East India Company
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If naval warfare and plundering immense wealth lights your ship’s fire, then this could be right up your waterway. East India Company is based on the mighty British Empire’s Eastern escapades of the late 16th century, establishing a trade network to rule them all. Historical buffs will be salivating by the time the intro gets into full swing – stunning faithfully recreated vessels of the time, armed with all the mod cons necessary for seafaring adventures and a “Dad’s Army” style world map, outlining the routes. There’s even a dramatic voice-over, structured almost like a pirate pep talk, dictating proceedings. Nitro have certainly put a lot of thought into recreating the seven seas of old and it generally oozes researched quality.

 In the finished game we are being promised real-time land combat and also management features in the campaign mode – as you strive to establish your company as the dominant force. In this demo version, it’s a rather appetite-whetting glimpse at the sea battles – there are three playable battles and also (thankfully) a tutorial.

 Although running on a fast machine (the intro in particular was flawless and atmospheric), the menu interface takes you to an array of options (and more greyed ones) on a backdrop of a ship at sea. This is particularly jerky and quite disappointing, especially since when you do eventually get on the battlefield, this inconsistent display continues.  Of course it is possible that this initial display hiccup is a feature of the work in progress of the demo, though you would have thought the in-game interface would be fairly complete, thus meaning that an Intel Quad 3 Gig machine is not enough to stage this.

 As it is, the in-game interface of the demo sees you managing a fleet of ships, including frigates, ships of the line and schooners, as you square up to your enemies across the pond. The camera in particular is well-designed and gives you no trouble whilst navigating around your boats. At the top we have a ‘Street Fighter 2’ style energy bar (you on the left), which details just how much pain you’re dealing out. The strategy of the fight comes in the individual ship meters – here you can change the type of ammo loaded in the cannons (different types damage different parts of the enemy ships more effectively), board the opposing ships (if you are close enough) and even do the unthinkable of either retreating or surrendering.

 Should you wish to take things a little more hands-on, you can initiate the Direct Command (DC) mode which enables you to take personal charge of the captain of the vessel. This is a good feature actually as it enables more accurate control over the essential areas of combat, such as firing cannons and fast sailing (you can even ditch your cargo for swifter ascent). There’s also a handy ‘Battlecam’ which gives you a nifty view of the opposing ships.

 It’s quite early on in East India Company’s interactive life to be handing out judgements, but what does need to be improved is the jerky graphics – creating an interactive seven seas isn’t that graphically draining when the likes of Grand Theft Auto run with no lag, so this needs to be addressed. That aside, the in-game combat is very realistic, engaging and generally enjoyable. Different tactics will of course, heed different results and you can fine-tune different strategies to see what works the best. From this early preview copy, its clear East India Company wields a fair deal of potential, so let’s hope the added features add even more playability and fixes these initial worries.