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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 Review - 'Sid Meier's Pirates!'

by Kris Graft on July 31, 2005 @ 1:08 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.


What is it about a pirate that's so intriguing and attractive? It's probably the whole rogue lifestyle; pirates can sail from port to port, flirt with sultry babes, find buried treasure, handle high-powered cannons, et cetera, et cetera. Unless you're extremely motivated, you'll never become a pirate, so instead we have Sid Meier's Pirates! for Xbox. The action-RPG gameplay has made the transition well from its hit PC counterpart, with the buxom babes and salty-winded high seas adventurin' that makes being a pirate so much fun. The game is very non-linear in nature and has a definite addictive quality that will keep you playing for hours. Think of it as Grand Theft Sailboat.

In Pirates, you are introduced as a boy whose family is taken away because of an outstanding debt that is owed to a crooked marquis. Tens years later, you're a strapping young man out on the high seas to seek treasure, bounties, vengeance, and most importantly, find your lost family.

Right from the start, you have a few choices you can make to personalize your experience. First, you choose the name of your swashbuckling hero. Then you can choose which skill best suits your playing style. The available skills include fencing, gunnery, navigation, medicinal, and wit and charm. If you choose fencing as your forte, you will be a faster and more powerful swordfighter, which will come in handy when dispatching enemy captains and lesser rogues. Navigation skills mean you can sail into the wind more effectively, which not only helps you get to your destination faster, but also allows you to retreat and advance on enemy ships during battles more easily. Medicinal skills improve your health. Skills in wit and charm are useful for pirates that are interested in romancing lusty women, who often give you useful information or items if you make a good impression. Most pirate wannabes will want to choose the aggressive fencing or gunnery skills, although all skills are useful to certain degrees. The skill you choose really depends on how you plan to play this open-ended game.

We're not on the waves yet. You also need to choose which county with which you'd like to align yourself. True, you're a pirate and can do whatever you want, but a little help from superpower countries can always help a pirate's ambitions. Available countries are the Netherlands, France, England, and Spain. The country you align yourself with dictates how many friendly ports will be available. For example, the English have many ports, but the Spanish have less, making their campaign more difficult. Even though you're aligned with a certain country, you still have the option to attack any ship or port you'd like, even if they're your ally.

Once you're on the water, you take control of a ship, and become part of the hustle and bustle traffic of the Caribbean. When you approach ships, you can select them with the press of a button, at which point you have the option to either let them go on their merry way or engage them in battle. The controls for both sailing and fighting are simple and intuitive. When sailing, you just hold the analog stick left to turn the ship counterclockwise, and right to go clockwise. Your speed depends on the wind. Easy. During sea battles, you pretty much just point your cannons in the direction of the other ship and fire.

Of course, there are various factors that determine just how efficient you are when attacking other ships. Each ship requires a certain amount of crew members, who you can recruit from defeated ships or port pubs. If you have insufficient crew numbers, your ship will be slower, and it will take you longer to reload your cannons after you shoot them off. You can also upgrade your cannons to make them more accurate, or buy hammocks to better accommodate your crew, for instance.

There are a few different types of ammunition you can use to rip your enemies' ships apart. A standard round shot cannonball is good at whittling away at other ships' cannons and hull. A chain shot is two cannonballs chained together that are perfect for ripping down enemy sails, and grape shots are good for taking out enemy crewmembers. Both ships have life bars that measure their damage, although you can board them before actually sinking them.

You can commandeer another ship by boarding it and fighting the captain in a one-on-one swordfight, or by simply approaching one during a battle once you've inflicted enough damage. You can then take the gold, which you can spend in ports, along with the ship's cargo, which includes items such as food that will keep your crew happy. Speaking of keeping your crew happy … if you don't, they'll mutiny and leave the ship.

Between the battles, you will stop often at ports, where you can get a number of things done. You can meet with the governor, who will congratulate you or criticize you for sinking enemy and ally ships. He may even introduce you to his daughter, who you can take to the ball, prompting a rhythm dancing game. At a port's tavern, you can recruit new crew members, get information on your missing family, side missions, or buy certain items. Another useful option you have at ports is the ability to fix your ship or buy upgrades to your weapons and accommodations for your crew.

The gameplay isn't limited to sailing the seas and surfing menus. You can bombard cities with your fleet, or even sneak around them in third-person view. The sneaking isn't as in-depth as Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell, but the mechanics work fine. You'll even have a chance to play some turn-based strategy within towns, and if you succeed, the town's riches are yours for the taking. It's this kind of variety in gameplay that keeps Pirates! so interesting for so many hours.

Multiplayer fun can be had with three other pirate hopefuls in the form of four-ship battles, which can be pretty frantic. As far as Xbox Live play goes, there is none, but you can submit your final score to the Pirates! online leaderboard after you inevitably retire your pirate from his pirating ways.

The graphics consist of lots of bright colors. That, combined with the cartoonish art style, really conveys the world of piracy, or the way I imagine how piracy would be, at least. The only notable visual shortcoming is the dancing mini-game, where the framerate is quite choppy.

Overall, the sounds are well done and capture the same adventurous feeling as the graphics. The dialogue is subtitled, and voices are in "Simlish." The music does a good job of immersing the player in pirate times, with bouncing, old-style ditties.

Pirates! succeeds at capturing the gamer in its immersive world, and will certainly help you get rid of time with its addictive, varying gameplay. Whether you choose to be a trader or a flat-out ruthless pirate, you'll find something to enjoy in this open-ended exercise in the pirate lifestyle.

Score: 9.0/10

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