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Posted on May 28, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Sid Meier’s Pirates Review

By Jamison Lanum

Passed Inspection: Something for everyone. Completely open-ended. Excellent pacing.

Failed Basic: Lack luster multiplayer. Audio fails to impress.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate’s life for me. Originally developed and released for the PC, Sid Meier’s Pirates fits like a glove on the highly-mobile PSP. Its bright, vibrant 3D cartoon graphics look decent on the PSP’s widescreen, and its loose, open-ended gameplay crosses over perfectly using a magnitude of mini-games to connect everything together.

Pirates introduces itself with an intriguing story. With the main character’s family imprisoned when he was just a boy, it’s up to him to come to the rescue and bring those that wronged his family to their knees. Due to the open-ended gameplay though, players can simply ignore this task altogether and enjoy the open seas. Pirates‘ has a lot to offer including dancing with the governor’s daughter, trading loot, dueling opposing captains, hunting treasure, exploring and even go to the local tavern to pick up some juicy gossip. Most of these venues last but for a few minutes making it very easy to pick-up, and more importantly, put down. This makes it a perfect fit for someone who is on the commute.

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Every player’s journey starts at the character creation screen where the name and skill sets are chosen. From there, players must align themselves with the English, French, Dutch, or Spanish-this not only aligns the players but also changes the difficulty as well. An era must also be set starting in the 1600s, which effects gameplay and difficulty. Once all is done players will make one of their first stops to procure their letter of Marque that grants them the right to destroy or capture any ship that is not of their nation!

That gets the ball rolling and starts players on their journey of pillaging, killing and yelling "Arrr" a whole bunch. Of particular prominence is the amount of time players will spend exchanging broadsides with enemy vessels. Whether the player is trying to hunt down a specific target or shooting at anything that happens to sail by the end result is carnage. Ships range from pesky merchant ships to full fledged gun-toting behemoths. Once engaged players must strategically maneuver their ship making sure that they are not exposed when being fired at and then swinging around broadside to unleash hell.

Choosing ammunition is an important part about taking down a ship. Shot comes in different flavors: larger sized cannon balls take out the physical structuring of the ship while smaller grapeshot simply decimates the crew. Capturing can be accomplished by dueling the enemy captain. Different types of swords and attacks are utilized to take out the enemy and players must make equipment decisions. For instance using a rapier has a much quicker attack than that of a long sword, which is much more powerful. Parrying is also an option, but matching the D-pad direction to meet the incoming strike takes a while to get used to. Once the ship is captured it can be brought to the nearest port to be sold, traded, stripped of its loot or made a part of the player’s fleet. One thing to mention is there are periods of time where music ceases leaving only the hum drum sound of the wind blowing for players to listen to.

Other modes of interest include turn-based battles on land, which is a pleasant change of pace. Players command a mix of ranged and melee units and attempt to take over villages and towns using the terrain to their advantage. Success means a large amount of plunder for the crew. One of the more heart-pounding modes has the player infiltrating hostile towns. Players will use a variety of skills such as knocking out guards and climbing walls to bypass the enemy. If the player is caught the character will have to spend some time in the slammer.

But looming over the player’s head is the threat of old age. While plundering villages and sweet-talking the governor’s daughter is fun it cannot go on forever. As time progresses so does the physical appearance of the players’ avatar. It will even be more difficult to recruit crewmembers and the player will also see a few of their stats decline. So the ultimate goal is to gather as much fortune and fame as quickly as possible before retiring. Then the game can be started again and enjoyed in an entirely different way. This gives the game great replay value. It’s needed since the included multiplayer functionality is a bit underwhelming. Essentially you and three buddies trade broadsides with your ships in an arena.

Make no mistake, this is not a game to be enjoyed hours at a time, but is perfect for those on the commute or in a spare 15-30 minutes. A full fledged multiplayer mode that offered new scenarios would have been nice but won’t ruin the overall experience. Sid Meier’s Pirates has an excellent choice of non-linear gameplay and should definitely be picked up by PSP strategy-buffs.

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