Shiver me timbers and Yo, Ho, Ho and a bottle of rum, it's been a pirates life for a good few years me hearties and now we have Port Royale 3: Pirates and Merchants, taking all the thrill and excitement of the high seas and wrapping up in a dull commerce simulator that'll make even Blackbeard's beard go grey.
Set in the Caribbean around the 16th and 17th Century, we join a nameless adventurer setting sail from Cadiz port for the first time to see what the new world has to offer. Barely out of port, a storm destroys his ship leaving him shipwrecked, but by pure luck this happened on a well-used shipping lane, with our hero then being saved and taken aboard by the Captain and given a position as Ships Boy. Seeing a little of himself in this young lad the Captain entrusts him with one ship, to then set sail and make his mark on the world.
Starting us off at Port Royale, the game will slowly introduce you to the many commands and controls required to progress through the game via some helpful introduction movies, with the campaigns having a very short "intro campaign" setting up the story and the basics. Once these have been passed you can set sail proper. There are two main campaigns in Port Royale 3 plus a free play mode if you wish not to be so restricted, allowing you to try your hand at being a trader or an adventurer and though the majority of the controls and what is required is the same, the trader is focused more on the purchasing and selling of goods whilst the adventurer will get involved in more battles.
Trading will have you plotting courses between the 60 ports that are located all over the Caribbean. There are 20 commodities to trade that are produced throughout the area, each one under different demand by the citizens. You job is to supply the ports with the lower amounts in demand whilst purchasing the main items they process, skipping from each port, trying to make a profit. These deals are carried out by using a sliding scale to work out the best price to sell and buy the items for before setting off to the next port. The final aim here is to create successful trading routes and bustling ports, gaining enough respect from the locals to even start building more homes and schools and even warehouses to store your goods in, holding back to wait for the markets to improve.
As an adventurer there will be much more fighting involved, following a different story and with the game then zooming in to get a better view of all of the ships connected to your convoy and the enemy's ships to make battle. With the ability to switch from ship to ship to command separately or commanding from just one, you can broadside and board enemy, stealing their goods and also taking command of their ship, adding it to your own convoy. Though this sounds exciting it is anything but, with it mainly being just struggling against the wind to plot a decent intercept course and ploughing into the enemy, hoping you have more sailors than them. There is a little tactical involvement in here, with different weapons being available that affect the ships, with chain shots that slow them down by taking out the masts, scatter shots to deplete the sailors on board and even powder kegs that act as sea mines.
If the idea of being a merchant or helping save damsels in distress doesn't float your boat then you can always try your luck at becoming a successful pirate, shunning the laws and becoming a rogue of the seas. Of course whilst focusing on the weaponry of your convoy of ships you also need to watch your back as whoever you attack and pillage, the country they represent are sure to hunt you down.
I probably come across as a little harsh on this game as it is really more suited to a PC than an Xbox 360, massively underusing the graphical power of this console as the main bulk of the game will have you staring at the huge nautical map of the Caribbean or moving little slide bars; if you enjoy playing with the finer details of supply and demand and don't have a gaming PC then this will ease your commerce mind, just don't go looking for many adventures on the high seas.
Words by Ash Buchanan.
Review Policy (Version tested: Xbox 360)