Sunday, 14 February 2010

PC Game Review - Sid Meier's Pirates!

Pirates! by Sid Meiers was one of the defining computer games of the 8 / 16-bit era and is still one of my favourite games of all time. As the years went by, other pirate sims came and went – but none could match the deceptively simple yet completely compelling open-ended gameplay of the original MPS Labs game. Pirates Gold failed to really capture the spirit of the first game, Cutthroats was a good attempt but ultimately failed to be much fun, Sea Dogs had real potential but was buggy as hell.

The throne for best pirate game was left vacant, no heir was found to Pirates!.

Until a new game came along.

And that game was:



Yes, the same game, but updated for modern computers. Sid Meiers & Microprose have teamed up once again to give us a game that will surely endure as the king of all piratey games (the Monkey Island games don’t really count as piratey games as such) for many years to come.  (NB - This review was originally posted back in February 2005, shortly after the game was first released.  I've posted this now as I've recently started playing the game again and it's still amazing.)

The original, if you didn’t know, was a blend of arcade, action-adventure, and RPG. You developed your character throughout the game (though not in the traditional stat-driven way) and as well as pirating, you could also choose / switch national allegiance to obtain titles and land, find lost treasure, find and free long lost family members, capture ports for a chosen country, and even get married. The success of this version (the original game is included in the Limited Edition package) is that it doesn’t try to change much – if they had, fans of the original game would surely have been greatly disappointed. That’s not to say that everything’s the same, but the essential gameplay has been retained. Certain things have been ditched – sea attacks on ports, for instance – but in general most elements of the original game are here. Some have been significantly upgraded, most notably the land battles, which are now turn-based tactical battles rather than the old real-time “ambushing the Spanish works every time” business. The sword-fights are much the same though the weapons are better balanced – in the old game it was a cutlass every time, but in this a little more strategy is required in your choice. The interface relies mostly on the keyboard with the mouse being used for menu selection. Joypads etc can be configured if you so desire.

There are additions to the game – for instance, you now not only visit the Governor’s daughter but you have to impress her with your dancing too! When you sneak into town, you now have to actually try to outwit the guards – and there are better reasons to do so, too. To aid you in your quest for Spanish Main domination there are various items that you can be given by friendly Governor’s daughters or buy from seedy travellers, crew members that can help you keep your crew happy or give your gunners better aim, and you may need to travel to inhospitable climes to obtain them. You also have the “Top Ten Pirates” index to help you see how well you’re doing – you can reap large rewards for defeating them, but mixing with the best is no easy task. Treasure-hunting is also a bit more involved than before, in fact it can be downright tricky finding the right place to dig! There is also an extra difficulty level guaranteed to give even real swashbucklers a challenge.

The graphics and sound are, of course, vastly improved on the original (which is after all getting on for two decades old, an eon in the computing world). The graphics look good without being amazing, but the cartoony style suits the game well and the backgrounds are nicely detailed – it makes the transition from 2D in the old game to 3D effectively while the scenes are still recognisable as being those in the original game, only a lot better. There is no speech as such – various characters make vaguely speech-like noises in different accents depending on whether they’re pleased with you or not. Perhaps this was done to save space but it doesn’t really detract from the game at all. The sound effects are very good with crisp and atmospheric samples throughout. The original music score used in the game is good and quite evocative of the era, but I suspect that I won’t be the only fan of the original game who was hoping for a fully orchestrated rendition of Handel’s “Water Music” – the dodgy old Yamaha chip music rendition from Pirates! on my old Atari ST still rings through my head sometimes…. Overall the game seems a little harder than I remember it, but that’s probably just because I’m out of practice… :-D

At the end of the game you divide up the plunder, and your share dependson the difficulty level. After each voyage you can decide whether to plan another voyage, retire, or advance a difficulty level. (Eventually you have no more voyages in you and are forced to retire anyway.) Your rank at the end of the game is determined by your health, wealth, marital status (the better the woman you marry, the better for you – but they’re harder to woo!), accomplishments, etc. Even then you may be offered the chance to come out of retirement.

(My sister was still disappointed that you have no opportunity to play a female pirate… maybe a future version or mod will change this?!?)

What made Pirates! such a great game all those years ago was the completely open-ended gameplay and the dynamic game world, where every action you took had an effect on the make-up of that world. Those vital aspects are retained here, and the additions made to the game add to the enjoyment and challenge of playing. This is one game you certainly won’t get bored of playing for a long time.  (Personally I find open-ended games to be a somewhat strange beast and often end up getting bored of them... but not Pirates!)

System Requirements

OS: Windows 98/SE/ME/2000/XP
Processor: 1 GHz or higher
Memory: 256Mb or higher
CD Rom: x8 speed or higher
Video card: ATI Radeon 8500 or GeForce 3 or higher (works fine on my GeForce 4)
Free hard drive space: 1.4Gb
Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible card

Other Information

Age Rating: 12+
Developed by FIRAXIS Games

CaptainD's Rating:  9/10

CaptainD's PC Gaming Blog


2D said...

When I first started reading this I thought, "Oh yeah, I played Pirates! it was awesome." Slowly I began to realize it was the improved sequel to the game I loved. Well done sir

CaptainD said...

The nice thing is, both versions of Pirates! are amazing games. Thanks for the comment!

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i loved to play both the versions. I am a Seo Services provider but when ever i want some relax I play Online games. But this one i also i liked a lot.

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I love to play the online games but i never tried this kind of game. But the very first time i read your article and i played it and found it very interesting.
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seoservices7890 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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I have Played both the versions and i loved playing them. this is one of my best game.
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