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Sid Meier's Pirates!

Platform(s): PC, PSP, Wii, Xbox
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis
Release Date: July 12, 2005

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Xbox Preview - 'Sid Meier's Pirates!'

by Kris Graft on July 2, 2005 @ 2:29 a.m. PDT

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.

Sid Meier's: Pirates was a hit on the PC, delivering on action-RPG style gameplay set in the time of pirates, treasure and good ol' fashioned adventurin'. WorthPlaying got a chance to sit down with the upcoming Xbox version, which promises to make a faithful transition from the PC counterpart.

You play the role of a boy whose family was taken away by the Marquis after being unable to pay off a large debt. Fast-forward 10 years, and you're a strapping young man ready to kick some tail on the high seas. Your main goal is to find your family and restore their former wealth. Along the way, of course, you'll run into some unsavory characters and some useful allies on the ocean blue.

After choosing your name, skill and country of allegiance, you're ready to begin your quest for treasure and vengeance. Let's backpedal a tad. The skill you choose will determine how well you perform in certain situations. Strong fencing skills will increase your reflexes and speed in a swordfight, gunnery skills will help your aim during battles with other vessels, navigation will help you sail into the wind more efficiently, medicinal skills improves your health, and finally, you can choose skills in wit and charm to help you romance buxom beauties in bustiers. The country you align with affects how many friendly ports are available.

At these ports, you are able to visit with the governor and tavern-goers, repair your ship, or trade goods such as food with a merchant. The ports are where you'll acquire missions, employ a crew, and get many helpful tips to help you complete your goals. Governors will ask you to sink certain countries' ships. The cool thing is that even though you may have aligned yourself with a country at the beginning of the game, you still have the choice to sink any country's ship. After all, you are a pirate.

On the water, you control your ship from an overhead view. Since the outboard motor isn't to be introduced for 300 more years, you rely on wind and sails to move your vessel around. Directing your ship close to other ships gives you the option to engage them in battle.

Battles are comprised mostly of firing cannonballs back and forth. Depending on how well-equipped your ship is, you can fire a variety of cannonballs, from standard singles to clusters and dual-chained balls. Aiming is a bit awkward and involves a bit of guessing at first, but after a while, blasting away becomes perfectly natural.

When you get close enough to a ship, they'll either surrender their cargo, or a boarding will take place. In this situation, the action switches to the ship's deck, with friends and foes engaging in some hearty swashbuckling. The number of crew each ship has plays a role in the balance of the battle.

When fighting on deck, your main focus turns to the enemy ship's captain. Sometimes when you first board a ship, you'll have to perform quick-time events, which require you to press designated button combinations in a specific amount of time. While inputting the combos, your character will jump and maneuver through the fight. A swordfight ensues, and you are able to block, dodge, attack and parry. Your goal is to push the captain back to the edge of the deck because winning the fight means his ship, and possibly some of his crew, are yours.

When you acquire a ship, you win its gold and however much cargo your ship can hold. The cargo you can take includes food, spices, sugar and luxury items. These items have an effect on the well-being of your crew, and how much money you can earn by trading at a port. After you've taken everything you want, you have the option of keeping the ship or sinking her. If the other ship has better weapons, sails, or amenities and you didn't rip it up too much during the battle, you may want to board that vessel. Many times, conquered ships will yield more crew, or specialists such as gunners and repairmen that increase the abilities of your ship.

When you stop at a port, a menu pops up giving you several options, one of which is to meet with the governor. If you enemy ships, the governor congratulates you on your victory, and gives you a promotion. If you sink allied ships, he mentions that it's bad, but there doesn't seem to be any major repercussions. Perhaps if you sank a lot of allied ships, he'd become more peeved. We'll figure that out in the final review.

The governor may also have a sexy or not-so-sexy daughter for you to take to the ball. You can decline and walk away if you're unwilling, or you can accept the offer. By accepting, you enter a rhythm game where you try your best to impress the girl by moving with the music. If you do well, she'll offer gifts such as guns and navigation upgrades, or useful information.

At the port, you can also visit the tavern. Here, you can employ more sailors, visit a mysterious man who gives you important clues for your quests, and gossip with barmaids and bartenders. The opportunity to fight often arises as well.

If your ship is damaged from battle, the shipwright can fix it back up for a price, or even upgrade your weaponry with longer range cannons, different cannonballs, or better sails. You may also sell ships that you capture.

In the preview version, the graphics aren't the most detailed you'll see, but it captures the whole "Garrrrgh, shiver me timbers" feel fairly well. There are lots of bright colors, and animation is well done. Sound-wise, the voices are gibberish, much like The Sims (subtitles are used), and the music helps capture the atmosphere of the era.

Pirates looks to be shaping up well, with simple, addictive action-RPG gameplay in a setting that can absorb pretty much anyone.


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