Port Royale 3 marks the first installment in the series developed by Gaming Minds Studios as previous entries were developed by the now bankrupt Ascaron Entertainment. This installment also marks the series time the series has appeared on consoles as it was previously a PC exclusive(a re-occurring trend at Kalypso Media, the publisher of the game). The gameplay falls within a few genres including real-time strategy, city expansion, and resource management, all of which are set in the Caribbean during the 16th and 17th centuries. Port Royale 3 continually revolves around the notion of providing players with the utmost freedom in how they succeed or ultimately fail in expanding their fleet of either roaming merchant or pirate ships in the sun-drenched Caribbean seas.
Docked at the harbor
Players begin the game as a young and hopeful Spanish commoner that is unexpectedly cast into the sea during travel to the New World. Fortunately they are discovered by a passing Spanish merchant ship and brought to the city of Port Royale where either a life of a trader or adventurer awaits. Both paths revolve around winning the heart of Elena, who is the beautiful daughter of a Spanish viceroy. In the game's campaign mode, players select from either the Trader or Adventure paths which modify the storyline of how the player both meets Elena and the process involved in gaining her love. The Trader campaign focuses on expanding settlements and managing multiple trade fleets and their routes. In sharp contrast, the Adventure campaign involves participating in a war and of course, many battles on the open seas.
In addition to the two campaign paths, players can create their own game using the Free Play mode which allows for in-depth customization ranging from selecting the nation and home town to the starting year and various difficulty options. Depending on the options selected, the free play mode can be as easy or as difficult as the player chooses depending upon their preference.
Setting sail for the open seas
The beginning of my adventures on the Caribbean seas was an over-complicated affair due to the game's complex systems of trading and resource management, and this was in addition to creating fleets of ships and menu navigation. After a few hours of watching the in-game tutorial videos and perusing through the thick game manual, I was still as confused as before beginning my marathon of knowledge acquirement. Most of the confusion resulted with the vague menu layout and near-complete lack of labels for the many menu icons. To add insult to injury, the game would often alert you of problems with settlements and fleets, yet not provide any hints or guides on performing some type of solution.
Gameplay in Port Royale 3 switches from a 2D overlay map of the Caribbean islands to a 3D view of an individual settlement. The overlay map will account for a majority of your time with planning trade routes and managing the ever-changing flow of resources from one island to another. The 3D view of settlements is similar to other Kalypso titles such as Tropico 4, yet placing structures is limited to grid tiles that remove a great deal of freedom. The transition from the two views require a simple push of a button, but often become a required nuisance with the slow console load times.
Problems with pirates
After my hours of training with the game's various mechanics, I felt confident that I could succeed as a powerful adventurer and eventually plunder any ship at my will. However, I soon discovered that managing a convoy of ships in battle was not that simple of affair. Upon receiving my first official task of rescuing Elena, I set out with my convoy of ships in pursuit of three fleets of pirate ships. Sea combat in Port Royale 3 can be auto-resolved if players are confident of their fleet strength, however, I discovered soon that my ships and their crews would ultimately meet their demise by the smarter AI-controlled pirates.
I was actually able to destroy two of the pirate fleets and then failed utterly in attempting to rid the seas of the final group. I figured the game would provide me a hint of what to do next or allow for purchasing additional ships. Unfortunately, the game simply left me staring into the blue seas without any indicators of a game over or any hint of what to do next. I had some funds left and decided to purchase additional ships at my only accessible city of Port Royale. After fast forwarding the game's time for quite awhile, it turned out that boat yards don't receive ships every few days or even months. After spending all my funds on one ship and failing again to the last pirate group, my frustration level was already reaching its maximum. Swallowing my pride and keeping back the anger of failure, I left the the Adventure path in hopes that the Trader campaign would hopefully be easier and more similar to my preferred style of gameplay.
Mid-life sea crisis
I quickly finished the same introduction tutorials and noticed the small changes in the cinematic movies for the Trader path and was confident I had now picked the right choice. After completing a series of missions trading supplies to various settlements and creating basic trade routes, I was finally expanding my small convoy into a mighty fleet and gaining a good amount of profit. The Trader missions soon evolved into managing both the settlement of Port Royale and a neighboring island village that struggled with its amount of resources and citizens. I was able to solve the settlement's food issues and soon began expanding its infrastructure with new houses and farms.
Unfortunately, my funds soon began to run dry from various construction projects as well as my trading routes were failing to produce additional profits. My funds eventually fell into a downward spiral into negative numbers with again no hints or guides on how to turn my failure into some sort of success. The frustration from my short-lived days of an adventurer again began to creep in as both the Caribbean seas and successful AI-controlled trading fleets laughed at my continued failures.
Stranded at sea
In hindsight, there were a few occasions of enjoyment nestled in-between the patches of frustration and failure. I genuinely had a great time with managing the flow of trading resources between settlements and trying to determine how to gain the most profit based on the needs of other nations in the Caribbean seas. The overlay map functioned great when planning trading routes and searching for settlements that provided the most quantity of particular resources. Even the often confusing real-time battle encounters were entertaining as both fleets of ships engaged in loud and brutal sea combat.
Port Royale 3 on the Xbox 360 simply seems as if the game should only be experienced on the PC with menus that are often confusing to navigate and graphics that are outdated when compared to other recent releases. Players expecting the same simplicity and entertaining gameplay of Tropico 4 from Kalypso Media will both be frustrated and disappointed. The tutorials provided are simply not enough in covering the game's often complex mechanics with trading resources and managing settlements. Even worse are the game's inability to properly communicate with the player on how to complete missions and what to do if they fail in completing the particular objectives. In both circumstances of playing the Adventure and Trader campaigns, I was left without any hint of how to proceed next when met with difficulties in completing missions.
By no means am I suggesting that Port Royale 3 is a broken or incomplete experience, but instead that success in the game requires a high degree of patience and ability to withstand continued frustration. As a fan of the real-time strategy genre and games that involve resource management and city expansion, it was truly disappointing to find that all of these were ruined by the game's poor console adaptation and lack of in-depth tutorials and in-game communication. Those that dare to venture into the Caribbean seas are warned that Port Royale 3 has a particular audience in mind and even those gamers will surely discover an often frustrating and difficult experience to overcome for its few moments of enjoyment.
Port Royale 3 from Gaming Minds Studios and Kalypso Media is available now for PC and Xbox 360.
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