I'm certain that Port Royale 3: Pirates and Merchants is a better experience on the PC, if for no other reason than that the interface must to be infinitely easier to manage with a mouse and keyboard. Port Royale 3 makes for a decent console port, and it's similar to other titles — namely Tropico 3 and 4 — that publisher Kalypso Media enjoys bringing to console-only gamers. Similarly, you can tell that the game was crafted for PCs, but I applaud the publisher's effort in bringing some of these quirky simulation experiences to the Xbox 360 and PS3.
With that said, Port Royale 3 isn't quite as enjoyable as the Tropico series, though little of this has to do with the control interface or port. Mostly, it's because this is a merchant simulator-slash-naval game as opposed to a city-, nation- or world-building experience. It has a little bit of the latter, but the main focus is definitely in the trading system.
Port Royale 3 takes place in the 17th century and focuses on the Caribbean. The naval forces from four countries — England, France, Holland and Spain — are trying to reign the seas and colonies. In the two campaigns, you play the role of a young man or woman washed overboard and rescued aboard a Spanish galley. You arrive on the docks of Port Royale to kick off your adventure, and you're quickly introduced to the concepts of buying low and selling high.
In the trader campaign, your goal is to earn cash by purchasing goods at one port town and moving to the next to offload those goods at a higher price, all the while purchasing more to replenish your stock. Each town offers five goods that they tend to have in surplus, usually due to manufacturing via farms or factories. The introductory good in the onset of both tutorials comes from the rum produced in Port Royale. To make rum, Port Royale needs sugar, which you need to retrieve from a nearby town. Once that's done, you can buy some rum, take that to another port, and sell it for a profit if that town is in need of drink.
To Port Royale 3's credit, this isn't as difficult or cumbersome as it might sound. The game does a great job of giving the player enough information to make informed decisions about buying and selling, so you won't make a bad decision unless you're not paying attention. When visiting a port, you can bring up a radial menu that allows you to select from different buildings within the town. If you prefer, you can switch from the overhead map view and actually enter the town. This gives you the ability to look around and check out the buildings, and later in the game, you can place your own buildings, farms and houses for your workers.
The building that gets the most play is the dock, which is where you purchase and sell goods. There are about 18 different goods in Port Royale 3, including adobe bricks, sugar and textiles. A lot of goods tend to tie in to other things, such as needing adobe bricks and wood so you can create buildings or farms in other locations. When you bring up the dock, you see a list of goods and a helpful marker next to each that lets you know if the town has an excess or shortage of it. The idea is to buy the excess for a low amount and sell the desired stuff for a profit. The game also gives you an average price for the goods you currently have stowed on your vessels, so you'll always be able to tell if you're making a profit.
Via the overworld map, you also have some limited exploration elements. You start off with a number of discovered towns, but exploring along the coasts often reveals new trading locations. Occasionally, you'll also see pirate bases, pirate ships, shipwrecked survivors, and flotsam containing random goods. These add a little flavor to the experience of moving from one town to the next, but the general movement via the overworld map is kind of slow. You can helpfully hold down a button to bump it up to 10 times the normal speed, but a few more options in between or beyond would have been more helpful for particularly long trips.
If you'd prefer to not control the movement, you can also set up trade routes, which allow you to select a number of towns and have your convoy of ships move automatically between them. You can set a number of trading options — e.g., trading for raw materials, trading for profit only — and take a more hands-off approach while (hopefully) watching the cash roll in. My experience with the automated system is that the AI isn't nearly as proficient at making cash as you would manually, and I'm sure that's intentional. Also, automating your ships is only useful once you buy more vessels, so you can control a convoy of ships and let the others run routes.
If trading doesn't tickle your fancy, Port Royale 3 also offers some naval combat. The adventurer campaign splits off from the trading portion and introduces you to the elements of ship-to-ship combat and even ship-to-town fighting. Combat is also a bit slow and deliberate, but it can provide some interesting tactical battles. When you want to fight another ship, select one in range and press the appropriate button from the overworld map. Once you reach that ship, you'll have the option of engaging in battle manually or through an automated process. Automated isn't particularly exciting, and it doesn't even give you the option to view the fight. Instead, you'll be stuck for about three or four minutes watching your health and crew numbers fall until the fight is over. Manual is definitely the way to go.
When battle begins, you'll have direct control over one of your ships in the convoy that's been designated as a battle vessel. You can switch between available ships at will, but the other ships are under CPU control. The idea is that you line up your ship with an enemy ship in a side-by-side fashion before unleashing a volley of cannonballs, ideally when a circular marker under an enemy vessel turns green. Each hit causes damage to a ship, kills off a couple of crewmembers, and makes the vessel a little slower. As you get more into combat, you can attempt to board and take over enemy ships, use different cannonball ammunition for various effects, and steal goods from other captains.
Ship-to-town combat is a little more involved and requires you to approach a town and initiate combat, so it can't be automated. When in a battle with a town, the technique involves whittling away at its defenses before invading by attacking a targeted location to reduce the population. These battles were pretty tedious and definitely not as exciting or involved as the ship-to-ship fights.
However, calling anything in Port Royale 3 exciting is a stretch. The ship-to-ship battles are interesting, and there's some novelty in amassing wealth through shrewd trading, but the biggest negative is that it's kind of boring to play. I typically enjoy strategy games on both PC and consoles, but Port Royale 3's pacing is so deliberately slow and requires you to be bogged down in menus, moving sliders, and managing goods and buildings. At some point along the way, you're bound to have a hard time stifling a yawn or two. There's a very small niche of players who will find a lot of enjoyment here, but the experience just wasn't for me.
It's not a bad port, but again, if you're interested in checking out the game and have access to a competent PC, I'd advise you to pick up that version instead. It's such a menu-intensive game that regardless of how much fun you're having, you'll get tired of using a controller to manipulate things. As for the rest of the experience, everything seems pretty solid. It's not the most visually impressive game — there are a lot of menus and not a lot of action — but what's on display is brightly colored and pretty vibrant. The music isn't overly offensive but is highly forgettable. The voice acting, limited as it might be, is a little uneven; it features a pretty great narrator for the campaigns but also has some groan-inducing pirate impersonators.
In the end, I don't think I'd recommend Port Royale 3 as a great purchase on the Xbox 360. There's some novelty and a bit of fun to be had, but it quickly overstays its welcome unless you're in love with the idea of a hardcore merchant simulator.
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