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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Eidos

Ups: Engaging open-ended gameplay; the best pirate game since Sid Meier's Pirates!
Downs: Dated graphics, buggy out of the box.
System Reqs: P233, 32MB RAM, 4X CD, 200MB HD space, 3D accelerator. 

ct1.jpg (6518 bytes)Cutthroats is a new release from the hardworking people at Eidos. With Cutthroats: Terror on the High Seas, you can expect to be taken back to the early 1600's, when you and your crew shall become the terror of the high seas. In no time at all you will be ruling the oceans as a brutally barbaric pirate tyrant--or maybe a marauding oceanic Robin Hood.

All of the responsibilities of being a pirate captain sit squarely on your shoulders. And believe me, the job is not nearly as easy as it sounds. You have to keep your ships seaworthy, your men happy (which means drunk, fed, and battle-worthy), and your head out of a hangman’s noose. Sure, your basic daily duties consist of deciding where you will loot, pillage, and plunder, but they go far beyond that. Every one of your actions will have a direct effect on the rest of the game. Like a stone thrown in a lake, the ripples from one action spread far and wide, closing some doors and opening others. And with over 6,000,000 miles of ocean to explore and terrorize, that makes for a lot of doors.  I ended up playing this game a lot--and seemed to start over even more.

ct2.jpg (6357 bytes)In fact, one of the biggest challenges of Cutthroats is starting out--it's hard to remember everything that a good pirate captain should do. First of all, you need a crew. It's hard to be a famous pirate by just sitting in port on a ship by yourself yelling orders at no one in particular. But after assembling a small crew,  you're ready to head out into the great blue yonder. But you must also be sure you have enough food. Leaving without enough grub will cause unrest amongst your men. In fact, should you run out of food on the trip you will be lucky if you're only removed from command (when your crew goes unfed, your life is in great peril). Your sailors also like rum, it helps them fight bravely and increases morale more then a pretty local girl. Ok, not more then a pretty girl, but on a ship full of pirates it’s the next best thing.

There are four main screens in the game, and you had better become familiar with them or you might as well sail in your bathtub. There is the main map screen, port screen, battle screen (ship to ship), and battle screen (town invasion). Understanding each is crucial to your success. The map screen is where you can see all of the ports of call in your area. It also shows things like wind direction (important since you don’t have an engine), town size, town loot, and town defense. It will even show you what nationality each town is, which is important.. When sailing to a port it is advisable that you fly its flag--you tend to be received better.

ct3.jpg (6740 bytes)Once you dock, assuming you are not attacking the town, you are greeted with a status screen that will give you lots of info about the townspeople and how they are "taking to" your presence. A smiley face is good; you can re-supply and take your time checking out the town. Frowning faces are bad, and can mean that none of the townspeople will have any dealings with you. This can ruin your game if you are almost out of food and far from home. Despite this, you can always recruit men into your service if any remain in town, and you can always speak to the governor. When speaking to the governor watch what you say, most of my best games were ended because I got cocky and mouthed off to the governor who had me arrested and killed. Assuming that the townspeople will deal with you, ports are where you will buy whatever provisions you need and have your ships repaired. Of course this is a pirate game, so if you don’t want to spend your hard-earned money, there are other options.

Instead of docking in the port you can land at the beach and deploy a contingent of your pirate crew to try to take over the town. This is a much more entertaining, and pirate-like, way to re-supply. You can deploy as many pirates as you like and arm them with weapons that you bought or stole, like muskets, pistols, grenades, or cannons. If you don’t have anything they will use cutlasses, which are standard issue for all pirates and cost you nothing. Once you land on the beach you can point and click your men around town looting buildings, taking prisoners, and fighting the town militia and or soldiers. Depending on your intentions and your actions, you have a great deal of control over the future of your career at this point during the game. If you loot, pillage, and plunder the town enough the governor will offer you terms or surrender. You can either accept the town’s terms and leave or decline and press on towards the governor’s mansion. If you eliminate the resistance and loot the governor’s mansion, the town will be yours to do with as you please. You can torture the Gov. to get information about hidden treasure, kill the soldiers, kill everyone, appoint a new governor from the ranks of your officers, or you can just destroy the entire town. That makes a big ripple.

ct4.jpg (5903 bytes)Which brings us to sea battles. The more famous and infamous you are will greatly affect how other ships respond to your presence. When fighting ship-to-ship you have a couple options. You have cannons that can fire at sails, the deck or you can scuttle the ship in an effort to sink her. Since sea attacks are the best way to add ships to your fleet I don’t recommend the all out attack. After a bit of cannon fire you can board the ship and have your crew kill off enough of the crew so that they surrender and there you have it, another ship in your soon-to-be armada. Once you have four or so fluytes (trade ships) under your command you can begin to take on the bigger ships and really rake in the loot. Nothing like a little cannon fire in the crisp morning air to get the blood pumping.

Cries from the crow’s nest, cannon and musket fire, ocean waves, and birds singing are all well-replicated. The men in your service speak their minds about the status of the voyage, battle, and even their opinions on your leadership abilities. The sound is just cool. Even the battle music doesn’t really get old. It is just enough to get the blood flowing, but not so obnoxious that you are ready to suicide your ships to make it stop. The music that plays throughout the game is very pleasant and is in the background so that you hardly even notice it while you play. Which is more then I can say for the graphics.

ct5.jpg (7277 bytes)By far the biggest problem this game has is its graphics. Anymore, 3D graphics seem to be the norm for new product and, well, they are noticeably absent from Cutthroats. This game has good 2D graphics while sailing and everything looks all right, but when you see your crew on land it 's almost laughable. They run around as multi-colored block people. There is no real definition at all to the individual characters. It is perhaps admirable for a company to try to reach as many people as possible by lowering the system recs and not requiring a 3D device. But by now anyone that doesn’t have such a device has long since given up on buying anything new as far as games are concerned. All this does is hinder the game; after all you still need a 200 MHz Pentium and 250 MB of hard drive space to play, so it's not like a 3D card would be out of the question for someone using such a machine.

Overall though, this game is where it's at.  It is deep and is not something that will be beaten without effort. It is always changing; each time you play can be a totally different experience, depending on how you decide to play. It's kind of like the old choose your own adventure stories, where you can change the story depending on the choices you make. There's lots of room to explore and there are no set parameters that must be followed. Once you get your ship you are ready to do your own thing. You can be an honest (almost) trader or a ruthless pirate and can even switch back and forth during the game.

Only two things disappoint in Cutthroats. First, as I said, the graphics are dated; second, the game does not run with any degree of stability right out of the box. After loading up the patch on the Eidos site, I didn't have any problems, but be sure to download the patch before you run the installed game.

--Ben Moore