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« on: 12/09/04 at 06:49 PM »

My review of Pirates!

I'm not in the habit of reviewing new games, but I felt compelled to write about this one for the benefit of those who may be considering it or comparing it to Tropico 2.  I must begin by saying that I have never played the original Pirates!, although I did get the DVD bonus edition of Pirates! with that game included, which I will play sometime.  So I cannot comment on how true it is to the original beloved version, but I understand it is very close, for better or for worse.  

I was going to write a description of the game, but there are lots of reviews and screenshots out there on other sites so I won't go into that here and instead just give my impressions of the game and compare it to Tropico 2: Pirate Cove, which of course I have played extensively, and a little to Port Royale, for which I only have the demo for version 1.  Here are some reviews to get you started and that reflect my feelings very well:
http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/pirates-2004/569937p1.html
http://www.gamebiz.com.au/reviews.php?action=display&id=512 http://www.accessgamer.com/PC/games/642/review/1.html
so if you want to skip mine and read that you will be just as far ahead.

General Gameplay - My Rating 9/10

This is the meat and potatoes of any game and you just know that being made by Sid Meier, it will excel.  Being used to playing scenario type games like Railroad Tycoon 2/3, Tropico, Tropico 2, Roller Coaster Tycoon etc., this game is quite a change.  For one thing, it is completely open-ended, with the only limitation on the time you play being the aging of your character, which reduces his ability to fight and do other things a pirate must do, eventually forcing retirement (though I haven't reached that stage yet.)  There is one main objective, which is to gain as much fame as possible, with a score of 100 or above the goal.  There are a multitude of ways to gain fame, including wooing governor's daughters, vanquishing named pirates and villains, rescuing your lost relatives, finding buried treasure and lost cities and of course, gaining your own wealth from capturing other ships.  There is so much to do in this game that you don't have time to get bored doing one thing.  You also have the freedom to play it in whatever style you want.  If you want to attack every ship of every nation, you can do that.  If you want to trade commodites with every nation and never attack another ship, you can do that too.  

One interesting aspect of gameplay is having to divide your plunder with your crew from time to time.  At first, I did not like having to do this, but it is a necessary thing to do before they mutiny on you.  It does tend to make you less inclined to hang on tightly to your ships since you have to just pick the best one as your flagship and sell the rest off when you divide your plunder.  It also breaks the game up into little mini-games that you can do in a slot of time and then carry on again with a new cruise the next time you play.  Dividing the plunder also gives you the option of changing your difficulty level up or down depending on your recent success, so that you're not stuck with your initial choice for the whole game.  A higher level makes swordfighting and dancing more difficult among other things, but the reward is a higher percentage take of the plunder.

I expected the game to be similar to Tropico 2 in allowing you to pick your favourite pirate or create your own notorious character and build a career.  But the game plays more like a Disney movie script that has been polished squeaky clean including your very young looking starting character.  Trading tobacco apparently was going to be in the game but was removed, probably for political correctness.  There is nary a bottle of rum to be seen, even in the tavern, except for the one the barmaid crashes over the head of the annoying guard once you get the better of him in a swordfight.  You can have a girl in every port, but she must be a governor's daughter, where your courtship is strictly chaperoned by the governor himself. So it is certainly not like Tropico 2, which has all the typical pirate activities you would expect.  And it is not like Port Royale, which seems more of a trading game with numerous commodities versus only four in Pirates!, including sugar and spice and everything nice (goods and luxuries).  Overall, the game is more of an adventure game, with quests and battles thrown in to give you something to aim for, than it is a strategy game.  


Graphics - My Rating 10/10

The graphics of this game are simply stunning in every way.  The ships are superbly detailed  and you can zoom in relatively close to see every sail and item on deck.  The sea is populated with dolphins that swim around your ship and jump out of the water.  The animations for the duelling and dancing mini-games are cinematic and beautifully choreographed.  The only glitch I've noticed is when you strike your final blow in a swordfight it is a rather abrupt switch to the view of your enemy falling overboard or into the flames on deck.  The main world view of the Caribbean is very well done with subtle wave action on the water, beautiful trees and mountains on land and very real looking clouds and storms, especially in chase ship view.  Even more graphical treats are in store when you put ashore to search for buried treasure or to attack a town on land, although the trees and vegetation are somewhat abstracted.  The world map is also very useful, with visual icons for port wealth, military strength and your romantic progress. ;-)  You can also click on a city to show its prices for various commodites.  An improvement would be a mouse rollover window to save all that clicking when you are looking for the best prices.  Once you enter a port, you also get a visual clue of what the city is like based on the building style, the city wealth by how tattered or pristine the town flag is and even how hostile the port is to you by how fast the flag flaps.  Overall, the graphics are a 10 in my book.


The Mini-Games

You will spend the majority of your time sailing on the open seas from port to port or looking for ships to attack.  But the mini-games will be your next biggest activity.  These include sea battles, swordfighting, dancing, treasure hunting, sneaking through town and land battles.

Sea Battles - My Rating 9/10

Attacking a ship puts you in a different game mode where only your flagship and the ship or ships you are attacking are shown in an overhead view.  You can also switch to chase view, which is more fun but also a little more difficult to aim and judge distances.  The cool thing about sea battles is that you can see every cannonball and explosion as well as cannons, sailors and cargo knocked overboard in great detail.  As you come closer to the enemy, the view zooms in so your ships fill the screen more and more.  You can continue to pummel a ship with your cannon until it sinks but usually you want to board and capture it.  You do this by bringing your ship in contact with the enemy ship and as you do, you are switched to a very closeup view of the two ships crashing into each other.  You are then placed into a completely different mode, the swordfighting mode.  When I first tried the demo of Port Royale, I thought the sea battles were great but Pirates! blows it away in terms of graphics, ship control and skill required.  Of course, Tropico 2 has no sea battles that you  can see, so it cannot compare.  The only complaint I have is the speed of the action, which takes place in slow motion compared to regular sailing.  This is good to help you learn, but there should have been an adjustment for speed to allow the battle to go faster.  Also, it would have been more fun if more of your fleet could be brought into the picture and control switched from ship to ship.  But I'm not sure how realistic that would be.

Swordfighting - My Rating 10/10

In this mode, you battle the enemy captain while your crew battles the other sailors.  The two battles do have an effect on each other in terms of morale for the crew and advantage or speed of action for you.  The side with the advantage is shown with a very large bar graph across the middle of the screen so it is clear to see at all times.  All action is again controlled by the numkey pad. The battle ends when either crew is reduced to 1 man (you or him) and you or he take one more hit or when you best the captain by sending him overboard or he bests you and sends you to prison or overboard.  These battles do take considerable skill to win, especially at higher difficulty levels, and the animations are visually wonderful.  Some captains have different defensive moves and sometimes you or he pick up a stick or bucket or grab a rope to swing out of the way but this seems to be determined randomly by the game.  Those not used to a little arcade action in a game may find this difficult, but I find it very fun, though I'm still learning my defensive moves.

Continued...
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« Reply #1 on: 12/09/04 at 06:50 PM »

Ballroom Dancing - My Rating 7/10

I have to admit that I was flabbergasted the first time I learned that ballroom dancing was a skill that your pirate would need to know.  What's with that?  But after a few tries at it, it is an interesting diversion.  However, it seems to take even more skill than swordfighting to do well, especially with the attractive and beautiful daughters.  For those like me who have two left feet, there are the special items of calfskin boots and dancing slippers to help you out.  With these, I have kissed a few hands, but have not got a spin-and-dip yet.  The rewards for good dancing are very worthwhile, including special information on villains from plain daughters, special items from attractive ones and special information on your arch-enemies from beautiful ones.  You also get up to 8 fame points for progressing to marriage with a daughter, plus 1 bonus if she is attractive and 2 if she is beautiful.  Also, beautiful daughters are the only ones that can give you maps to lost treasure cities, Which all goes to prove the old saying that life is too short to dance with ugly women.  Sorry, I couldn't resist that.  In addition the attractiveness of daughters seems to be directly related to how much cleavage and bosom they are showing, which seems rather sexist to me but is likely appropriate for the time frame.  In conclusion, I think this aspect of the game is done very well, but may be a little over-emphasized.  I think there should have been other ways to impress the ladies besides dancing to give you an alternative to this if you just don't like it.

Treasure Hunting - My Rating 8/10

Finding the buried treasures of named pirates is a side quest of the game that can be very lucrative.  You obtain map pieces from the travellers in taverns and when you have all four pieces or at least enough pieces to decipher the location, you put ashore close to the city or landmark shown on the map.  You are then put in another special mode where you control your character with the keypad looking for landmarks on the map until you spot the  buried treasure marked with a glowing red skull and crossbones.  There is no great challenge in this but it is well worthwhile for the treasure.  You do the same thing for finding lost relatives and lost cities, though getting the map pieces is much more difficult.  All in all, another nice diversion without too much difficulty.

Sneaking - My Rating 7/10

You have two options of sneaking, either to sneak into a hostile town to visit a governor or the tavern or to sneak out of prison back to your ship.  Both consist of finding your way through the maze of streets from an overhead view and avoiding the guards.  This is not that difficult and but does add another element to the realism of the game.  In my opinion, this would have been even better in a first person view like half-life or other games like that but as it is it's just okay.

Land Battles - My Rating ?

Haven't tried this one yet so cannot comment.


Politics - My Rating 8/10

When you set up your pirate, you align yourself with one of the four ruling nations:  England, France, Spain and Holland.  When you arrive in the Caribbean, your first duty is to stop in at the governor of the capital city for the nation you have chosen and he gives you a letter of marque and makes you a legal privateer for that country.  All your actions henceforth either please or displease that nation and other nations depending on the current wars or treaties between the four nations.  However, it is to your benefit to get letters of marque from all four nations or as many as you can to further relations and promotions with every nation.  This works very similar to the relations in Tropico 2 as far as I can tell.  It becomes a little mind-boggling to keep track of who's at war with whom even though the governors remind you every time you visit them.  I generally ignore this and attack mostly the Spanish ships since they have the best treasures.


Trading - My Rating 7/10

Trading commodities can be a profitable business if you decide to go that route instead of pirating.  Prices vary quite widely from city to city so you can make a decent profit by finding good differentials.  However, it is limited by having only four commodites available, unlike the many in Port Royale.  Mostly you will use this to sell off the cargo captured on ships for your treasure.


The Quests - My Rating 8/10

The quests form an interesting background story and objective for your pirate career.  There are two main villains, Baron Raymondo and Marquis Montalban, your family's captor.  Tracking down and defeating Raymondo gives you a map piece to find your lost relatives, but he then escapes and you have to track him down again for the next one.  Defeating Montalban is the ultimate goal of the game to get vengeance for what he did to your family.  You must track him down through information given by rescuing lost relatives or dancing with beautiful daughters and finally assault his hideout with map information dropped by Montalban himself.  The final reward is a bunch of fame points and a huge treasure of gold.  Besides these two arch-villains, you will sometimes gain information on lesser criminals to be tracked down and beaten for a reward.  All of these give you something to occupy your time besides just attacking ships for treasure, so they are a good addition to the game.  They remind me of the old priority shipments in Railroad Tycoon 1, which kept the game going for the last 50 years or until the overflow bug hit.    


Ports - My Rating 8/10

Besides sailing and sea battles, you will spend most of the rest of your time in ports, which can be cities or settlements of various sizes belonging to a colonial power, Indian villages, Jesuit missions or pirate havens.  You enter a port by sailing into its docks and as long as the port is friendly to you, you will be taken to a screen showing a general overhead view of the port and a menu of actions you can take.  In the normal city port, you have the option of visiting the governor, going to the tavern, trading with the merchant, consulting with the shipwright or sailing away.

The only complaint I have about this part of the game, which others have voiced as well, is that it can get repetitive after a while.  It's true that there are a variety of ports to visit, but even then you still do mostly the same activities.  I'm thinking it might have been more interesting to actually enter the town in a first person view and make your way to the buildings like you do when you sneak into a hostile town, but that would take longer and get repetitive too after doing it 50 times.  Considering how often you must visit ports, the current setup is likely the simplest and fastest way to do it.  


Conclusion - Overall Rating 9/10

In spite of my early misgivings, I heartily recommend this game, especially to fans of pirates or the Caribbean in general.  Just don't expect it to be your normal pirate game, if there is such a thing.  But if you're looking for an entertaining, clean and visually stimulating adventure, this is the ticket.  The gameplay is endlessly variable and the long-term goals strategically deep enough to make it very replayable.

In some ways, Tropico 2: Pirate Cove is the perfect companion for Pirates!, to let you create your own pirate haven for when you divide the plunder instead of just sitting around a table for six months.  So go ahead and get both if you haven't already and experience both sides of a pirate's life.  On the other hand, Tropico 2 could have been the ultimate pirate game if it had included the seagoing and sea battle aspects of Pirates!, with or without the swordfighting part.  Unfortunately we don't live in a perfect world.
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« Reply #2 on: 12/15/04 at 11:17 PM »

Quote
Trading tobacco apparently was going to be in the game but was removed, probably for political correctness.
In the original Pirates! and the first remake, Pirates! Gold, the commodities available to trade changed with the scenario you were playing in.  I think tobacco was only traded in the earlier scenarios - it was replaced by sugar in the later scenarios.

How's navigation done?  In Pirates!, you had a paper map and could take sun sights to get your latitude; otherwise you went by dead reckoning until you were in sight of the coast.  In Pirates! Gold, there was a map of the area you could access in the Captain's Cabin, where you could check your position.

Quote
Ballroom Dancing - My Rating 7/10

I have to admit that I was flabbergasted the first time I learned that ballroom dancing was a skill that your pirate would need to know.  What's with that?  But after a few tries at it, it is an interesting diversion.  However, it seems to take even more skill than swordfighting to do well, especially with the attractive and beautiful daughters.  For those like me who have two left feet, there are the special items of calfskin boots and dancing slippers to help you out.  With these, I have kissed a few hands, but have not got a spin-and-dip yet.  The rewards for good dancing are very worthwhile, including special information on villains from plain daughters, special items from attractive ones and special information on your arch-enemies from beautiful ones.  You also get up to 8 fame points for progressing to marriage with a daughter, plus 1 bonus if she is attractive and 2 if she is beautiful.  Also, beautiful daughters are the only ones that can give you maps to lost treasure cities, Which all goes to prove the old saying that life is too short to dance with ugly women.  Sorry, I couldn't resist that.  In addition the attractiveness of daughters seems to be directly related to how much cleavage and bosom they are showing, which seems rather sexist to me but is likely appropriate for the time frame.  In conclusion, I think this aspect of the game is done very well, but may be a little over-emphasized.  I think there should have been other ways to impress the ladies besides dancing to give you an alternative to this if you just don't like it.

In the older games, you were more likely to impress the governor's daughters/nieces if you had high rank in that country.  (Pirates! Gold also had merchant's daughters.)
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« Reply #3 on: 12/16/04 at 06:40 PM »

Thanks for the insights to the old Pirates! game richvh.  That is interesting.  You navigate mainly by the map of the Caribbean, which is available at any time with a keystroke of 3 while sailing or from the main status screen.  It shows a big X to mark your spot.  Of course navigating is fairly easy in the main overview since North is always the top of the screen.

Rank also affects governor's daughters as they will not ask you to dance until you reach a certain rank, the more beautiful they are, the higher the rank needed, unless you're wearing a stylish hat or ostrich feather in your cap!   Grin
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« Reply #4 on: 12/17/04 at 05:22 PM »

Quote
... the more beautiful they are, the higher the rank needed, unless you're wearing a stylish hat or ostrich feather in your cap!

Not only dancing slippers, but also fancy hats!! Oh my! A feather in me cap covers the obvious blemishes.

Oh, what has skirvy ridden, bloody pirating come to?

Next you will tell us that the parrot on your shoulder must wear a poop catcher bag like the carriage horses we have today driving around the park.

 Tongue Sad Undecided Lips Sealed Cry Cry
« Last Edit: 07/22/11 at 12:31 PM by Coconut Kid » Report to moderator   Logged

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« Reply #5 on: 12/29/04 at 12:57 AM »

Thanks for your review Dave - you definantely sold me Smiley

I hunted around on the net, but I could not find a demo? Is this correct? Or did I look in the wrong spot?
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« Reply #6 on: 01/29/05 at 02:02 PM »

Quote
... the more beautiful they are, the higher the rank needed, unless you're wearing a stylish hat or ostrich feather in your cap!

Not only dancing slippers, but also fancy hats!!

Oh my, what has skirvy ridden, bloody pirating come to?

Next you will tell us that the parrot on your shoulder must wear a poop catcher bag like the carriage horses we have today driving around the park.

 Tongue Sad Undecided Lips Sealed Cry Cry

what parrot?
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« Reply #7 on: 07/22/11 at 12:36 PM »

Sid Meyer's
 PIRATES!
Live The Life!
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