by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Back to the Caribbean
After successfully reviving the much loved Patrician franchise, Kalypso Media has now set its sights on bringing back another Ascaron Entertainment favorite. Announced just prior to this year’s GamesCom, Port Royale 3 was demonstrated in a very early stage but already showed great potential.
As a huge fan of the series, my heart skipped a beat even as we sat down for the presentation. The screen in front of us showed a wonderfully lush map of the Caribbean with the detail far surpassing that of Patrician IV. Sensing our surprise in seeing this, our demonstrator explained that creating a better overall map had been an important focus for the development team after receiving a lot of feedback from gamers that had been disappointed in the map in Patrician IV. The result of their efforts is simply stunning: rich green islands rise up from a beautifully rendered deep blue ocean, together creating a paradise right out of a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean.
The map is more functional too and not only shows ports and the ships in sight, but also which nation controls which areas on the map. Acting as something of a political chart, see-through flags in the water depict both the level of control and strength of the controlling navy. Aspiring pirates will do well to pay heed to these flags before venturing into new waters, lest they encounter a force too big to handle.
Growing an empire
Playing as a pirate, you can effectively become the fifth faction in the game. Taking over Dutch, French, English and Spanish towns and taking them for yourself, you can forge your own empire and rule the Caribbean. You can conquer almost every town but Gaming Minds have opted to give every nation one town that you cannot wrest from its hands. Nations grow weaker as you take away their towns, resulting in fewer encounters with their ships and perhaps even making it easier to pry other towns away from their control. A much beleaguered nation does, however, try to fight back and may decide to gather a massive force to take back their towns.
Diplomacy will be a viable option to expand your influence as well. Trading and carrying out missions for a particular nation will increase your reputation with them and when it is high enough, you can ask the administrative rights for their smaller towns. Once granted, you’re in full control.
The pirate life
Obviously it’s difficult to keep an eye on every part of the map so when they do move in on your town, it helps to have some ships patrolling the area. A new ‘Patrol’ feature will do just that and patrolling fleets will intercept any incoming fleet from a nation that is on your bad side. Whether it is a patrolling fleet or your active fleet engaging an enemy, you will always be given the for fans familiar preview screen that allows you to process the outcome of the battle or command it yourself. New however, is that this screen also shows an indication of the strength of each fleet so that you will have a better idea of your chances in an automatic battle.
Opting for a manual session, you’ll quickly spot the graphical improvements here too. Ship models are far more detailed than they were in Patrician IV and, more importantly, so are the environments. You can rotate the camera into pretty much any position that is not from underwater, often revealing land on the horizon and hidden rock formations under the surface that can be used as a strategic advantage or prove to be your downfall instead. Apart from the usual grape shot, ball shot and chain shot, ships will also have to deal with explosive barrels. This is especially handy if your ship is being pursued but not strong enough fight. You can then drop barrels into the water that are linked together by a rope that explode as the pursuing ship sails by and drags it along. These old fashioned mines can be quite effective and add a new layer of strategy to sea combat. I’m also sure that fans will be elated to hear that the ability to board and capture enemy ships makes a return in Port Royale 3 after so being so sorely missed in Patrician IV.
Freshening up the franchise
I’m not sure if it was just the graphics or if the fact that we have had to do without a new Port Royale game for 7 years played a role, but Port Royale 3 looked as fresh as a spring chicken. It still offers the unique buccaneering experience it always has but the game and its mechanics are being propelled straight into the modern age and will appeal to fans of old and newcomers to the franchise alike. With Patrician IV still residing on my harddrive and I’d like to believe it won’t think any less of me when it has to make way for Port Royale 3 when it comes out somewhere in the first half of next year.