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.htmlhttp://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.
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.