Another blockbuster book from James Clavell makes its debut on the home computer. This time it’s Tai Pan and Ocean who are tempting you with an oriental adventure. The team behind the conversion have taken a very different approach to that used by Virgin about a year ago, when the book and TV series Shogun became a flip-screen arcade adventure.
Journeying back to the mid- nineteenth century you become Dirk Struan, a pirate and smuggler who’s patch is the stormy China seas. Make that a penniless pirate and smuggler.
The ultimate goal of the game is to become Tai Pan, the supreme leader and Merchant Prince. Canton town is the starting point, and the first goal is to seek out a kindly soul who will lend you a few thousand. Once a loan has been secured, the handout enables a ship to be purchased, together with a crew, armaments and cargo which may ship to another town and sold, hopefully for a profit.
A hundred years ago there were no friendly government agencies to help the unemployed in China – the start loan comes with strings attached. Should you fail to make enough money to repay your benefactor within the allotted time, its game over as you lose your head! A successful first voyage should set you on the path to undreamed of riches. Providing thieves, pirates and unfriendly weather can be overcome.
Several approaches may be taken by the would-be upwardly mobile hero. One ploy is to abide by the law at all times, and leave the press ganging and pirating to the scum. But then the occasional dabble in the naughty side of life, with a quick smuggle here and there, and does prove lucrative. Clearly, boarding and looting passing ships or blowing them out of the water, recruiting men against their will and dealing in contraband are the most attractive (and accurate) ways of making it to the top in the China Sea of the 19th century.
No matter what you’re moral stances on matters piratical, the day-to-day problems of running a successful trading business still have to be attended to. Decisions abound: which ships to buy, how to man them, what cargo to carry, where to sell it and how best to get there are all questions that have to be answered.
While Dirk is on dry land the screen shows the streets and buildings can be entered and once inside cargo, passers by other traders and the law can be bought and sold. The odd useful item may be found lying around indoors.
At sea, in general voyaging mode, a bird’s eye-view of the ship and surrounding area is presented on screen. The viewpoint changes when battle begins, depicting the enemy from a vantage point placed behind your cannon. Aiming the weapon, careful consideration needs to be given as to where to place shots if the booty contained in the hold of your target is to be salvaged. Successfully disabling another ship allows your crew to board it, and intimidate the other sailors. If you spare their worthless hides, they tend to join you handing over their current and future profits to your tender care.
Activities, including buying and selling when in port or reading the map and steering when at sea are controlled via a panel of icons ranged along the bottom of the screen.
Tai Pan is a decent game for commodore 64 and has a lot of game play that keeps players going for hours. My rating for this game is 3.8 out of 5. Check out more of my reviews.