Port Royale 2 PC CD-ROM
Developed by Ascaron
Released - Out Now
Price : £29.99
Fans of pirate based games are in for a good festive season this year. Not only will we finally have a sequel to Sid Meier's Pirates but we also have a sequel to Port Royale. Port Royale was similar to Ascaron's other naval trading gamer, Patrician. It differed slightly though and the emphasis on trading was perhaps not as great as it was in the Patrician games. That's not to say the game didn't have as much depth though and the 17th century Caribbean setting and the colonial struggle between the English, Dutch, French and Spanish and the annoyance of the Pirates made for a great game. Of course you had to cozy up with one of the colonial powers in order to increase your experience and gain lucrative missions from the governors. To be honest there wasn't much wrong with the game but Ascaron have created a sequel that somehow manages to improve on the original Port Royale.
What I like about Port Royale 2 is that, like Patrician III it manages to improve on it's prequel in a number of ways. Instead of moving to a different time frame and moving on to pastures new as it were, Ascaron have kept the same time-frame as in Port Royale and have taken key elements of the game and improved them to make the game more exciting and involving. What players of Port Royale will notice is that Port Royale 2 has been improved very nicely and has given the player a more focused way of learning the game. The original Port Royale simply had open-ended free play modes but whilst these are great for those who like to spend hours on end playing the game they don't capture the imagination of someone who is new to this type of game. In addition to the free play mode, which returns, you have four tutorials and four scenarios which have been designed to be as captivating as possible. These scenarios are entitled All Power to the Dutch, Your Own Town, Tortuga in Trouble and best of all Hot on the Trail of Blackbeard in which you have to track down the legendary pirate himself and put an end to him. These scenarios have been thoughtfully designed and will appeal to newcomers and challenge veterans of Port Royale.
Numerous improvements have been made to the game play in Port Royale 2. Trade routes are easier to setup. Your captains will even use their own initiative (although you can still limit their actions if you want to) as they gain more experience so you won't have to keep such a close eye on everything that's going on. Rather interestingly you can now take part in duels. During either a land or sea battle there is the possibility that you will be challenged to a duel. Duelling is straight forward and you simply click on an area of your rivals body to take a swing. Blocks can be made by right clicking. Indicators are shown for health and endurance so you can see how the battle is going. The advantage of a duel is that it stops the possible slaughter of your men. However if you lose the duel you'll lose your ship; but should you win you'll gain the enemies ship. Some might feel that the duels have no place in what's considered a naval trading game but it adds some spice to the action and they don't occur every time anyway so it's not a major issue should you not appreciate them. Port Royale 2 even gives you the chance to create your own towns and to make them prosper which is a feature that's sure to please fans of the original game.
You may remember from our review of Tortuga that we had one annoyance with the game and that was no matter how many ships were in your convoy you only used one in battle. This was especially annoying because your opponents weren't limited by this and battles could often seem one-sided. Curiously this same style has been adopted for Port Royale 2. When battle commences only your escort ships will take part in the battle and only one of those at a time will be onscreen. However your opponents can have more than one in battle. Should your ship be lost you'll get the chance to bring another escort ship in to the battle. When all your escort ships are lost the battle is over. Maybe this was a decision taken to make battles less confusing? Whilst it's certainly not a bad system I would have preferred to have control of all my escort ships at the same time. I was perfectly happy with the way sea battles were in the original Port Royale and out of all the changes this is probably one that shouldn't have been made but as I've just said it's not a bad battle system and with practice it's not too difficult to fight off most enemies.
Graphically the game looks very good and makes a surprisingly impressive use of a large number of 3D elements within the game. However I was surprised to find the game only plays in a resolution of 1024x768. Whilst this is fine if you have a 17" CRT monitor or below it's not too good if you have a large CRT monitor or 17" TFT and above. We played the game on a 17" TFT and it didn't look as good as it could. The text was not as sharp and defined as it should be. Ascaron games usually support the 1280x1024 resolution (the native resolution for a 17" monitor) so it was a surprise to find Port Royale didn't. The game does offer a windowed mode but unfortunately it didn't work for me so I had to play in full screen mode. Resolution issues aside though the game looks impressive. The 3D ships and water (not forgetting the impressive weather effects too such as the terrible storms that take place from time to time) look great and the towns, like in the original Port Royale are nicely detailed and all differ from each other if only slightly. The sea battles look impressive too (although if more ships were involved it would have looked more dramatic) and I'm sure most will appreciate the duals that can now take place.
Port Royale was absolutely fine for deaf gamers and you can say the same for Port Royale 2. The first port of call (no pun intended) when you begin the game will be the tutorials. There are four on offer and they range from the basics such as navigating the interface to the sea battles. The tutorials have been been well done and thankfully they are delivered via text so there are no problems for deaf gamers. All of the information in the game is shown in text and a record of missions you receive is kept in your log which can be accessed at any time. The gauge that shows the experience that you gain in the game is always visible and placing your mouse over the gauge will show you what needs to be done to reach the next level. I, like many gamers love to see a good manual provided with a game. Games such as Port Royale need a quality manual to help fill the gaps left by the tutorial or to explain advanced concepts. Ascaron have certainly come up trumps with the manual for Port Royale 2. The manual covers everything in a good amount of detail and provides good quality colour screenshots to help clarify the subject it's discussing which is most helpful. It's so good to see a publisher actually take time to create a good manual rather than simply dumping an electronic one on the CD-ROM and expecting the gamer to print it off at their own cost.
Port Royale 2 has seen a thoughtful and intelligent redesign of Port Royale and whilst the idea of the game is essentially the same, the way it plays is quite different and quite an improvement. This is actually quite a statement because I still find time to play the original Port Royale, well I did until this sequel arrived. My only complaints are that I wish they had kept the original battle system as well as providing support for higher screen resolutions but I suppose if you're going to go with one resolution then 1024x768 is what most people would be happy with. The improvements made to the trade system, the duels, the ability to create your own towns, etc., are all appreciated and all add up to create a more involving and enjoyable game. Just like they did with Patrician III, Ascaron have taken their previous game apart and created a superior game play experience that fans of the series will love and those who didn't play the original Port Royale should definitely give Port Royale 2 a go. Sid Meier's Pirates has definitely got a fight on it's hands for the top pirate based game of 2004.
Game Rating: 8.8/10
A great sequel that manages to be a better game overall. However had the original sea battle system remained and support for higher screen resolutions been included it would have been even better.
No problems at all.