Release Date: September 2006
Note: Originally published 24 October 2006
Akella is a small Russian developer who have worked on many successful pirate titles, including Sea Dogs, Age of Sail 2, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales (AOPCT) is an open-ended game, similar toPrivateer by Origin or Freelancer that let the game-player play the free form game of being a cargo ship, a privateer, an escort for other ships, or to even join the service of a local island governor.
The promotional material says that the game has total freedom without constraints. Players can literally do what they like whenever they like in an open environment. There are tons of things to do in this game. You can conquer and manage colonies or islands, ferry passengers for a fee, build fleets, trade goods, and plunder merchant convoys.
The game is also a role-playing game in that the player can learn to fence from the skill-based system. Skills include leadership, navigation, tactics, fencing, pistols, cannons, accuracy, boarding, defense, repair, and luck. When hero or heroine goes up in levels, the player allocates skill points to these skills to increase their values.
Hiring officers of sufficient skill is important. The skill of the officers will supersede the skill of the hero/heroine in performing repairs, firing cannons and other actions. Officers should be assigned to appropriate positions on the ships.
Abilities like berserk gunner, sail-maker and merchant become available and are selectable from a list. Once selected the abilities add to the overall skill in these areas. Some skills precede other skills; for example, sail-master precedes wind-catcher skills.
Reputation or faction is also important. There are many colonial powers that the hero/heroine can win or lose favor with. If the protagonist attacks Dutch shipping, be prepared for the Dutch to start attacking on the high seas. The welcome the captain, ship and crew will receive in encounters on the high seas and ports depends on whether they are considered allied, friendly, enemy or neutral.
As seen in many other games, the events of your captain's career are tracked on a career screen. The faction or relations with the various nations is shown on this screen. Letters of Marquee are shown in the career screen.
Since the time of the game Sundog on the Atari ST, upgrading the small starting ship to a larger ship and upgrading the weapons and other aspects of the ship has been an exciting aspect of this type of game. Size of ship, number of cannons and even type of hull, sails and cannon are all upgradable.
While on land the player-character moves like most on land with a third-person rear-view perspective. The captain can enter shops, the governor's office, the tavern, the shipwrights, and other locations to do business. Similar to other games, a yellow exclamation point appears above the head of characters that have quests. A blue upside down exclamation point indicates that the character wishes to talk to the captain to impart wisdom and experience.
One aspect of the mission system is disappointing. The player can only have one letter of marquee at a time. If the player talks to another governor about a letter of marquee he will immediately loose the letter of marquee with the first governor and not be given additional quests by the first governor. In fact the first governor will never give the player a letter of marquee again.
Many games of this type are not so punitive and allow the player to be friendly with everyone as long as the player is careful not to take missions that conflict with the other nation's interests. Game design of this type detracts from the game rather than enhances it. Many players, myself included, like the challenge of balancing the factions of competing interests, and this game (AOPCT) denies that challenge of the game within a game.
There is ship-to-ship combat where the player controls the ship, fires the guns and eventually boards the enemy. Once on the enemy ship, melee or hand-to-hand fighting breaks out between the boarding party and the captain, and the enemy crew and its captain. If you are killed here the game is over.
The sea map shows a smaller map where the local area is portrayed, and a large map which shows other ships nearby. Early in the game, the player is advised to avoid enemy ships vigorously or the player will find himself restoring a save game. The pirates early-on have you outgunned and outmanned. You cannot win.
AOPCT has all the elements that you would like for a game of this type. It is free roaming, has role-playing elements, allows you to capture and manage towns, and many other features that stand it apart as a well-designed game system.
This game is reminiscent of Activision when they came out of bankruptcy and worked hard to resurrect theMechwarrior/Battletech line of games. After working on the game for over a year, the game was fully designed but did not gel. It was missing something, an undefinable refinement of the game which would grab the game player and hold his interest. AOPCT has not gelled; there is something missing even though the evidence indicates that the game has all the features a player would want in this type of game.
I believe that if the developers took the game back and worked on it a bit more they could find the missing balance and bring out a truly great game. AOPCT is missing something. Even on easy mode it is far too lethal preventing you from getting into the game without many failures and game restarts and reboots. As it stands, I have to give the game a grade of C as it is missing something.
256 Mb RAM
1.1 shader 3D-videocard