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Appeared on: Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Sid Meier's Pirates!


1. Introduction

REQUIREMENTS: 1Ghz or higherCPU, Win 98/SE/ME/2000/XP, 256MB memory, 8x or faster CD-ROM, Ati 8500 or GeForce 3 or higher, 1.4GB free space

 

Very few games were expected with the enthusiasm from the game community as the new Sid Meier's Pirates! Pirates has its own distinct history. It was in 1987 that Microprose issued the first Pirates which immediately became a hit. The role of a pirate who crosses the Caribbean, capturing ships, searching for treasures and looting wealthy towns, kept millions of gamers glued to their screens (myself among them!). Six years later, Microprose released "Pirates Gold!" a remake of the original game. The game had many bugs - a patch later fixed many of them - but it also became a classic. Now, 18 years after its first release, a new Pirates (again from Sid Meier) is here and has to reach the high expectations set by its two "hall-of-fame" predecessors.

Some Sid Meier's Pirates scrennshots


2. Start

 

The main concept of Pirates is similar to the two previous games from the series. Once again, you are a pirate who tries to become famous throughout the Caribbean. However, this time, the game has an interesting scenario which is revealed through a very beautiful introduction. The story begins with a family celebration which turns into a nightmare. An evil Marquis invades your house and captures your family. You are the only one who manages to escape. Ten years later, you embark on a ship where you "convince" the captain to surrender control of the vessel to you. Starting from zero, you have to rescue your family from slavery, reak revenge on the villains who put them there and reclaim your lost fortune.

In the beginning, you must create a character, choose a skill for him (there are five skills varying from fencing to wit and charm), select the historical era you prefer, and finally, set a difficulty level. From that moment on, you are ready to start your career in the Caribbean. While the game allows you to take on many different roles (you can be a pirate hunter, a pirate or even a merchant who tries to increase his profits by selling goods to the colonies), it is better to start as a privateer (a private captain who holds a ?Letter of Marque? which enables him to legally attack his nation's enemy ships and towns) choosing your side between English, French, Dutch or Spanish.

More Sid Meier's Pirates scrennshots


3. The Ships

 

In your first steps, you will find yourself commanding a Sloop which turns out to be the ideal ship for the beginning. Despite its small size, it is very fast, extremely maneuverable and armed with a sufficient number of cannons. Moreover, the addition of upgrades (a feature which was inducted into the new Pirates) can increase the ship's speed, fire power and damage resistance. This combination of speed and guns makes the Sloop a lethal opponent for the slow moving Galleons and the merchant ships and it can easily disengage when it faces stronger opponents.

Some of the ships of Pirates...

Sloop: Your first ship in the game. "Faster than the strongest ships and stronger than the fastest", sloop is the ideal ship for piracy.

Galleon: These leviathans are the strongest among Spanish ships They are slow but extremely stable and reliable, ideal for the voyages in the ocean.

Frigate: The combination of high speed and the alll-powerful arsenal makes frigate the absolute ship-of-war. Most of the pirates flee in sight of a frigate.

and some of the upgrades.

Bronze cannon: Increases the accuracy.
Iron scantlings: Allows a vessel to resist hull damage.
Copper plating: Allows a ship to turn more quickly.

More Sid Meier's Pirates scrennshots


4. The battles

On many occasions, you will engage in sea battles during your journeys. When a naval battle (perhaps the most exciting part of Pirates) is about to begin, you will have to choose which of your ships will be the flagship (the ship that will carry on the battle). A naval battle can end in three different ways: the enemy ship sinking, one of the ships disengaging or the two ships coming head to head. In that last case, if the enemy ship is heavily damaged, the demoralized crew will surrender without a fight. Otherwise, you have to test your fencing skills. While your crew fights the enemy crew, you will have to face the enemy captain. You can choose between three types of attacks and you can defend yourself in three different ways, each defensive move warding you from a specific attack. While fencing is very easy in the levels with a lower difficulty (you can finish the game only with offensive moves in the lowest level of the game), you must perform excellently in defense as the difficulty increases. Fortunately, the game controls are very easy and you will face no problem at all in any part of the game.

Of course, besides fencing you can use your gunnery skills in a sea battle. By using the chain shot you can destroy the enemy's ship mast, immobilize it and make it an easy target, while the grape shot is very effective against the enemy crew. Finally, round shot can cause severe damage to the hull of a hostile ship. Different types of ships require different strategies (i.e the best way to deal with a slow moving Galleon is to destroy her mast with an accurate cannon fire and then - using the grape shop - to reduce her crew. Finally, when your crew outnumbers the crew of the enemy ship, sling aboard and you will capture her without any further fights). Often, the capture of a ship provides you not only with goods and money, but also with specialized crew members, such as gunners (they increase the fire rate), carpenters (they repair damages during a voyage), navigators, etc.

Another way to increase your fortune is to attack the wealthy enemy towns. This option has great dangers (in most of the cases the soldiers who defend the city outnumber your buccaneers) but in a successful attack, the amount of money that will end up in your hands surpasses by far, the money that an enemy ship can provide you. During the attack, the game changes from real time to turn-based. You have to break through the defenses of the soldiers and invade the city. The achievement of a convincing victory rewards you with the option of installing a new government that is friendly to you, otherwise the province will remain under enemy hands.

More Sid Meier's Pirates scrennshots


5. The port

All your progress is carefully monitored by foes and allies. A visit to a friendly port will give you the chance to see the governor and to gain rewards for your achievements in both land and titles. You will also have the chance to meet his daughter and to start a romance with her, a romance that may end in a wedding. Earning the heart of your future wife wont be an easy task. She will invite you to dance with her only if you have been promoted, otherwise, she will ignore you. During the dance, the game turns into an in-game mini game and the player (using the numkeys) has to follow the lady's steps while a heart indicator shows the progress that has been made. If you are a skilled dancer you will learn valuable information about wanted villains or even better, about lost cities. Eventually, you will have to defeat her jealous fiance in order to give a happy ending to your romance.

In the tavern, you can enlist more sailors for your ship, get information about villains who know where your family members are and buy numerous items ranging from treasure maps which will guide you to buried lost treasures to false moustaches which help you disguise yourself when you infiltrate an enemy city. Moreover, you can find wanted criminals - asking the inkeeper - while the waitress can give you valuable information about the other pirates, treasure ships, etc. The local merchant will trade his goods with you while the shipwright will repair the damage and provide your ship with upgrades.

The more goals you achieve, the higher your fame indicator increments. You can earn fame points by vanquishing pirates, rescuing your family members, avenging villains, earning promotions and in many other ways. All the goals you have accomplished are listed on your status menu. Moreover, a pirate ?hall-of-fame? list records the 10 most notorious pirates and your efforts to obtain the first place among them.

More Sid Meier's Pirates scrennshots


6. Conclusion

Graphics : The graphics for Pirates is impressive. The game supports resolutions up to 2048X1536 if you have a powerful system and of course, the appropriate screen. The models for the ships are represented in great detail and unlike the first Pirates, you can recognize the type of the ship from afar. The reflection of the ships in the water adds marks to the final verdict. The cities are well designed and so are the game characters, despite the cartoon like appearance. But the most obvious improvement has to do with the graphics for the terrain. The trees, hills, Indian totems, all look real. I remembered the difficulties I had faced when I tried to find a treasure in the first Pirates due to unrealistic landmarks. This time it's just impossible to get confused. All the waypoints (could be a totem, a big tree, a stone head, etc) are clearly visible making the navigation to a lost treasure a piece of cake. In conclusion, the graphics manages to transmit the magic of the 17 th century.

Sound: The music for the game is at a high level though it is not as good as the graphics. The music score for the naval battles with its epic tone is my favourite. Sound effects will not leave anyone disappointed. The salvoes of the cannons, the clash of the swords, the gunshots, all perfectly meet the high standards of the game. The ambient sounds are also very realistic - you can hear the sound of the waves when you are travelling, the sound of the tropical storms etc - and they combine to achieve the atmosphere of the Caribbean..

Gameplay: The biggest advantage of Pirates is its incredible gameplay. The game belongs to the ?elite game? category which means that it practically never ends. Moreover, Pirates is an ?open? game- it doesn't restrict the gamer at all. You can travel to anywhere in the Caribbean Sea right from the beginning, while the numerous roles you can assume increase the time value. There are five difficulty levels ready to add an extra challenge to anyone who finds the game easy. Finally, I have to congratulate Firaxis for the really clever idea to allow you to change the game difficulty during the game (when you divide the plunder, the game allows you to increase the difficulty if you have exhibited exceptional performance until then). It's a very useful feature since it saves you from playing the game all the way from the beginning again. However, the game has some small defects. There is no continuation between day and night during your travels. Another thing that annoyed me has to do with the villain who holds information about your family (you learn information and liberate one member of your family at a time). You always capture and interrogate the same person! I can't think why on earth you woudn't kill him or why you dont "convince " him to reveal the places where each of your family members are held. I think Firaxis has to give more attention to this...

Summary: Sid Meier and Firaxis didn't disappoint us! Having to remake one of the most addictive games of all times, they managed to respond beyond every expectation. The new Pirates is better than its predecessor, not only in graphics and sound (an easy task with the progress we have seen in the last years), but also in playability. Sid Meier kept the excellent gameplay from the original Pirates and enriched the sequel with many new features (ship upgrades, interesting scenario etc) making it a truly new game. This is one of the best purchases you can make on the market.

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More Sid Meier's Pirates scrennshots



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