Cutthroats: Terror on the High Seas
|a game by||Hothouse Creations Ltd.|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 1 vote|
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Cutthroats is a strategic game of piracy and high-seas domination set in the Caribbean during the 17th century. Terror, violence, robbery and extortion are the order of the day in this historically accurate real-time 'loot 'em up' - the aim of the game being to make as much money as possible from the misfortune of others by generally being a bad boy with a skull and crossbones.
The game starts off in 1625 when piracy as a 'profession' was in its relative infancy. You begin with a single ship, a few guns, a skeleton crew and a hold full of supplies, and are forced to prey on innocent merchant ships, destroying their vessels and stealing their consignments to better your fleet, as well as your own personal bank account.
It's Booty Time
The game is pretty much a menu-driven affair. Starting off with an overview of the entire Caribbean, you plot an initial course and set sail. After a short while you come across other fleets, and are prompted to enter the crow's nest screen which offers a more intimate view of the surrounding seas. From here you can assess other fleets and determine whether they're worth attacking. Spot one lone ship and it's odds on you'll have no problem battering it into submission; take on three or more battleships and you'll realise you've made a hideous mistake.
Once a decision to attack has been made, the view changes yet again to a pseudo 3D perspective and the cannonballs start to fly. Much frantic clicking ensues as you attempt to take out enemy ships, while fighting the direction of the wind at the same time. Triumph, and their booty is yours. Fail, and you sleep with the fishes.
Too Many Problems
Of course there's far more to Cutthroats than boats shooting at each other at sea. Land battles can be initiated, new ships can be bought and old ones sold, port Governors can be bribed or intimidated to meet your needs (although this more often than not results in an early demise), treasure can even be buried and dug up when the time is right. But despite this apparent originality, depth and detail, Cutthroats is quite a dull and painful game.
The main problems lie with the repetitive nature of the gameplay, the slowness of the combat (especially on land), and the long-winded menu system. Having to constantly chop and change from map view to crow's nest view, combined with the laborious and convoluted process of re-supply, soon makes Cutthroats a tiresome and tedious experience. On top of that there are numerous other annoying features that prevent this game being what it should have been - such as the pointless and drawn-out chases when trying to follow enemy ships into the wind (or the hopeless standstills when there's no wind at all), and the grating call of the lookout who insists on stopping the proceedings to tell you about ships you've just conversed with/ attacked and left in your wake.
Despite these faults, Cutthroats is not a complete failure and is fairly well presented (albeit in a not entirely convincing, old-skool 'Amiga' kind of way), with good music and decent atmosphere. Big-time pirate fanatics and budding historians cum real-time strategy nuts may find something of worth here, but your average PC gamer will undoubtedly lack the patience to get their money's worth out of Cutthroats.
Download Cutthroats: Terror on the High Seas
It's common knowledge that all pirates have an annoying parrot on their shoulder and at least one wooden leg. We know that, at pirate school, they learn to speak in loud guffaws peppered with unintelligible 'oohs' and 'aarrhs', how to carry large knives clenched between their teeth, and the best way to make people walk the plank. At least, that's the misguided image that adventure films and other forms of light entertainment have fed us. And it's one Hothouse director Rob Davies is quick to dispel.
"Hollywood's notion of pirates is weird. In real life, they were more like a well-honed, well-drilled army. That's the way we portray them in Cutthroats. We researched what these guys were really like, moving away from all those Peter Pan ideas like walking the plank. Pirates never did that, it's just something that Hollywood made up."
Cutthroats is set in the 17th century Caribbean, the natural habitat of these often-misrepresented hard men of the sea. It's the age of the Spanish doubloon, newly-founded colonies, merciless plundering of the natives' resources and power struggles.
As Rob says: "It's such a good time to set a game in because there are all these different nations at war - the English, the French, the Dutch and the Spanish. The pirates were professional mercenaries stuck in the middle, switching allegiances to suit their needs. So you might be fighting on behalf of the English at one point, then switch to supporting the Dutch. It's a ready-made world that's really good fun to play around with."
From what we've seen so far, Cutthroats couldn't be more varied - further dissolving the popular image of pirates as one-dimensional caricatures. Besides sea battles, boarding other ships, pillaging towns and other activities normally associated with buccaneers, you also get the chance to trade and explore. Whether you want to play as Captain Pugwash or Blackbeard is entirely up to you. 'There are a lot of people who like playing very open-ended strategy games, such as Civilization or Elite, and Cutthroats delivers that. And there's a big element of real-time combat in true C&C style, but there's also a lot of thinking involved."
In The Elite Vein
You start with a small ship, a skeleton crew and a reputation waiting to be carved out. As you move on in the world, you can recruit better men, each with their own skills, buy or capture frigates and galleons and build up your weapons arsenal. But what about your goals? "Well, you have various missions that people give you," explains Rob, "which are the sub-plots.
There's no actual win condition - it's more a case of getting a high score. These guys used to capture ships and treasure and then blow it all in a weekend of drinking and whoring. They weren't after longterm gains." Drinking and whoring? Now there's a game waiting to be made...
Cutthroats certainly seems to offer more depth than most RTS games, giving you the opportunity to develop a whole career - very much in the Elite vein, as previously mentioned. And since that was essentially a space pirate game, with the choice of trading or just blowing everything up, it seems an obvious point of reference. According to Rob, "There's never been another game that has really captured the feel of being one guy in a big, big universe, with your own ship and no one telling you where to go. That's the sort of feeling we tried to capture with Cutthroats. Freedom of choice is essential to both games."
Done Their Homework
So which part of the game is more important - the ship battles, the town raids, the trading, or are they all equally essential? "We tried to make it so that you have to do all of them to be successful, there's a balance you have to achieve. The key to success is deciding whose side you're fighting on, and the overall strategy you pursue, rather than the things you do in each individual section," says Rob.
Hothouse have clearly done their homework, but exactly how 'real' is the Cutthroats world? "There are about 75 towns in the game, all of which existed in real life. During the game, they'll get founded -and disappear - at the time they did historically.
The population and the commodities (such as tobacco, sugar and coffee - plus another ten) are representative of what they were really like at the time as well. As far as we could, we gave all the governors in the towns their real names. I really hope that you can play the game, go off and read a book about pirates and come back and play the game better - that would be a good test as to whether you've captured the flavour of the world."
And from the evidence we've seen so far, the combination of spice, rum and typhoid seems to have been captured very well indeed. You can almost taste the atmosphere.
Each town, nationality and governor treats you differently, so the sense of moving about in a real world that reacts to your actions is tangible. "If a governor gives you licence to fight on behalf of the Spanish, for example, you'll go and fight whoever they're at war with and come back to the Spanish port to be treated as a hero," says Rob. "Especially if you take enemy ships back with you. But also, if you do things for a particular governor, he'll tell you when he hears reports like 'There's a heavily laden treasure galleon off the coast of Havana', plus other hints and prods in the right direction."
With so many things going on in single-player, there are currently no plans to include a multiplay facility: "The real problem is that there are different timescales involved. You could be crossing a map, sat watching your ship for five minutes, but three months will have passed in actual game time. Yet someone else might have a battle in those same five minutes." However, he does him that a multiplayer element is a possibility for a future add-on.
With many real-time strategy games going 3D, we wondered if Rob was worried that the traditional 'three-quarters' view will be ignored by gamers? Apparently not... "When I actually see a good 3D strategy game I'll worry about it. If a developer is more worried about what game he's going to bolt on to his fantastic 3D engine, he might as well do the whole thing as full-motion video. Going full 3D doesn't necessarily make for good gaming - some of the best gaming experiences I've ever played have been in 2D. If you asked the average gamer what their top ten titles are, you wouldn't find that many 3D games."
We're not about to disagree. The world is crying out for a decent pirate game, and if Cutthroats isn't worth its weight in gold, we'll cut our own throats (What's this 'we' business? - Ed).