Cutthroats - The best pirate game available for PC

by DannyUK

Well, shiver me timbers, it does me ‘eart good to see a salty ol’ sea-dog like meself. It’s 1640, you have a ship, 500 pesos, and a few crew members.

Your aim? To take control of the High Seas, battle your way through traders, pirate hunters and warships, overthrow governors and take over islands. The more you can do, the more famous you get – or infamous, depending on how you play the game.

In the 17th Century, the seas of the Caribbean were laden with bounty, and 1640-1655 is the golden age of piracy (the High Sea version, not the dodgy software version!) though you can choose to start the game any time from 1625 through to 1700 depending on how difficult you want it to be.

You start off in a port in the Caribbean. You are given a small ship, a small crew consisting of sailors, marines and gunners, and the rest is down to you. Before you can sail you have to ensure your crew is sufficiently large to cope with the size of your ship.

At the start of the game, half a dozen or so sailors are all you need, but as the game progresses you will find that you can get bigger and better ships which need more sailors. You may also find that although you can get by with a minimum amount of sailors, having many more makes the ship far easier to handle, and therefore gives you a better chance of doing what you want to do at sea.

Each port gives you the option to buy gunnery or make repairs at a shipwright, buy and sell goods, hire staff, visit the governor, attend to your fleet and a few other options. Your main concern for the early stages will be to trade, ensuring that you have enough food, fruit and meat to keep your crew healthy, and enough rum to keep up their bravado.

After all, a sick or weak crew will be no good to you when it comes to attacking traders at sea, will it? A trip to the governor is always worthwhile, particularly if you are at a pirate town, as the governor is more likely to give you a treasure map which will speed you on your way to wealth and in turn fame.

Non-Pirate ports are run by the English, Dutch, French or Spanish, and each will treat you differently as the game progresses, depending on your alliances with some countries, or your actions towards a country’s ships.

But being nice and buying goods isn’t the reason for playing this game. Oh no. Once you have a large set of marines, a few gunners and some decent sailors you can start attacking and destroying other ships that travel the 6 million square miles of the Caribbean available to see in this game.

Cutthroats - Terror on the High Seas!

Cutthroats - Terror on the High Seas!

Primarily you’ll sail from port to port, meeting ships en route. If you meet traders (which you will know from a call of one of your crew: “One ship sir! They look like traders!”, then the chances are that a short fight is all that is needed to relieve them of their cargo.

The fight is done using cannons and muskets to take out the sails, slowing down the vessel, fire across the face of the ship, killing the marines, or shooting at the hull in an effort to sink the ship.

Once you believe you have fired enough shots to take out most of their marines, which is shown by a crude indicator when you hover the mouse over the opposition, you can choose to board their ship. Which will see the two sets of marines battle it out for control of the ship.

The idea is that you gain control, take the ship to the next port, sell off the assets and eventually share the wealth with your crew, before starting again. However, your actions now have an impact later in the game.

You have the chance to slaughter any crew members that surrender to you. Doing this raises your infamy level, and makes it harder in the later stages, as fewer people will trust you not to slaughter them when they surrender and so will fight you to the death. Equally, the more ships you seize, the higher your fame level becomes and the easier it is to get to around to your way of thinking.

Aside from sea-battles, the other form of blood-letting is a land battle. This is where you land at one of over 70 ports, determine via the port screen the size of the population and garrison, and then land at a nearby beach to invade. Whereas the sea battles are generally easy to do, a land battle requires you to take a much broader view.

You need to determine whereabouts you are going to send your troops, whether you want to take over the island and install your own governor, or whether you simple want to rob all the houses and burn it to the ground. Your choices are then carried out by a group of marines who you have individual control over. (Think of it as a much-scaled-down version of the Sims). You assign your troops the task of looting, killing or catching prisoners and oversee their every move through the villages and towns.

Considering that this game originally came out in 1998 / 1999 which in terms of software is a generation away, it holds it’s own well against newer games. The gameplay is easy to understand and learn, and addictive. The graphics are average, but I think that more detailed graphics could detract from the essence of the game.

Although violence-based, with one of your main aims being to kill and sink ships, you never see any violence or bloodshed, the worst it gets is the sound effects of swords clashing. Talking of which, the sound effects are again adequate for the game.

Nothing fancy or over the top, though the market screen at ports has sufficient ambiance, and your crew often chime in with pirate-esque phrases such as “This looks like a good place for a pirate to do some drinkin’ and whorin’”, and “You’ll be wanting to buy some rum ‘ere.”

The one downside to this game is that it seems to be barely completed before release, by which I mean that some bugs are still evident. Even with the patches that you can add-on to the original game to apparently bring it up to scratch, I find that the game still has an irritating ability to crash frequently.

There is no real solution to this either, as Eidos chose not to produce any more patches, meaning that any bugs left after the final patch are left unresolved. The only thing that can be done is to constantly save the game after each turn.

This is fairly quick, and fortunately does not seem to take forever to save as some games can do, though there is also a bug that occasionally causes the game to crash on saving, rendering the save game file that you were working with corrupt.

Again, there is no solution to this, though the use of three or four save game slots per game ensures that if a crash occurs, only a small section remains unsaved.

Overall, the game is addictive enough to warrant five stars. I’ve been playing it on and off for the best part of four years now, and although I can go several months without playing it, I know that once I start again I will continue playing for several weeks.

It has a longevity that many games lack these days, and although the graphics and sound are unable to compete with those offered in today’s software, they are good enough not to detract from the gameplay, which is also worthy of five stars.

However, the “adequate” sound and graphics bring this to a respectable 3-star position, though another star gets deducted due to the annoying bugs that cause the game to crash, which is a shame because the game is not as bad as two stars. So, I’m going to cheat and give it three stars, which seems about right as it’s now available at a budget price.

The system requirements for this game are indicative of its age, and you will only need a minimum of a P166 processor and 32mb RAM. If you’ve bought a PC in the last six years, then you should be easily able to play this game.

You can download a demo of this game at this address ftp://ftp.inet.fi/TheDome/download/demot/cutthroats_demo.exe, though, at just £5 from Amazon, you may as well just buy the original!

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