Signing up for Caribbean service in the Navy in 1570 was a risky business. For some lucky fellow-me-lads, it meant a dusky maiden in every town, beaches of white sand and more rum in the sun than was good for you. For others, no sooner had they joined up than they were sold as sex slaves to a pirate who hadn’t seen a woman in five years, fed on weevils and hard tacks, and forced to share a cabin the size of a shoe box with the powder monkey. Though unfortunately omitting the bit about sexual servitude, Port Royale offers the chance for us to relive these buccaneering days as a Caribbean merchant-cum-adventurer-cum-privateer in the latest Tycoon/RTS game to emerge from somewhere east of the Rhine.
Not to be confused with the strictly piratical Tropico 2, Port Royale spans four periods in the 16th and 17th centuries, each of which features a different balance of colonial power between the four major nations - Spain, England, France and Holland.
Most of your time is spent poring over a detailed overview map, offering a pleasing rendition of the tropical terrain, complete with bubbling swamps, smoking volcanoes, native settlements and lush jungle corralled by towering mountain ranges. While it’s just a simple isometric perspective, it’s surprisingly evocative, displaying shiploads more imagination than your average tycoon map.
Many colonies litter the coastlines, and you sail between them trading, carousing, and fighting your way up the ladder. In each port you can zoom in to see a layout of the town and watch the inhabitants mill around. Here you can buy and sell goods in the docks, equip and repair your ship, hire men, and construct commercial buildings to generate more cash.
While the ultimate goal is to become a rich governor of a colony, how you get to those lofty heights is down to you. Become a latter-day shipping magnate, setting up and managing convoys and trade routes to secure your success. Or what about piracy? Deck your vessel out with cannons and men, hoist the Jolly Roger and set about plundering every enemy vessel you encounter, ransoming the captains and launching attacks on isolated ports.
Or you could opt for the way of the adventurer. Explore new coastlines on commission, discover lost tribes, locate hidden treasures. A bit of carousing in local bars should turn up a rumour or two that will help set you on your way. Whatever your chosen path, as your reputation increases, you’ll be offered missions and tasks from governors, traders and other notables. You might be sent to raze an enemy town, capture a particular vessel or explore such and such a stretch of coastline. All good stuff.
Needless to say, your first sea battle won’t be far off. Ship-to-ship combat takes place on a zoomed-in screen where you take direct command of your ships in a real-time ding-dong full of cannon balls, musketry and boarding parties. Simply point your ships in the right direction and watch as they pummel each other with broadsides. While the tactical options may be limited, it’s a surprisingly enjoyable experience, especially as your last few volleys crash into the deck of your now mastless prey, prior to you unleashing your vicious boarding parties to claim the booty.
Download Port Royale
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
If You Like your sims to be involving and detailed, try this one for size. Port Royale is a simulation of life, warfare and adventure set in the Caribbean from the 1570s onwards. You take the role of sea farer merchant, or pirate - or any combination of the three - and have thousands of miles of coastline to explore and exploit. There are more than 60 towns to visit, four nations (English, Dutch, French and Spanish) to contend with and, the ever-present threat of rum-soaked pirates.
It all begins with you harboured in port with a modest pot of gold and a small ship armed with a few cannons for self-defence. You can buy any combination of 19 different commodities and take them to another port to make a profit. You can also build various production facilities, from fishing huts to cocoa plantations, to satisfy ongoing local demand, or you can simply buy more cannons and start out on a career in buccaneering.
Capturing ships can be extremely lucrative and a quick way to build up a fleet. But your reputation plays an important part in the proceedings (especially later on), so it's vital to try and keep up appearances, especially in your hometown.
Sell! Sell! Sell!
You can build storage facilities in different ports and stockpile goods waiting for favourable market conditions. And if it all gets a bit ovenwhelming, you can create several different convoys and give them automatic trade routes with stipulations on what maximum and minimum prices they should buy and sell at. Occasionally town governors and other characters will offer you missions which vary from taking meat and potatoes to a starving town (usually on the other side of the map), to sinking a number of one particular nation's ships, or capturing a famous pirate. You'll also come across fragments of treasure maps, nddles and rumours.
Even at their lowest resolution, the graphics are solid, if a little samey, and the 3D sea battles can be quite complex, with three different ammo types, adjustable sails and speeds, and the possibility of boarding other ships if you've an advantage in numbers. Up to ten ships a side can be involved, ranging from tiny sloops to frigates, caravels, and men-o-war with a hundred or more cannons and several hundred crew.
Pause For Thought
Up to eight players can play in multiplayer mode, although the single-player game does rely heavily on your ability to pause the game or fast-forward the boring bits. Dozens of keyboard short-cuts are used to accelerate gameplay, and there is an excellent and indespensible tutorial which develops Into a fully-fledged campaign once you've mastered the basics. The manual is clear and concise, if lacking in hints, and the game itself is fun. fascinating and moderately open-ended in style. But the fact that you have to progress through various ranks from humble seaboy to captain and governor in order to get bigger ships gives it a linear feel in places. And as the game goes on, the opposition just gets bigger and stronger. That said, once you've mastered it, you'll find that you'll be walking the planks of Port Royale for some weeks to come.