Sid Meier's Pirates Review

Ahha matey - we set sail on the high seas.

Review by Darren Cartledge
Published 16th February 2005

Sid Meier's Pirates

  • Developer: Firaxis Games
  • Publisher: Atari
  • Release Date: 3rd December 2004

Way back in 1987 when Microsoft were a little software company and Sony were only concerned about making home appliances, a game called Pirates was released on the then mighty Commodore 64. It gave players unprecedented freedom to sail the open seas and pick and choose which missions they took part in. The game was highly addictive and fans couldn’t get enough of it. With this in mind it comes as no real surprise that this modern day remake stays pretty much true to the formula that made the original so popular all those years ago.

In pirates players take up the role of a young captain who sails the Caribbean plundering ships to make a fortune. Unlike the original though this modern day version also has a new story thrown in to accompany the gameplay. Pirates starts with a family celebrating the imminent arrival of their fleet which will in no doubt bring them great wealth, unfortunately the family home is raided by an evil aristocrat and the family are taken prisoner and forced into a life a of slavery. Our young captain however, manages to escape the clutches of the evil tyrant and finds passages to the tropical seas of the Caribbean on board a ship. However after many months at sea and ill treatment from the ships captain our young hero leads and mutiny and takes over the ship granting you your first command.

The majority of play in Pirates is spent sailing around the tropical waters of the Caribbean, plundering ships, crossing swords with other pirates and visiting numerous settlements and ports. When visiting ports you are presented with several options. Such as trading with the merchant, talking to the governor, visiting the tavern and consulting with the shipwright.

Talking to the Governor will often result in you being asked to escort ships carrying ultimatums to governors of ports controlled by rival nations, you can also gain rewards such as promotions for attacking and capturing enemy ships. If the governor becomes extremely pleased with you he may grant you several acres of land or introduce you to his daughter who in turn might be inclined to reward you with special items should you impress her at a grand ball!

Visiting the tavern will allow you to pick up one of the games many quests, the bartender or barmaids always have useful information about a treasure fleet passing near by or occasionally will be willing to share information about your long lost family. In each tavern there is also a mysterious traveller who will be willing to sell you a special item or a treasure map for the right price. Finally, the tavern is also a good place to pick up some extra crew men if you have lost any in battle or in case you need extra crew to man a recently captured ship.

Trading with the merchants in ports allows you to offload some of the goods and treasures you have seized from other ships for a set amount of gold, merchants in ports pay various amount of gold for different items so its worth keeping in mind what to take when plundering ships. Your final option in port is to visit the shipwright who can repair damage to your ship or perform upgrades such as iron plating which allows you to take more damage; other upgrades include bronze cannon for more accurate shooting and cotton sails for greater speed. If you have captured any ships on your travels you can also sell them on to the shipwright once they have served their purpose.

Despite being able to visit the numerous ports, out at sea is where the real fun is to be had in Pirates. The game looks amazing and when another ship sails near a short description pops up informing you where it’s heading and for what purpose giving you a good idea of whether it will be worthwhile attacking it or not.

If you do decide to attack the ship this is where the fun really begins. The game cuts to a close up view so you can immerse yourself into the action! While it’s tempting to simply blast an enemy ship to bits a bit more strategy is usually required or you may see a fortune in treasure heading to the ocean floor. The trick is to weaken ships with a couple of shots to take out some of their guns then attack the crew using a grape shot or maybe a chain shot to destroy their sails and stop them in their tracks. Once you have sufficiently weakened them you move in close and the ships captain will either surrender leaving you to plunder the treasure or you will have to fight for your rewards.

As mentioned above when you board a ship the crew will do one of two things, surrender or put up a fight. If they decide to fight you will have to duel with the ships captain. Duelling in Pirates is a pretty simple affair, you have a number of attacking and defensive moves at your disposal and each is controlled by one of the keys on the numeric keypad, if you’re victorious you can decide whether to keep or sink the ship after looting it of anything worthwhile if you lose expect to be thrown overboard and left with nothing.

Any modern day remake wouldn’t be complete without new additions and Pirates has a couple of note worthy additions. New additions to this modern day version of Pirates include attending ball’s with the daughters of the governors of various ports, the dancing sequences involved work in a similar way to duels with each key of the numeric pad representing a different dance step although it has to be said it is a lot more awkward to control. Another new addition is the ability to attack and plunder settlements, which may sound appealing but sadly isn’t! When you attack a settlement the game switches to a very basic turn based strategy game where you control several units of men moving along a grid to close down your enemy. Again this hasn’t been implemented as well as it could of and as a result you’ll find yourself simply avoiding attacking settlements.

On the graphics side of things Pirates looks great, a lot of little touches have been added to the game to give it an authentic feel such as Dolphins swimming behind your ship and being able to see your crew waving their hands about on the deck when you close in on an enemy ship. The game also features some great cloud effects along with shadows on the surface of the sea.

Audio in the game is also very good if not a bit minimal, the game features some nice sounds effects such as the wind whistling when you sail near storm clouds and your crew singing merrily after a successful haul. Voices have been done in grumbling Sim’s style that really adds to the charm of the game.

Pirates may have been released almost 20 years after the game first appeared and although it may have had new additions and enhancements the core of the gameplay has stayed the same, which will please fans of the original and introduce a new world of pirating addiction to a new generation of gamers proving that a true classic never sinks!

Review Score: 9.2/10

Please note, this review was scored using our old system. For more information please see our review policy.

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