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Posted on Jul 2, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Sid Meier’s Pirates! – Game Review (PC)

By Terry Lee Coleman

Another major change in this new version of Sid Meier’s Pirates! is the addition of a dancing mini-game. While some might find this a bit odd, it makes perfect sense for an Errol Flynn-style pirate to spend his time in port impressing the ladies with his ability on the dance floor. I have to admit, this aspect of the game is more challenging than I would have expected, but it has its benefits. In addition to developing a love interest-and possibly a wife-for your character, you also may impress said damsel enough to gain information (such as the whereabouts of a criminal who can be turned in for a reward) or even a special item, such as a better sword.

Dancing is not just for dandies… …vital information can be acquired by the maidens fair.

The game offers a ton of role-playing style customization. When you begin play, you can choose for greater prowess in Fencing (sword fighting is always popular), Gunnery (for ship combat), Navigation (easier to sail around the Caribbean), Wit and Charm (to better impress the ladies), or Medicine (which helps your pirate to stay healthier over the course of his hopefully long career). You can also choose to be English, French, Dutch, or Spanish, and this, along with which era you play in (1660 is ‘The Buccaneer Heroes’ and so forth) makes a difference in how you start the game, and in how other nations perceive you.

When dueling, you can use a Cutlass (good for defense), Rapier (quick attack), or a Longsword, which offers a balance of attack and defense. As you meet characters in the game, you have the opportunity to buy improved versions of these weapons, and of other useful martial effects, such as a metal cuirass or silk fencing shirt, which gives you quicker fencing moves.

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As one would expect in a pirate tale, the number of items available is staggering, from a three-stringed fiddle to keep the pirates happy while at sea, to an ostrich feather hat-a must if you want to be invited to the Governor’s fancy ball and a dance with his lovely daughter. Lock-picks, signaling mirrors, sacred relics, shrunken heads, they’re all here, and all of them help you to create your story.

And that’s the point, really. It’s tempting to look at Sid Meier’s Pirates! as merely a series of linked mini-games. But the real genius of Sid Meier’s Pirates! is how the game lets you create your own pirate adventure, in a fun and endlessly entertaining way. In a typical game, you can avenge your family by rescuing your lost relatives, defeat the villain at his hidden hideout, and get married to the beautiful daughter of a rich colonial Governor. Alternatively, you can spend the game sacking cities, defeating other pirates, and having a girl in every port. Or, you can try a more balanced approach, building up your pirate reputation while waiting for that one huge treasure fleet that will let you retire a rich and relatively healthy man. You get the picture.

In the end, what keeps me coming back to Sid Meier’s Pirates! is that it is simply one of the most replayable video games ever made. The game environment offers a living world which you can ignore or shape to your liking, and sometimes to your peril. For example, I played one game where I had captured a Spanish port and converted it to English, so that I had a base in the area. Later on, I saw a Spanish fleet led by a huge warship which was out of my class at that stage of the game, so I chose not to attack it. Problem was, this Spanish fleet conquered another English town elsewhere on the map, costing me a base of operations – which probably wouldn’t have happened if not for my earlier actions. Given how many games these days have trouble challenging a veteran gamer the first time through, much less the twentieth, I can’t recommend this game too highly.

Graphics (18/20):

The entire graphic design is larger-than-life, with oversized ships, rugged pirates, glittering gold coins, and winsome barmaids. You almost expect the powder to fly off the wig of the Governor you meet in port. The bright color palette and fluid animation style really sell the feeling that you are in a swashbuckling epic.

Care for a mission today? Success makes for a happy crew and future adventures…

All in all, not the absolute best graphics available on a PC, but they did a very good job making everything look good on even mid-range computers. If you have a high-end graphic card, much of the game looks stunning: Check out the reflections on the polished wood floors in the Governor’s mansion. Good use of 3D throughout – the water (complete with swimming dolphins) is about the best you will see on a game at this scale.

Sound (9/10):

The soundtrack to the original Pirates! was outstanding, but this might be even better. At times bombastic, other times beautiful (notice the harpsichord during some of the dance sequences), it bears repeated listening.

Sound effects include crashing waves, sword-fighting melees, and pirates onboard singing after defeating a tough foe – the audio cues offer a number of nice touches throughout. The speech of the game is notable as well, a gibberish language somewhat similar to that of characters from the Sims video game-different nationalities in the game even speak different gibberish. All in all, the sounds and music never fail to set the mood for whatever particular point you may be in the game.

Documentation and Technical (10/10):

One of the most welcome ‘old-school’ things about Sid Meier’s Pirates! is the documentation. Although the game is easy to pick up and play, there is a wealth of information on every aspect of play in the 120+ page manual, including famous pirate histories, descriptions of naval vessels, and Caribbean ports of call.

As with most software these days, there were a few minor glitches fixed almost immediately by a patch. But the game runs quite well on even modest systems, though a good video card is a must to enjoy the graphics (see above).

Armchair General Score: 94%

Pros: Easy to play with tons of buccaneering replay value. The land combat system is much improved over that of the original Pirates! and dancing with the ladies is surprisingly challenging and fun.

Cons: If you want a serious pirate simulation, look elsewhere (if you can find one).

Bottom Line: If we gave an award for best revival of a classic game, Sid Meier’s Pirates! would likely sail away with the prize. Whether or not you played the original, this deserves a place in almost any gaming collection. Highly recommended.

Discuss Sid Meier’s Pirates! on the Armchair General forums.

Author Information:

Terry Lee Coleman is former Senior Reviews Editor of Computer Gaming World magazine. He has written about board, card and video games for several years in such publications as Fire & Movement, The General, BROG, and Armchair General.

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