Port Royale is the latest game from Ascaron, which deals with the exploration and trade on a large continent. If you are familiar with Ascarons previous offerings, The Patrician and The Patrician II you will already have a good idea of what this game involves.
Unlike the previous two games, Port Royal deals with the New World, which we now know as America. As the story goes, you have travelled to the new world to try your luck as some trading in the hope that you can become wealthy and important in the area.
You start the game with a small sum of money and a small ship. You are taken through some tutorials that teach you the basics of the game. These tutorials include trading, building ships and warfare. Once they are over it's up to you, hopefully you have picked up enough knowledge through the tutorials to start off.
The main area of the game is the 'sea chart'. Here you are shown a map of the new world and any towns you have discovered. Towns are divided between 4 nations, Spain, England, France and Holland. Depending on which nation you picked to affiliate with when you created your character will determine which town you start in.
When you first start only a few towns are visible. This is because a part of the game involves the exploration of new towns. However you will soon start discovering new ones with which to trade.
Trading is of course the essence of Port Royale. Through the use of trade you are able to generate wealth and discover new towns. After you have made some money you can then buy new ships, hire some captains, crew, equip them with weapons and use these new ships to generate more wealth.
Throughout the game you receive experience points that increase as you do certain things. Discover a town and your experience goes up, complete a mission and you experience goes up further. Experience is important to your success and without experience you cannot hire new captains who are required for new ships.
Ships are of course your way of making money. Trading is fairly simple. You buy something at one price in one town, move to the next one and sell it at a higher price. To aid you in trade, towns will sometime require certain items. For example, one town desperately needs grain. You go to the next town, pickup a load of grain, sail to the town that needs it and offload the grain making a tidy sum.
Things in the world of Port Royale are of course not going to be that easy. In your way are pirates who wish to get their hands on your cargo and ships. While you can normally play the game without confronting pirates there will become a time where you need to fight them and this can be done manually or by the computer.
If you choose the computer to battle for you it will try to figure out how the battle will end. This depends on the number of ships and the number of cannons and crew. The computer can of course get it wrong and the experience of the captains also plays a major role in the outcome. After the computer has decided the outcome of the battle you are shown a report of what happened. This report tells you if any ships were sunk, looted or captured.
If you want to fight the battle yourself then you take charge of your ships directing them into battle. You can get them to target specific ships and order them to attack with a choice of ammo that will either take out the ships sails, crew or the ship itself.
If everything goes your way you will eventually want to board the pirates ship and capture it, however if you're losing you can opt to escape the battle and run away. Battles are a bit like those in MicroProse's Pirates so if you have ever played that you'll be right at home with this game.
You are also able to attack towns from the sea and land. Attacking towns can only be done once you have a Governors order from one of your home towns. Upon receiving these orders you are able to attack another nation's ships and towns. Once you have successfully defeated a town you can loot it for any cargo you can carry.
In addition to trading there is one other method to make money. This involves building businesses in towns where you have a good reputation. In order to be able to build businesses in a town, you will have to first build a storage depot. However you can only start building once you have been given building privileges, which requires your reputation in the town to be good.
The in game graphics are very good. The town view is very detailed and important buildings are easily identifiable wherever you go. There are always people wandering about and by clicking on them you can find out what is happening in town and what they think of you.
The game also features high quality sounds with a soundtrack that matches the period the game covers. It actually doesn't get annoying at all as it changes when you move in and out of town so you never really hear the same piece of music for too long.
Port Royale does feature a multiplayer mode, which allows up to 8 players to play simultaneously. However, when I tried it there were no games going on and I could not find anyone to play against.
With Port Royale, Ascaron have made battles more important and trading has been moved slightly into the background. Of course the important thing with the game is to make money but if you can fight your way to it then so much the better.
There is so much to Port Royale that I have not already gone into but it could take another 2 pages to fit it all in, so as a final point I will simple say that overall Port Royale is an entertaining game, the graphics are nicely done and while the game does take some time to get into you will enjoy it, especially if you loved The Patrician I and II.