I think it’s high time for a video game review, don’t you? I was meant to type one up for Mass Effect 3, but never really got there. Oh well, that’s a rant for another day (and no the rant is not about the ending, which I found adequate). This time it’s about the game Port Royale 3. I was browsing the games on special on steam one night, bored, and this one came up. It interested me particularly since it said that I could complete the game as a merchant. This suggested at a style of gameplay that diverged from the normal kill everything that stands in my way method and lately I’ve been particularly interested in being able to complete games without killing. And being that it was only $40, I figured I would buy it and give it a go.
I jumped straight into the campaign which, I believe, was actually quite well thought out in the beginning. You select either the life of adventure, or the life of peace. Regardless of what you select, you play through the first couple of tasks as a kind of tutorial to get you to learn how the game works. However, if it’s not your first playthrough, you’re not forced to sit through basic control instructions. Instead these are displayed through the use of videos, accessed through a link at the bottom of the task details so if you have played it before and know the basics, you can just complete the tasks and move on. Eventually you complete the prologue and here the game diverges depending on what path you chose.
Port Royale 3 is essentially a trading sim, and in this it is quite good and absorbing. You go from city to city, buying low and selling high. If you sell goods that the town needs and is without, your popularity rises, if you completely buy them out of an item, your popularity is lowered. And of course, the more you sell, the less money they are willing to give you for the items. Supply and demand works beautifully in this game. I thought the slider bar used to select how many goods to trade was a little too touchy and needing to hold down the mouse button, drag, and release the button to complete a trade was potentially problematic as I would occasionally have a twitch and sell all of my goods, or buy all the goods on offer (or the cat would insist on laying on my mouse hand, something that is happening all the more often now the weather is colder). But this was only a minor problem with what is otherwise very well executed. It may seem a little repetitive, and it is, but its repetition is soothing in a way and complete absorbing and I found I lost hours just travelling around the Caribbean trading, fulfilling tasks the governors of various towns set me, and avoiding or combating pirates. The supply and demand also encourages you to travel far for your goods as if you just trade between the same couple towns all the time, it takes too long for their goods to be replenished while the goods in other towns are stacked up. Consequently, I often found myself trading in a figure 8 kind of route, around the west side of the map first, up the centre where my main towns were located, and then down the east side of the map.
Now, while it seems that I thoroughly enjoyed this game, there were several areas that it fell short. For a start, the campaign was over far too quickly and this coming from someone who enjoys wasting time just going from town to town trading. At the end of it they left you with the vague notion of getting married to the girl you spent the campaign chasing and converted the game to a free map. This would be fine, but one area the trade campaign fails to set you up for is the insane amount of pirates. It’s one area where I feel the balancing just didn’t work even if it did make sense in a way. What happened were there were a couple of clans of pirates (and new ones would spring up if others were defeated) that would roam the water ways, attack traders, you know piratey stuff. The thing is, every time they won a battle, if you had more than one ship, they would steal all but your smallest, thus making their convoys all the stronger and leaving you with no cargo and a damaged, inferior ship. Now this wouldn’t be too bad, except they didn’t really have periods of just going away and allowing you to regroup. I found that as soon as I bought another ship, I was attacked again, defeated, and my big ship stolen making the pirates all the stronger and all the more impossible to defeat. Now this may just be my lack of foresight – a friend playing the same campaign has a huge convey that just wades through destroying all pirates in sight – but I feel it is a lack any player could make and something the campaign should have had us establish pretty early on. As I was trying to gather the materials needed to build a palace so I could marry my sweetheart, I was continuously attacked by pirates making it nigh impossible to the point that I gave up.
I then tried the adventure campaign and it was even shorter than the trade. Well, to be truthful, it probably had the same amount of tasks, it just took no where near as long to complete as the trade ones. I gave the manual combat a go and found it so clunky and hard to control that afterwards I quickly just chose the automatic option. Granted, this is likely a fail on my part but it was still somewhat of a game breaker for me. But that was fine, I don’t mind going the automatic route, I did it an awful lot in the total war series as well mostly cause the pitched battles took too long and I was impatient. That plan fell apart, however, when it came to what I suspect is the last mission where I am to manually attack a nasty pirate’s convoy and capture the biggest ship in order to save my love. I tried this so many time using so many different strategies and died every single time, to the point where I was verbally swearing at the computer screen (not THAT common an occurrence for me). Again, I gave up in disgust. This could have been made better if I was able to select strategies to use before using the automatic battle. In fact that could be really cool since the automatic battle just attempts to sink all ships. If I could have the option to try to capture one, two or three (since the most ships in a battle is three a side), the chances of success decreasing with each option selected (since it’s harder to capture a ship than sink it) then this could possibly solve the problem I was facing.
All in all, I found it was a satisfying trade simulator, but it just didn’t have enough meat to sink my teeth into it for very long. I think I only played it in short strides for maybe two weeks; I like a game to last me a month at least. It was similar enough that I kept trying to compare it to Anno 1404 (I’ll try to remember to review that game in a later post) and in a trade sense, it’s better, but in everything else it just falls far short. It was probably worth the $40 I paid for it, but I’m definitely glad I didn’t pay any more for it.