Let’s get straight to the point here. Kalypso Studios, the publishers responsible for bringing Tropico 4 to consoles, have once again done a very decent job of porting what is traditionally a very PC-style videogame to the Xbox 360. For many, that’s all you will need to know. This, like Tropico, is an extremely niche title, one which will pique the interest of a small, but potentially loyal following. Well, if you’re one of those niche gamers, as I said, Kalypso and Gaming Minds have done an admirable job of making this relatively complex title palatable to console gamers and playable via an Xbox 360 controller. It’s still far from perfect, and unsurprisingly, can’t match the accuracy of a mouse and keyboard, but if you’re committed to experiencing Port Royale 3’s unique brand of naval tradesmanship with a controller, doing so is more than serviceable.
So, to the rest of you, those simply intrigued by the premise, perhaps fancying a change from the killing-spree mentality of Call of Duty….hmmmm, that’s trickier. As I said, the game works on consoles; it might be a tad cumbersome at times, but for the committed, riding out any of the game’s technical foibles shouldn’t prove troublesome. In fact, the only issue is whether you will actually enjoy this type of game at all. I guess that’s why you’re here. Well, I’ve always been a console gamer and have rarely dipped a toe into the deep waters of PC strategy titles, so, I guess for you, I’m as good a person to ask as any.
At first, honestly, it’s all a little bit slow – one of the primary reasons I tend not to play games of this ilk (I like my thrills a little more immediate if I’m to be honest), but in fairness, get through the useful, and totally necessary tutorial missions, and you’ll soon find yourself sailing between towns, improving infrastructures, buying and selling goods and building your very own fleet. It takes a while to get going as the game wisely allows you the time to find your footing amidst the busy trading routes of the 16th century Caribbean seas, but once you’re up and running, you’re pretty much left to your own devices in regards to how you want to run your Caribbean career.
There are actually two distinct careers to play through in Port Royale 3. The first of these is as a Trader that has you building trade routes, improving private industries and developing your towns and colonies with a very strong emphasis on economics. For newbies to the series, and to the genre at large though, I would advise you give this option a miss (at least initially). For the majority of console gamers, I would encourage taking the route of the Adventurer. While still home to its fair share of economic-based options and a strong emphasis on trading between the Caribbean’s many island towns, here, you are geared more towards naval combat, exploration and, well, adventuring I suppose. There is the third option of Free Play Mode, but this simply increases the tactical options available and should only really be approached once you have made your way through the core campaigns.
While certainly far from what anyone could call a stunner, Port Royale 3’s depiction of the Caribbean islands and its collection of quaint little towns is perfectly serviceable. Zooming in and out of both the world map and the town specific maps is a very simple process and, while the world map is perhaps a tad simplistic, the towns themselves are actually rather detailed and do a solid job of showing your progression as you begin to develop communities and explore the potential tactical options that each town provides. The hand painted cutscenes are a smidge old fashioned, but they’re charming enough, and when combined with the solid voice work, do a good job of telling the simplistic story that underlies the core experience.
Although most of your time (as an adventurer at least) will be spent at each of the town’s docks, buying and selling goods, and picking up extra crewman for your ever increasing fleets, the interface, thanks to a useful wheel-based shortcut, makes picking your way through the initially daunting array of options surprisingly simplistic. Some of the buildings do look far too similar if you prefer the more manual option, but having the shortcut to hand does reduce potential irritation.
When it comes to the actual sailing, controls are kept relatively simplistic. Moving between ports is easily done, and when you do run into trouble, or go looking for it yourself, the actual control scheme never proves problematic. Sure, like in the towns, the use of a keyboard and mouse would obviously make life easier, but for the most part, the controller works just fine. If anything, the naval battles themselves were a tad more simplistic than I was expecting. After the depth of economic options available, combat itself seemed rather basic by comparison. Still, with manual and automatic options available, you can take as much or as little control over your attacking fleet as you feel comfortable with. Attacking towns is purely manual, but these sections are so straightforward as to make an automated mode largely unnecessary.
Despite the removal of the PC versions’ online options, Port Royale 3 offers plenty of content for those willing to embrace its slower paced strategic gameplay. It’s obviously going to play to a very limited audience, but for those looking for something a little different from their 360, Kalypso have once again delivered a genuinely enjoyable alternative to traditional console gaming. It may get lost amidst the array of blockbuster titles due out in the run up to Christmas, but with its budget price point and unique gameplay, it might well catch the attention of that small but loyal following it is so clearly chasing.
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