Port Royale 3 is the latest game from Kalypso Media. It is a Naval trading and economy simulator set in the 16th and 17th century. This type of game is normally reserved for PC gamers, so my interest was, as it always is, sparked when I saw that the Xbox 360 got a piece of the action. Kalypso have successfully introduced the Tropico series to consoles and I really enjoyed them for the depth, freedom and replayability they offered. Can Port Royale 3 continue the trend and offer some much needed quality to the console strategy market?
The story goes like this: it is 1561 and a young man sets sail from his home town, Cadiz, Spain. He aims to discover the new world but runs into a storm which destroys his ship. He is rescued by the crew of a Spanish trading vessel who take him under their wing. The game begins and somehow the young man now has a warehouse and cargo ship in the Caribbean town of Port Royale, plus 30,000 gold coins. How he came to have all this is a mystery. You need large pockets to carry that much gold whilst clinging to a sinking wreck. I found the storyline to be badly translated from the original German script and is delivered by a voice actor with a slow, patronizing British accent alongside still images designed to look like old paintings. The majority of the story is vague and centers around the young man trying to impress Elena, daughter of the Spanish Viceroy. At one point, you are tasked with saving a town from starvation. Not because it is the right and proper thing to do, but because Elena used to live there, therefore feeding the people will get the girl. I found the story to be pretty poor at best and downright embarrassing the rest of the time.
The game has 3 modes. There is a campaign for a trader plus one for an adventurer. These two essentially serve as long, drawn out tutorials to help enable you to tackle the Free Play mode. In this mode you are set free to build a huge trading empire whilst also fighting pirates in an open ended scenario. These tutorials include videos and hints which, initially at least, give the player a decent grasp of how to tackle the basics such as sailing between ports and trading, which is the core of the gameplay. Sailing between ports is as simple as clicking the desired town and waiting for the ship to arrive.There are loading screens upon entering and leaving a port which seriously break the flow of the gameplay, given that a visit to a port only involves buying the items with green bars next to them (surplus) and selling anything you carry that may be in demand. I endured this for 4 whole hours before any progression. I would have given up after 1 or 2 hours normally but this is a review, so I stuck with it.
Automatic trade routes can be set up in which the captain can be given instructions on where to go and how to trade. Orders can also be given from a list of defaults such as “profit” or “supply business”, or you can micro-manage his trading completely. The trade routes actually work very well, saving time and allowing you to avoid loading screens, although 4 hours into the game, I found this to be as insulting as it was helpful. The lack of information regarding the intricacies of the gameplay like this continue throughout the game.
Combat is the weakest part of Port Royale 3. I found it to be a slow and dull experience. After a couple of battles, I decided to let them play out automatically. Being prepared and knowing the strength of the enemy is important and I found more success with the auto battle option. You can attack pirate strongholds, towns and other convoys but none of this adds anything to the game. This is an economy simulator with some pretty lame (sailing round in circles) action sequences, not a pirate action game. In my opinion, selling this as such in an attempt to attract a bigger audience will cause disappointment in many people when they come to actually play the game.
The game eventually opens up as you attain ranks. The amount of gold, staff and cargo capacity you control are the parameters that must be met for progression. You will gain the ability to build businesses in towns that like you enough, buy bigger and better ships and upgrade them for combat. After some time you will have many shipping fleets buzzing around trying to make profits and keep your businesses supplied. Gold can be accumulated very efficiently when you can sell a high end product that has been self manufactured from raw materials made in your own factories. Creating business chains is essential. There is a lot of depth to the trading aspect of this game which requires constant vigilance and tweaking. There is far too much to explain in a single review, or an in game tutorial it would seem, as 4 hours of monotony and repetitiveness turn to confusion and head scratching pretty quickly.
I have spoken about the poor voice acting earlier. The music, on the other hand, is easier on the ears and generally suits the Caribbean theme well. Port Royale 3 is also quite a nice game to look at, in parts. The naval map looks great, high detail and vivid colours are used to represent the tropical paradise setting. Towns look pretty good as well, although it can become hard to tell one building type from another once things start to build up. The camera makes this problem worse by hiding in the trees, completely obscuring the view of what you want to see when zooming. Also on the down side, the combat sequences look and feel dated, the story board paintings look like a painting by numbers experiment and if you have a standard definition TV, the text will be a mysterious blur. A game for HD only.
Port Royale 3 is somewhat of an impostor as a console game. The title, and indeed, the box art serve to conjure images of pirates, plundering and adventure. The reality is starkly different as this is purely an in depth business/economy simulator with a sprinkling of poorly executed action sequences and a ridiculous storyline that should not exist. This may not be a terrible game if the core mechanic appeals to you but there is too little explanation and too much micro management. I’m sure there are people who will enjoy this game but for me, the core gameplay became a chore long before the game revealed its complexity.