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Sid Meier's Pirates!

Platform(s): PC, PSP, Wii, Xbox
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Firaxis
Release Date: Nov. 23, 2004 (US), Dec. 3, 2004 (EU)

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PC Review - 'Sid Meier's Pirates!'

by Seth Hall on Dec. 25, 2004 @ 12:46 a.m. PST

In Pirates!, you are a 17th century Caribbean pirate captain trying to become the most revered and feared pirate in history - exploring high seas and exotic ports, overtaking enemies in fierce naval battles, engaging in duels and attempting to seize valuable booty.

Buy 'SID MEIER'S PIRATES!': PC

Pirates! is a spectacular remake of the 1987 game bearing the same name. Combining brilliantly charming and addictive gameplay with an easy-to-learn interface, you really can't go wrong with this remarkable title. For anyone who has wanted to sack the cities of the Caribbean or go cannon-to-cannon with Henry Morgan, Blackbeard or several other popular pirates, this is your chance. If you haven't had dreams of piracy in your life, you'll still find this game extremely enjoyable and engaging.

The game installed from two CDs without a hitch, and it wasn't long after that I was watching the interesting opening to Pirates! For anyone familiar with the open-ended nature of games like Elite and Morrowind, you'll find yourself completely in command of your destiny once again in Pirates! -- with the opportunity to be a pirate, a trader, a privateer, even a treasure hunter, or any combination of them all, you'll doubtless have a great time sinking large merchant ships and finding valuable maps to buried treasure, all the while fending off legendary pirate competitors.

You have the ability to sack cities, woo the daughters of the powerful (or not so much) governors, board and capture (or sink) ships of your choosing, visit taverns and find yourself a crew of fortune-seeking men to join your cause. As you gain more funding and more prestige, you'll find yourself able to upgrade your ships with everything from more accurate cannons to swifter sails. Dueling, ship-to-ship combat, ground-based combat and even dancing help to make Pirates! the wonderful game that it is. I had a little trouble getting the hang of dancing at higher levels, but at the easiest level, it's very simple. All of the actions in the game can be done using just the number pad, including dancing and dueling, which help make the game so easy to learn.

Graphically, the game looks much like an updated Monkey Island with vibrant colors and cartoon-like characters. Each nationality has a different overall look, not only in the clothes they wear, but also in the way the character models look. The detail of each of the many ship types you can own, sink and board are well done, showing a loving attention to accuracy on the part of the developers and artists. Even the world map is well drawn and detailed in full 3D.

The Sims-style voices actually add that something extra to this game, avoiding the common issue of poor accents and terrible voice acting altogether. Some of the sounds your crew make will alert you to important things - they cheer ecstatically when you land a broadside of cannon balls on an enemy ship, they cry out in dismay when your ship gets hit, and they make an aggressive noise when all your cannons are loaded and ready to fire. Eventually you'll begin to "learn" this simple language (in one battle, in all likelihood). The music is very fitting to the piracy theme, simple and adventurous. In many cases, you can hear crews singing out in a drunken, satisfied drawl from busy ports and other ships, which adds to the already impressive atmosphere.

The basic premise of the game is very open. While there is a story you may follow to recover your family, you are free to choose whether or not you do so. You can simply ignore the storyline and plunder to your heart's content, or you can take the more noble path of finding your kin. Even after the main story has been completed, you can continue your career of pillaging and visiting bar maidens. However, you are always going to have to deal with time itself, as your character ages as they game goes on. Eventually your hair will begin to grey, your dueling and dancing will become more difficult, your attractiveness in the eyes of ladies will wane, and even finding men to join you in your journey will become a challenge.

You are able to "convince" certain officers to join your crew, such as a surgeon or a gunner, when you board other ships. At times, the crews of these ships will want to join you as well; the choice is yours. Filling your ship to capacity will have some advantages for boarding and loading guns, but will also make the division of the plunder somewhat less attractive for each individual pirate, causing morale to drop and making it difficult to hire a new crew when the time comes.

Following historical tradition, the pirates that join you will do so at no initial cost. You pay them no wages at all, in fact, until you divide the plunder. Although you choose when this happens, morale will drop quickly when the crew is sick of sailing. Being out to sea for several years without being able to spend that shiny gold below deck will make these men grumpy - sometimes to the point that they will leave you in any way they can, or maroon you and just take your things.

In Pirates!, you also have the chance to marry a lovely (or not so much) daughter of one of the many governors. If you happen to think all the daughters are ugly, you can simply take over a town and install a government from the nationality of your choosing - the new gal might suit your fancy. To marry, however, you'll need to do a lot of dancing and provide some expensive gifts to win her over. In the process of all that dancing, you won't be wasting your time: the young lady will offer you a valuable gift or important information that can make your pirating career more lucrative.

Some of the gifts she may give you include balanced swords, which make you more effective at dueling, or a high quality spyglass that helps your crew navigate and avoid some damage while sailing through storms. The maps and other information she may provide you with can lead to large fortunes in gold, so while dancing may not be your thing, it is worth the effort when you pull it off.

The only flaws I could see in spending several days with Pirates! centered around some of the villains in the story. There are only so many times you can defeat a guy, right? Apparently not, as I have faced a certain Baron Raymondo dozens of times, defeating him in each encounter only to have him pop up again suddenly several hundred miles away. In another rather amusing error, the barkeeps and barmaids would all tell me he had just left Havana, but I could never find him after scouring the whole of Caribbean - eventually, it was "Baron Raymondo was sighted leaving Havan and heading for Curaco 956 days ago." I did find him, by the way, around a French port attacking an Indian War Canoe. Yes, a War Canoe. While this shows that the game is not without a few imperfections, the bugs did not deter from the fun this title offers. Dare I say even the bugs had a certain charm? Well, that may be pushing it slightly.

Pirates! is one of those rare games that can engage you for hours each day while never getting old. I would find myself always wanting just one more voyage, just one more ship to board, just a few more treasure hunts before calling it a night. The light-hearted and addictive gameplay number this title among the greats. Every gamer will find something to enjoy here, whether it be sneaking around a dark port trying to avoid the guards or falling in love with some wealthy beauty, or simply making yourself the number one pirate and defeating legends in the process. With selectable difficulty and vastly different eras, no two games will ever be the same. Mission variety is well done, from simply roaming about and doing what pleases you to escorting immigrants or new governors; in short, Pirates! was a pleasure to review. An instant classic!

Score: 9.2/10


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