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Pirates! Review
Kristophe, 2005-01-14

You read a lot these days about "Gaming Widows" - women whose husbands spend every spare moment on the computer rather than with their spouses. I have no such problem in my household, as my wife is also an avid gamer - which is to say, a mixed blessing. While our house will never quite win the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval", and while often I am forced to forage on my own for my next meal while my spouse is (dodging an airborne frying pan - whew!!!) busy gaming - at least I am not only losing weight, but I am also keeping my reflexes sharp enough to successfully avoid damage to my body from flying pans and such. C'est la vie.

Getting back to the point of this article (which is NOT about how to dodge your spouse's flying pans), we both fondly remember the original Pirates that Sid Meier had created back in 1987. The computer that we played Pirates on back then was "state-of-the-art" for the times, though I daresay we could never even think of installing any of the games that are popular now on that old system. It was with some apprehension, therefore, that I pre-ordered the Limited Edition of Sid Meier's (new) Pirates that the Firaxis/Atari team released here in the USA some little time back. I am happy to say my apprehension about the remake of Pirates was wholly and totally unfounded. I must also confess that I managed to keep Pirates to myself for a whole two weeks before my (ahem) "better half" found it, at which time it became but a fond memory to me once again.

The Story of Pirates

Display full imageThe game opens with a cut-scene, which launches the basic story behind Pirates. Your pirate is but a young lad then, who manages to escape the clutches of the evil Marquis Montalban - the villian who abducts your pirate's remaining family members after their fleet of merchant ships is lost. Thus, while you may be playing your particular pirate as a fighter, a lover, a merchant, or as a pirate - your character is still very much all about family - which means he will have the opportunity to rescue four of his abducted family members before the final showdown with the Marquis Montalban.


Let The Game Begin

Display full imageYou begin the game with your pirate's coming of age. You get to choose your pirate's name and starting nationality, which merely determines which port you will start the game at (i.e. English, French, Dutch, or Spanish). You do not have the opportunity to change the gender of your pirate, which is always male (even though there were actual, living female pirates back in the Golden Age of Piracy). You also have the opportunity throughout the game to pick (and change) the game's Difficulty Setting - which does influence various factors of gameplay. You get to pick one skill (i.e. Fencing, Gunnery, Navigation, Medicine, or Wit & Charm) at the outset of the game, which will make certain segments of the game easier. And, at the higher difficulty levels, you get to choose your pirate's "start date" - which influences both how many seaports exist, and how many ports each nation has.

Though your pirate can never "die", he does age - and, from age 30, and each decade thereafter - one skill/trait will randomly become more difficult (i.e. your dueling speed may become slower - or is it just that opponents become faster? Your dancing flourishes will require more precise timing, etc.). Having the Medicine skill does stave off the aging processes for a while, but your pirate will still (eventually) get old. Thus, while you can play the game forever - the older your pirate gets, the more difficult it becomes to perform even the simplest of tasks. Game elements that also contribute to your pirate's aging include dividing the plunder, becoming stranded on a deserted island, getting jailed, or simply getting stuck in port trying to put together a crew.

Additionally, your pirate gets to romance many governors' daughters, though he can only marry once. Governor's daughters come in three flavors: plain, attractive, and beautiful - with the best benefits and fame points deriving from marrying a beautiful daughter.

Display full imageAs Sid Meier's Pirates is largely played on the high seas, your ship, crew, and crew morale all become large factors contributing to your pirate's success (or failure). To keep your crew happy, you must keep them both well-fed and well-paid - though how you do so is purely a matter of personal preference. Should either gold or food run out, your crew will grow unhappy - which has a direct affect on how well your crew fights, and if morale continues to stay low, how long it takes before they begin to desert with their share of gold. You can dismiss an unhappy crew - bearing in mind it will take six game months to refit your ship with a new crew.

In conclusion - your ultimate goal in the game is to become as legendary as possible before you become too old to effectively command a ship, though what path to Fame you take is purely a personal choice. You can amass great wealth, earn promotions from any (and all, if you desire) of the four nations, vanquish the nine legendary pirates, find lost cities of gold, plunder seaports, win the hand (and heart) of a Governor's daughter, rescue your family, get revenge on the Marquis, etc., etc., etc.

Sailing, Sailing

Display full imageThe ships of the Golden Age of Piracy were vessels made of wood, and powered by canvas sails. A ship's helmsman steered the vessel by turning the ship's wheel, which normally was attached to the ship's rudder by a series of ropes and pulleys - though some of the smaller vessels were steered by wooden tillers. A ship's hull design and sail configuration determined its sailing characteristics - with squared-sail ships (i.e. frigates, galleons, and such) performing best traveling with the wind, and triangular-sailed ships (i.e. pinnaces, barques, and such) performing best when traveling perpendicular to the wind.

You begin the game with one small ship - though you can rapidly increase your fleet by successfully capturing other vessels. You can have a maximum of eight ships in your fleet - at which time you must abandon a ship should you wish to add a new ship to your fleet. Keep in mind that each type of ship requires a minimum number of crew for sailing - if you have fewer than the required number for each of your fleet's ships, your fleet's combat performance and sailing speed will suffer accordingly. Of course, you can augment your fleet's capabilities by finding (and recruiting) various ship's "specialists".

No matter how you choose to play the game, at some time and point you are going to have to engage in a sea battle. When you do so, keep in mind that such circumstances as the number of crewmen (and the type of vessels) you have in your fleet - as opposed to your opponents fleet; the angle of attack you are in when combat is initiated; the wind's direction relative to your sail type; the number of cannons you have in your fleet - and the type of ammunition you have available for your cannons; the configuration of your sails (i.e. full, or reefed); your pirate's sailing skills; and the morale of your crew. Sea battles can end in either victory, defeat, or in a draw - and does have an impact on world opinion of your character.

Gameplay in Pirates

Display full imageThe 1987 version of Pirates was unique during its time for its graphics, ease of gameplay, stability, and pure playing pleasure. This "remake" of the game seems to reflect those very same standards insofar as neither myself, nor my (ahem) "better half" have encountered a single glitch, crash, sound or video problem, or other stability issue as of yet. Coupled with the fact that game controls (i.e. a combination of keyboard/number pad and mouse) are easy to understand - and even easier to use; and that the player does have so much direct control over how the game plays out makes actual playing of the game just that much more enjoyable. Gaming aids (such as compasses, maps, communication, logs, inventory, character sheets, etc.) were all more than adequate, and also fairly easy to use. Dancing was really my own initial problem in-game - but I learned to solve that issue by hitting the pause button the second a Governor's daughter gave me a hand signal, then countering with the correct number pad response, then un-pausing the game - giving me a fairly competent dance performance each and every time.

The game's sound (with our surround sound speakers), and its graphics (which I played using an 800 x 600 resolution), were truly both enjoyable and game enhancing - and some of the game animations were, in my (ahem) "better half's" opinion - very reminiscent of her own, real life "pirate". In fact, my only real complaint about the game lies in the fact that, given the limited effective lifespan of your character, it is next to impossible to do everything the game has to offer.

Display full imageI found both combat (be it a land, or a sea battle), and sailing to be fairly straightforward and, at least on the lower game difficulty levels, fairly easy - at least for myself (I suppose being a career military man helped with combat strategy - while being a U.S. Navy retiree definitely played a part in my comprehension of so many of the game's elements). Engaging in duels at the lower levels was also enjoyable and easy - as long as you kept a sharp eye out for your opponent's moves, that is. Visiting the various seaports was always interesting - though (thank God) the game has a good quest log to remind you about what you may (or may not) accomplish in each seaport you happen to visit. And spending time in jail, or stranded on a deserted island was just as "enjoyable" in-game as it would be in real life.

Pirate's Finale

Display full imageWhile some may find the game to be slightly tedious for its somewhat repetitive nature - quite frankly, neither of us seemed to either notice, nor care - we were too busy just having fun playing out our respective games (I managed to complete two full games before my [ahem] "better half" absconded with my game disks and manuals - currently - she's working toward the end of her third complete game). Obviously, this game does have a good "re-playability" factor to it, and even more obviously - this game is pure pleasure in the playing.

The game's musical score was refreshing, appropriate to the particular setting, and well done. The graphics were definitely "eye candy" and well above the norm - with the various governors' daughters (and some of the various seaport barmaids) definitely making for some enticing "eyeball liberty". Neither of us had any problem with utilizing the keyboard/number pad and mouse game controls - and the in-game supports (maps, logs, character & fleet sheets, etc.) not only worked, but worked well.

One of the game's key factors - often overlooked unless there is a problem - was the stability of gameplay. Neither of us (as previously noted) experienced a single problem in-game thus far - so I doubt either of us will ever have to utilize this game's support structure. In a day and age where, due to the multitude and variance of PC construction and capabilities, new game "bugs" seem to be the norm rather than the exception - having a game of this caliber, and with no outstanding "bugs" whatsoever - is most definitely a breath of fresh (sea) air.

The Verdict
Graphics (15%) 95%
Sound (15%) 95%
Control (25%) 90%
Fun (45%) 98%
Overall 95%

The ups and downs:
Pure Playing PleasureToo Much To Do In Game
Easy Game ControlGaming Spouses Who Steal Games
Easy Player Setup
Variety of Game Tasks

Reviewer's System
Version: Limited Ed
CPU: AMD XP 3200+
RAM: 2048MB
Graphics MSI nvidia GeForce FX 5950
Sound SB Audigy 2 ZS Platinum

Average Reader Ratings: 8.8 (5 votes)
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