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SummaryWorst pirate game ever.
The GoodThe game concept is every bit as compelling as it was when Sid Meier introduced it with Pirates! way back in 1987. Cutthroats promises deep and open-ended gameplay combining action, real-time strategy, and role-playing, all in the undeniably romantic historical setting of the Golden Age of Piracy.
The production values are fairly high (for the time of release). The opening cinematic sequence sets the mood for plundering and pillaging very nicely, and some of the in-game graphics are quite attractive as well. Colors are bright and vivid. Ships are fairly detailed and authentic-looking; if you pay attention, you’ll notice that the big warships really do look like warships, with many sails and multiple gun decks. The Caribbean map you use to plot your course also looks good. Sound effects seem quite realistic, and the catchy musical score may actually be the highlight of the game (which is probably not a good sign).
The designers certainly had their hearts in the right place: give the fans of Pirates! what they love, only more of it. This translates into lots of options, particularly during ship battles. You can choose your kind of shot (ball, chain, grape), create fire ships, send out rowboats, and grapple and board enemy vessels. You can even disengage from a boarding action if you change your mind.
There are a lot of different kinds of goods available for sale (or theft) in Cutthroats. Some are necessary, like food and rum for your sailors, while others are mainly trading fodder. The economic model may actually be overly detailed, but it’s still pretty interesting. If Cutthroats were a playable game, then the trading sub-game would probably be the best part…
The Bad…so it’s just a cryin’ shame that Hothouse/Eidos totally dropped the ball on this title. So many good ideas, and such a great blueprint to follow in Pirates!, with so little competition – how could it go wrong? In oh so many ways!
First of all, the game is a technical mess. It runs slower than molasses on older PCs, or even on a very fast Windows XP machine with the “Windows 98/ME” compatibility setting turned on. Load times are simply unbearable; you could be halfway across the Caribbean in Pirates! in the same time it takes just to get started in Cutthroats. You can just run it under XP, but then you get the opposite problem: it’s too fast to be really playable. Even if you do get it running, don’t get too happy, as it will probably just crash to the desktop in a few minutes. As usual, saving your game often is a very good idea.
The interface is a nightmare of clunky buttons and tiny little icons. Thank God for tool tips, or else you’d never know what half of those little pictures are supposed to represent. It’s all in keeping with the overall philosophy of the Cutthroats design: make even the simplest task dull and complicated.
Want to set sail? You’ll go to the big map, only to be told that you have a bunch of goods still sitting on the dock, so you have to go back to another screen and load your ship, since it was apparently not obvious that you were purchasing goods with the intention of carrying them elsewhere. Want to investigate that ship on the horizon? Ok, so you’ll go to the “crow’s nest” view, but you find out that it’s a friendly ship, so you want to go back to the big map and continue your voyage, but for some reason you can’t opt to do that with a command, you just have to sit there while your little ship slowly sails off the playing field. Sounds like fun, huh?
Should you get lucky enough to find prey (or accidently target a friendly ship, which is all too easy to do) you get to engage the enemy ship in battle. Finally we get to the fun part, right? Nope. Battles are shockingly boring. Once you’ve chosen your shot, the main thing left to do is click the mouse on the enemy ship in the hopes that your crew will respond and fire the cannons. As usual, information is too scarce to make any sound judgments about tactics. How many guns does the enemy ship have? How large is the crew? What condition is their vessel in? Who knows? You don’t know the number of enemy crew until you begin a boarding action, but of course, an estimate on that would be most helpful *before* you actually board. What’s worse is that boarding actions are also *boring* actions – there are no swordfights to engage in, no real-time tactical orders to be issued, just a tiny little animated icon showing the crew totals dwindle from the unseen battle.
As for the game’s audio-visual chrome, even that aspect manages to disappoint. Some of the graphics and sounds are just plain sub-par. Humans are drawn strangely, in a way that is hard to describe. They don’t look natural, even by 3D video game standards. It’s like a bunch of department store mannequins have been dressed up in pirate attire and brought to life. Creepy stuff. The voiceovers are not unnatural so much as annoying. The cheese factor is high, but more bothersome is that fact that the voices keep telling you the same darn thing over and over, every time you issue a routine command. “Ay cap’n, the men’ll follow ye all the way to Davy Jones’ locker!” is amusing to hear at first, but not for the umpteenth time in just a few hours of play.
I really can’t say too much more that’s negative about Cutthroats – not because it’s not bad, but because it’s so bad I can’t play it long enough to even experience certain parts of it. Land battles? Treasure hunting? Diplomacy? Retirement? I’m sure it’s all there, on paper at least, but may God have mercy on the souls of the poor buggers who are forced to play this game long enough to get involved with that stuff. The poor bastards could have been, and should have been, playing Pirates! instead.