringgg, click that, bringgg, and so on. What’s more annoying is that there’s just so much of it and it’s not really integrated with the main game like we see in Halo and Prince of Persia. It’s not subtle, things don’t develop around you and the learning curve is so steep. Instead of easing you in, you have to attend a lesson, learn everything and then jump into the deep end.

If you do venture straight into the main free-play game, then you probably won’t last very long unless you’re a veteran of the first game. You see, the pressure is on from the beginning to make money from trading, not by piracy. Try and take your measly ship out to sea and attempt to rob a random vessel at the start and you’ll come back to port with a ship like a sieve, if any at all. Instead, you have to do things the hard way, saving up enough money to buy a decent ship to wage war in.

Every town has a list of what it can supply and what it needs, so obviously you can profit from moving goods from a town that sells goods low to a town that buys goods high. While the economic system cleverly adjusts prices as you trade with towns, the jump in prices often means that you’ll soon have to travel elsewhere to shift your cargo. You never seem to be able to buy anything in such a bulk and at a steady price to be able to make a massive profit. Instead, if you want to collect goods of the same type at a low price, you have to sail around the whole map to accumulate them before selling them on. This also makes setting up trade routes unreliable and risky.

Challenging other ships to a sea battle is another way of making money, as you can capture enemy ships and sell them on. The way these engagements are implemented unnecessarily flawed though, making hard work of something that needn’t be. Instead of giving you direct control of your ship, you have to click in the direction you want your ship to sail, click on an enemy ship to fire on it and do the same to change your ammunition. In contrast, the upcoming Sid Meier’s Pirates! has you steering your ship and firing your cannons directly through the cursor keys, which is far more intuitive. This part of the game owes itself the controls of a 3rd person action game, not the cumbersome point and click mechanic that Port Royale 2 has.

When you do manage to get the money rolling in, you can commission new ships to take your freight around, apply for a building permit and start up your own businesses. By manufacturing items yourself, you don’t have to buy them from the middlemen so you can potentially make a larger profit. The abrupt price changes that are triggered by the economic system prove an obstacle there though, meaning that you’ll still have to travel all over the place to sell all your goods at a sensible price. Once you do have a decent amount of money, things get easier and you can begin to expand your business, but Port Royale 2 makes you work a hell of a lot to get to that stage.

Aside from the nifty cutlass-shaped cursor, Port Royale 2‘s presentation is a little disappointing, with visibly pixelated artwork and character models, few sound effects to mention and no changeable graphical options. The visuals are colourful, the interface well laid out and the 2D map does work well, but the 3D combat engine used for sea battles leaves a lot to be desired. You can’t help thinking that the developers could have tried much harder in this department, especially considering the standard which many PC strategy games are reaching now.

The concept behind Port Royale 2 is well thought out and could certainly make a decent game, but the actual implementation of these ideas is not so good. The sea battles are awkward, the prices jump far too quickly during trading and the learning curve is too steep to begin with. Fans of the previous game will probably find it a logical step up, but for the rest of us, having a game based almost solely on trading isn’t so appealing when there’s Sid Meier’s Pirates! just around the corner.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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