Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales Impressions - Naval Battles, Swashbuckling, Trade, and RPG Elements

We take in the sights, sounds, and salt-sea air from this upcoming pirate-themed hybrid role-playing game from Akella, Playlogic, and Atari.

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We recently had a chance to take an up-close look at Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales, a pirate-themed role-playing game from the creator of the 2000 pirate-themed game Sea Dogs. Developer Akella is working with publishers Playlogic and Atari to create a colorful game that lets you play as a sea captain during the Age of Sail, trading goods, capturing ships, and eventually seizing control of the New World.

You'll play as a ship captain with various role-playing-game-style statistics, skills, and abilities, such as trading, fencing, and navigating, among others. You'll be able to hire a crew of officers (such as steersmen, cannoneers, and others) from various taverns, who can provide bonuses to your skills as long as you keep them on the payroll (running out of money and/or food while on the high seas is a good recipe for a messy mutiny, otherwise). Your own character will gain experience levels, or ranks, which net you more skill points to spend. And over time, you'll also increase your character's fame rating, which lets you access the tougher missions given by the governors of the various Caribbean islands.

As you might expect from a game about the Age of Sail, much of the game takes place at sea in a ship you'll control with your W, A, S, and D keys, as well as your mouse. These controls let you shift between half sail and full sail and steer the ship. Your vessel will be at the mercy of the elements (random storms may suck your ship in and damage it beyond repair), but you'll also be able to speed up or slow down time to travel longer distances. Though you'll start off with a small sloop, you'll work your way up to a man-of-war--a humongous capital ship with more than 100 firing cannons on board--and eventually, you'll command a small fleet of up to four ships.

Like in other pirate-themed games you may have played, this game will let you choose different types of ammunition to load into your cannons (such as grapeshot to target enemy crews or cannonballs to target the enemy ship's hull). You'll be able to board an enemy ship using your captain's boarding skills, then participate in a third-person, behind-the-back perspective melee battle between your captain and crew and the enemy crew. The on-foot combat seems simple and accessible--you have a few different types of sword slashes you can perform while using the W, A, S, and D keys on your keyboard; you can block incoming sword blows; and if you have time, you can pull out a flintlock pistol and fire on your enemies. Once you dispose of the crew, you'll then go into one-on-one combat with the enemy ship's captain in his quarters.

According to the game's story, you play as an orphan in search of your long-lost half-sibling, who possesses the other half of your deceased father's treasure map. Your primary goals in the game are to find the treasure and unite the New World under one standard--yours. While you may begin the game allied with various sovereign powers (including Spain, France, Holland, and England, along with miscellaneous factions like traders, pirates, and smugglers), you'll end up hostile to most of them, based on a reputation system (you may be neutral or a good matey to some factions, but you'll eventually be considered a wanted criminal for most).

Before you antagonize the settlements on other islands, you'll be able to walk freely on land and trade goods at the general store, repair and upgrade your current ships (and purchase new ones) at the shipyard, and gain missions and manpower at the tavern. After you antagonize them, you'll have to bombard ground settlements from sea to weaken ground defenses, then land with an on-foot contingent of buccaneers and face off against the guards with your sword. After you take control of a town, you'll be able to manage and upgrade it by using your ill-gotten gains to finance barracks, which create new guards that work for you, or initiate expeditions to look for gold and silver mines to keep your cash flowing.

Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales has a bright and colorful look to its clean 3D graphics and a great deal of detail on its ships, particularly the various animations that show crew members bustling along the deck as you sail and preparing the main guns when you've ended up in battle. The game should let players live out the fantasy of being a fabulously wealthy sea-trading captain with a sword in one hand and a steering wheel in the other. Age of Pirates is scheduled for release later this year.

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