From the master minds at Ascaron, the makers of the impressive Sacred, comes Port Royale 2 for the PC. Set in the 17th century, players must wheel and deal their way to success as they attempt to manage their own virtual import and export empire. With a plethora of sim management features and a hint of real time strategy gameplay, Port Royale 2 sets sail to become one of the sleeper hits of 2004, but does it have what it takes to impress an audience other than the hardcore simulation fans?
Port Royale 2 is a single player only game featuring two major modes of play - scenario and free play. The scenario mode is where you are given instant objectives for certain missions, and it also acts as a semi-training mode. The first few scenarios will take you through the game's basics, however this is not really ideal. First of all, not everything seems to be covered in detail, and secondly, if you want to freshen up on something which is covered deeper into a scenario, you will have to go through everything before it first. Having training missions which are specific, e.g. 'how to organise trade routes' rather than just 'trading', would have been very handy. The lack of a true training mode gives Port Royale 2 a reasonably steep learning curve, at least when concerning the more advanced features, which may scare a few gamers off.
Free play is the main mode in Port Royale 2. This is where you are given a small amount of gold, 1 ship, 1 warehouse and nothing else. The year is 1600 and it is basically your job to grow into a successful business empire of producing, importing and exporting goods. You also have a rank determined by your assets, which acts as a 'level up' so to speak, where as some missions can't be done until you are a certain rank. However true it its word, this is indeed free play, you don't really have to do anything at all, everything from what type of goods you produce to who your alliances stand with is up to you.
You start making your fortune doing basic trading amongst colonies. Each location will state what they produce, and what they need the most. Obviously, the money is made providing goods to areas in low supply, and buying highly supplied goods cheaply. So, for example, if Town A makes corn and Town B has a low supply of corn, you buy the corn cheaply from Town A, stock it on your ship, sail off to Town B and sell it for a profit. The market is a living thing and it will change rapidly in real time, since there are countless other CPU controlled traders working just like you are, it can be very competitive and high risk, but there is plenty of room for success, you just have to learn when to snap up bargains and when and where to sell stock.
As your cash assets grow you can invest in a few trades, depending on your town's production. Examples include wood, fruit, bricks, wheat, cotton, meat and many more. Your businesses will, naturally, need workers and will cost you money to operate. This involves wages and in some cases raw materials (which may or may not be bought cheap locally, further adding to the management of a successful business). As you produce goods, the final products along with the raw materials are stored in your local warehouse, each town you produce in must first have a warehouse. It is up to you to sell these to make the profits, whether it be at the local dock market or if you export them to another location. Often, simple goods like fruit and bricks can be sold locally for a decent profit, but the real money is made with more rare items such as garments and tools, which can sell for up to a +100% profit at times when exported to the right locations. The bigger the business the more it costs though, so you will have to balance your expenses and profits with great caution for success. It is also possible to invest in real estate, which just basically gives you a guaranteed income on rental should the demand for housing be present (it almost always is to some extent).
The great thing about Port Royale 2 is certainly its business management aspects. Not only will you have to develop a keen sense of supply and demand, you'll also learn just how important cash flow is when it comes to expanding your services, and just how essential successful decision making is for the desired profits. Often in games like this, it can come to a point where your progression is like a run away train that can't be stopped, taking over anything and everything in your path, but not in Port Royale 2. Every purchase, every sale and every decision will have an influence on your success, and this influence simply gets bigger as you get bigger, it by no means gets easier as you grow. For example, having established 5 Brick workshops in a Spanish town, it soon became apparent that the demand of brick all around the country was way too low for the surplus of supply I was producing, so quickly selling the brick businesses and investing in garments saved what would be a lot of lost money - it did cost a lot to move to garments due to its higher production cost, but the demand was there and soon enough profits were at hand.
Another nice aspect of Port Royale 2 is its perception of time. Typically, strategy games on the PC have had no real sense of time, with buildings being built in minutes almost effortlessly. In Port Royale 2, there is a real clock and calendar present, and tasks such as constructing buildings and repairing ships actually do take a while to complete. A full Port Royale 2 day typically lasts for 4 or so minutes in the real world, and since construction may last 10 or so days, you can see how authentically time has been implemented - not to the degree where a building actually takes weeks on ingame time, but close enough anyway. Of course, you can speed up the game at any time, with the ability to go x100 faster than the default speed, which is incredibly handy on lengthy sea journeys that would, naturally, take days of in-game time to complete, however, it is not a great idea to live by the speed up function. Besides the fact it can detract from the game's lasting appeal, it can also make large scale business management pretty hard. You need a cash flow to survive and if you're spending quicker than you can physically sell even if it is for a profit, you have a problem on your hands.
During gameplay it is also possible to go into battle with other ships in the sea. To do this you'll first need cannons, cannon balls, crew members etc not to mention a decent enough ship for battle, so it isn't something you can jump straight into, you'll certainly want to have some serious funds before attempting this. As you progress with your trading you make alliances with countries such as Spain, France and England, depending on your trade record and reputation with each nation. Wars can break out between nations and you can join in on the battles, which is where your battle ship can come in handy to further please your desired ally. The execution of this, however, is nothing special. Basically, the game enters into an 'arena' mode where your convoy faces the challenged opponent's in real time battle. As you jock for position, you simply click to fire your cannons and should their ship be in your cannon's path, you will inflict damage. Each ship has attributes, so the outcome depends more on which ship is best rather than any sort of skill. This is a nice touch to the game, but it can become pretty plain after a while - it's a good thing combat is only a very small part of Port Royale 2.
Graphics are hardly ever a strong point of this genre and Port Royale 2 is no exception. Whilst the in-game environments and infrastructure are actually pretty nicely done, as soon as you zoom in things become rather poor in quality. Instead of re-rendering the objects, they are simply enlarged from their original resolution, creating blur and general all around bad graphics. This applies to the buildings, the terrain, the people and so forth, however the ships, water and trees are all rendered in 3D and don't suffer from this problem. What this does do, however, is create a distinct difference between the 2D and 3D images, even at the default zoom level it is easy to see what objects are higher in quality (3D), and what are low in quality (2D). Nevertheless, this is really not a huge issue, sim/strategy is hardly the genre for pretty graphics, but more attention to detail is always welcome.
Whilst this genre is far from market friendly when it comes to the generic PC gamer, Port Royale 2 is certainly worth looking at. For the management buffs out there, this is a very indepth game not to mention pretty challenging too, whilst the traditional RTS gamers will even have some aspects to look forward to such as the combat department, although it is certainly not the game's strongest point. It is true Port Royale 2 isn't exactly groundbreaking, but it is a very solid and enjoyable strategy/simulation with loads and loads of gameplay presuming you have the patience and passion to keep playing it. It isn't really the question of whether or not Port Royale 2 is worthy, because it is, it is more the question of whether or not you can enjoy this type of gaming, and I truly feel sorry for the people who can't, because they're missing out.