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Welcome to the fifth Really Pathetic News Network Game Review, circa 1/17/2005.

Toggled Review
Sid Meier's Pirates for PC
By Eric Allen (Co-creator in Spoof)

Yo ho ho an a bottle o' rum, me hearties! Sid Meier's Pirates! now be sailin' th' Spanish Main. Yaar! Ya' thinks ye bein' up t' th' task ya' yeller-bellied lubber?

I picked this game up with my christmas money--and have been up to all hours of the night because of it.
A remake of the classic game by the same name, Pirates! (full name: Sid Meier's Pirates!: Live the Life made by Firaxis and published by Atari) is more fun than a barrel of monkeys (though arguably less fun than wearing an eyepatch and a parrot and yelling "Arr!" at unsuspecting passers-by).
In the game, you oversee the carreer of your very own pirate in the 1600's. With your family kidnapped by an evil Marquis, you set off to the New World in search of adventure, fortune, and a dash of revenge. Along the journey, the crew becomes mutinous, and you are named Captain (lucky you). Of course, you set course for the Caribbean (where else?).

You begin the game with a Sloop and a small crew outside a port-of-call for your chosen starting nation (France, Spain, England, or Holland). It is then up to you what to do next.

The game consists of six basic parts: sailing, sea battles, land battles, ports-of-call, swordfighting, and dancing.

You will spend most of your time sailing. In "real-time" you are free to travel anywhere from St. Augustine to Trinidad to Vera Cruz. Controling your ship is easy: on the numberpad, "4" turns your ship left, "6" turns your ship right. That's pretty much all you need. The prevailing winds blow from east to west in the Caribbean, so you'll quickly learn that sailing ships normally don't move very fast when sailing "into the eye of the wind" (that's sailer-speak for directly into the wind). Different ships also handle the wind differently. A Sloop or a Pinnace tend to be fastest when heading nearly perpendicular to the wind (as they are small and have large triangular sails), while a Frigate or a Galleon do best with the wind more at thier back. The manual (which is suprisingly and pleasantly complete) even has charts describing "sailing points" (angle to the wind) and which sailing points are ideal for which ships. Don't worry, though. Its still really easy to get around, no knowledge of sailing required. The only thing that limits how far you can sail (besides the physical limits of the map, of course) is food. Food takes up cargo space (each ship can only carry so much) and the larger the crew, the faster they eat through the food. Run out of food, and your band of scurvy sea dogs will get most displeased with you.

Of course, you're a pirate--and pirates attack ships. When you meet another ship on the seas, no matter who they are, what they're carrying, or what nation they belong to, you have the option to attack it. The map "zooms in" on your battle, and away you go. You control your ship exactly like in sailing mode (4 and 6 for left and right) and fire off broadsides with either spacebar or the "5" on the numberpad. Destroy your enem's hull and you sink the ship (which means you can't get plunder from it) Knock down the masts, and they're dead in the water. Knock a few holes in them and sail up to them. They may surrender, or they may fight back, and you'll have to board them!
When you board another ship, you are immediately taken to the swordfighting minigame. You square off in a duel with the enemy captain. Beat him (by pushing him over the side of the ship) and the ship is yours! Dueling is entirely done on the keypad. A chart in the bottom right of the screen tells you what key does what. It also will illuminate the key you need to press to avoid your enemy's attack. Its a twitch game in which you have to rely on your reflexes.
When you capture a ship, you can take on as much cargo as you can fit into your hull and scuttle the captured boat. Alternatively, you can keep her, and some of your crew will move over to it, and she will follow your flagship (you can have up to 8 ships in your fleet). You can change flagships right before a battle too, so you can use a 12-gun sloop for chasing down little prey, and a 30-gun war gallion for blasting bigger opponents out of the water.

You'll spend the rest of your time in various ports-of-call. Each port is owned by a different nation. Here, you can visit the shipwright to repair any damage you've sustained (and sell off ships), buy and sell goods from the Merchant, go to the Tavern to catch up on the latest gossip and recruit new crewmembers, and pay a visit to the Governor. The Governor will supply yo with a "letter of marque" authorizing you to "privateer" for that nation (making it "legal" to attack ships of that nation's enemy--as if you needed permission), give you land grants and ceremonial promotions, and maybe introduce you to his daughter. If your exploits impress the daughter enough, she'll ask you to escourt her to the Grand Ball. Enter another minigame: Dancing.
Dancing is another twitch game, controled by the numberpad. Your dance partner will gesture (and the key chart will light up the proper key) the next move in the dance. Press the right key and your character will step perfectly. Press the wrong key, or none at all, and he'll stumble. (you can purchase items in the tavern that make this game more forgiving). Impress the daughter with your dancing skills and she'll reward you with privilaged information.

The graphics of the game are quite nice. The world is colorful and fun to look at. It kind of has a "Pirates of the Caribbean" look to it. All events have accompaning cutscenes that blend smoothly in with the game--and some can be quite humorous (like a vanquished dueling opponent getting hit on the head with a falling vase and falling flat on his face). One complaint is that there are too few swordfight cutscenes. You end up fighting the same three or four fights over and over again.

Violence is handled in a more abstract way. your pirate will never run someone through with his blade, and your opponents always get knocked unconcious or knocked overboard. As such, parents can feel comfortable letting their kids play it--and even play it with thier kids. My 16 year old little sister, who dosen't play any video games, loves the game.

There really isn't much of a story. There are some "quests" you can choose to accept, like finding buried treasure, or rescuing family members, but you are under no obligation to do so. You could let your relatives rot in captivity somewhere if you wanted to. You could prey exclusively of Spanish ships if you so desire, or go to war against three of the nations and turn the whole Spanish Main French. You could even avoid piracy and be a peaceful trader.

Pros: insanely addictive. sailing is really fun. Easy to play. Fun graphics and atmosphere. Ship combat is fun. Great family game. Open-ended, free-ranging gameplay without limits.

Cons: insanely addictive. mini games limited, and twitch nature can be tiresome. Gets repetative.

Final verdict: buy it! play it! love it!


1031 B.C. - 2010 A.D., Really Pathetic, LLC.