Sid Meier’s Pirates!
Release Date: 11-22-2004
I love Sid Meier. Let this ring loud and clear from the heavens to the depths of the Earth. He is, in my mind, one of the greatest game makers ever. Sure you have people clamoring over Miyamoto, Kojima, Suzuki (<3), the guy who really likes boobs from Tecmo, and Molyeux... er wait strike that last one. For my money I'd rather have more Sid Meier games. His entire library is a glimpse at how one man can capture the imagination. From flight simulators to build a world to a simple merging of the Sims and golf as well as a brief foray into the US Civil War Mr. Meier has captured my imagination. With this reputation and the immense respect I have for Sid Meier and his games I already knew Pirates! would be a good game... but just how good?
You are the son of a once wealthy family who has fallen into disgrace. The evil Spanish Marquis has placed your family into bondage, ruined their name, and destroyed your childhood. You escaped on a fateful night, long ago, determined to reclaim your family’s fortune and reunite the family that was taken from you. To do this you must go outside of convention and become a pirate, sailing the Spanish Main and using your wits, charm, side arm, sword, and cannons to honor your vow.
It is not the greatest story ever told (that still belongs to Jingle Cats) but the game is a unique experience which will be discussed later. Still, at least there is a story and backdrop that you can either use or ignore.
Considering the amount of time between incarnations of the game Pirates! (C-64 then Genesis now modern computers) the game has been significantly upgraded. While the characters are made to look more over the top (crew members are scurvy dogs and the buxom women are, well, buxom) the graphics are quite nice and do fit the old swashbuckling Hollywood notion of high falutin sea dogs.
The high seas look white and crisp, unless there is a storm a comin then they become fierce and unforgiving. When fighting other ships on the ocean the detail each boat contains is beautiful. The masts, the cannon ports opening, the sails going from full to half, and the flags representing each nation or pirate are easily seen in the fever pitch of battle.
The only problem in the visuals is that some may find the people a bit over the top in the stereotypical looks. The perma-grin captain, the scowling evil barons and other royalty, the chubby governors, it could put off some but it is endearing to others.
Yet, when the only problems you can find with the graphics are whether or not they are stately or cartoony it means you’ve done a good job.
Cannons roar, swords clash, the sea whispers, every sound imaginable comes through in Pirates! From the appropriate accordion music to the haughty voice of the governors of certain cities, the grand era of the Caribbean comes alive.
When firing off a salvo from a 6 gun cannon ship it sounds hollow, echoing and empty. A 32 cannon salvo? Deafening. The power behind those extra cannons comes out and hearing a ship begin to cave from such a mighty blast is all at once endearing and nail biting because you may have very well just sank the ship you just smashed.
Your crew sings sea shanties, albeit in their strange language, but they sing happily when at sea. This little extra goes a long way in keeping a player grounded in the game. Many times I found myself smiling while my sea salt encrusted buccaneers sang their little hears out.
The music blends into the game and is neither window dressing nor the main attraction. A good balance that is often not achieved. While the soundtrack leaves nothing to really be overjoyed with it is a companion, not a show stealer, which is fine in my book.
CONTROL & GAMEPLAY:
In lieu of strict mouse controls or WASD keyboard function Pirates! main controls come from that tricky ten-key on the far right side of your computer keyboard. At first this can be a pain in the ass but as you grow accustom to the lay out it becomes second nature to start hammering away at the 5 key to fire your cannons or dancing with the governor’s daughter using the 7 and 8 keys.
The strategic battle parts of the game are grounded in the solid basics of SRPGs with cover and terrain playing important parts along with simple movement and attack commands that make learning how to raid towns a cinch. The dancing is a rhythm game that is at once easy yet annoying with having to follow quick instructions. The one bad seed is the sneaking into town part. The controls are slow and the lack of any real hiding system makes this game far more annoying than it needs to be. A smoother set up and more options would be great for this obligatory “stealth action” level that most games seem to want to throw in (I hate these things).
Control & Gameplay: 7/10
Sailing the seas is not an easy task but sometimes in Pirates! the ocean is a kind friend. The easiest level setting is a brisk walk in the park with an occasional monkey wrench thrown in just to keep you on your toes. The gradient of difficulty is not to slow nor is it too fast, with each successive level adding a bit more complexity and making things more challenging. Eventually you will be facing the odds of a true pirate, with danger at most turns and the inability to keep your gold hungry crew at sea for too long.
Pirates! eventually becomes a game tailored to whether or not you want a challenge, allowing someone to just go around destroying everything while another person may decide to see if they could really be a rope climbing scallywag. That is a balance that is very difficult to achieve.
No game of Pirates! plays exactly like another game of Pirates! The ships and enemies show up at different locations, time passes by, boats change schedules, scenarios mean different political climates, characters can have different main skills and equipment, raids can go differently, you can choose whether to reunite your family or kill many people, there are so many different routes you can take to fame and fortune that once you finish one career the next pirate you take to infamy will more than likely have nothing in common with the first. That is what making a game replayable is all about. Being able to play the same game yet not playing the same game gives Pirates! an amazing shelf life. Then again is this not expected of a Sid Meier game?
Replay ability: 9
This game will immediately be snapped up by those who remember Pirates! or Pirates! Gold, fans of the movie “The Pirates of the Carribean” (as opposed to the game of the same name), Sid Meier devotees, and the curious (those wondering what the buzz is about). With an Xbox release on the way the audience should expand. Those who should steer clear of this game are those looking for an exact sailing simulation, graduates of Devry, and those who do not like games without massive blood spray. (One of those listed is not true).
This series of games virtually created the pirate adventure genre in gaming. Of course there are not many games that deal with pirates (well there are a few) but none which do so in the style and manner in which Pirates! does. Usually the pirate game is either geared towards: adventure or simulation. Whether it be an action adventure like Galleon or an RPG like Uncharted Waters there seems a missing link from this game that set a standard for this genre. This game set the standard for pirate games and while the genre is not all that original now, this game still has many twists most do not.
A test of just how this game can suck a person in and not let go I shall tell you the tale of my friend Shawn. My good amigo Shawn does not play video games that much, in fact he rarely plays them at all. The games Shawn enjoys are as follows: Starcraft, Ports of Call (I hooked him up like a drug dealer), Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2, and… that’s about it. Maybe the original Need for Speed: Underground, maybe.
Anyhow my friend Shawn comes over and we decide to go mess around on the nearby population center. After our jaunt we return to my abode and my friend Shawn remembers seeing me plunder a few vessels before we left during one of my rousing games of Pirates! and asks if I will either play again and let him watch (a sure sign that a game is crack on CD) or let him play. I let him at the controls and eventually around 11PM I go to sleep. Around 6AM Shawn has found himself with a giant pirate fleet, a mountain of stolen Spanish gold, and the classic one finger clicking in rhythm that Mr. Meier’s games bring about so very often.
The thing is Shawn was reluctant to go to sleep. He had managed to keep the gold flowing and his crew was still not ready to mutiny. He wanted to see if he could plunder a few more Spanish treasure fleets, but I convinced him to go to bed… so I could pick up where I left off with my dread pirate Paco (greatest pirate name ever) and kill all the English, French, and Dutch because beating up on the Spanish is so passÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â©.
Anyhow, I have to get back to my game, Paco is raiding Havana.
The collector’s edition comes with extras that include the typical making of the game, an interview with Sid Meier, and the original Pirates! game. While I really am not a fan of “making of” features any interview with Sid is a treasure to me and being able to play the old Pirates! is a great extra that may not be worth the money to some, but to Pirates! aficionados is a benediction.
Replay Ability 9
Overall Score: 75/100
Final Score: 7.5/10 (VERY GOOD!)