Sea Dogs

6Sea Dogs needs some patching before it’s seaworthy.

Chock full of sea battles, bloody sword fights, and hilarious pirate lingo, Sea Dogs is an interestingly different pirating adventure. This game from the Russian developer, Akella (also known for the buggy Age of Sail 2), offers a unique blend of action and roleplaying set in a fictional Caribbean-style island chain in the 1800’s. You’re Nick Sharp, the son of a pirate and an escaped prisoner of war.

With a small boat and skeleton crew, you can choose to become a part of one of the great naval forces of Spain, France, or England, become a pirate, or just side with whoever seems to be winning at the time. Your relationships with the various navies and the pirates have a huge impact on the course of the game, and will help determine whether you become a rich privateer or shark bait.

Ocean battles make up the brunt of the action, and the isometric real-time combat engine is very smart. Basic strategy involves angling for a side-on-side approach and battering your opponent with cannon fire. After a successful broad-siding, you can board your target and participate in sword battles (enemy captains have hit points, revving up the RPG thrills of the character-based story). The depth and historical accuracy of this game is surprising. There are many ships to choose from, dozens of different goods to trade, four opposing naval forces, tons of side quests, and lots of dialogue-tree interaction with non-player characters. You decide who you hire as officers, which country you want to support, and you’re in full control of the type and size of your cannonballs.

5The graphics and battle sounds are first-rate. All of the ships are nicely modeled with the technology then available, and every conceivable graphical detail of ship-to-ship combat seems to have been addressed. Sharks swim by during battles, raindrops make little ripples in the water, sails tear when they’re hit. The voices in the game could use some work, but the soundtrack will have you humming sea ditties for weeks. (The RPG dialogue is groaningly bad, but in a totally intentional way.)

There are a few definite weak points in the game. First off, you’ll need to patch it up to smooth over the box release. It takes a while before you can actually earn a boat good enough to win fights, and getting attacked early in the game is infuriating. There are points where you have to spend large amounts of time searching for new quests (mainly trade excursions), reducing you to sailing around and racking up opportunistic missions. And I also feel the game missed a golden opportunity to include pirate monkeys.

Overall, Sea Dogs is a fun game in a setting that still has plenty to deliver to gamers. Yeah, it’s cheesy, but it embraces its limited budget origins with pluck and charm. And its clever cross-genre combination of sailing, trading, roleplaying, and sea combat is a fresh approach. Don your trusty eye patch and pick this game up.

System Requirements: Pentium 166 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win 95

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