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Sid Meier is pretty famous as far as game designers go. Most famous for his award winning civilization series, a strategy game which has captured the hearts of most PC gamers and even a few with PSones. After founding MicroProse he then went on to leave and found the new company FireAxis games.
Originally released in 1987 Sid Meiers Pirates!, or Pirates! was released on the PC and the remake remains relatively similar, though with a lot better graphics and some new features that replaced the unpopular ones from the original title and was released on the Xbox in 2004. The PSP version is pretty similar, with both strategy and adventure elements to the game.
You play as a pirate that you name, trying to rescue your family from the evil pirate Marquis de la Montalban who enslaved them although this is only a fraction of what you can do. Starting off you must choose the nationality you work for, which is basically the difficulty setting of the game, and, being a pirate you really can work for who you want and do what you want. Sid Meier games are ridiculously hard normally so I recommend the easiest setting first. It may not seem hard at first though it builds up.
You see, straight from the word go, where you are put on a little ship outside one of your nations ports; you are aware of the freedom. There is nowhere to unlock and you can travel anywhere to any port and land. In ports you can rename and sell ships, upgrade, buy food and visit the tavern which is the place where you receive information, crew and sellers of mysterious objects. You can bomb any ship and visit any port yes, though it is wise to build up a crew and get a decent ship first. I was Guybrush, captain of the Black Pearl. To get any action it is wise to pick a side (the English, Spanish, Dutch, French are the main ones) since to please your crew and delay the inevitable sadness, you must battle, and you do not want all sides aiming for you.
The majority of the game is sailing around between islands, pirates and ports. Whilst catching Montalban may be top priority, there are treasure maps to use and notorious pirates to take down, such as Blackbeard and William Kidd to gain you the money to buy items. The sailing is pretty simple and quite fun if you catch the wind or find out how to use the storms to your advantage though can get dull since the wind doesnt seem to change direction much and the map isnt round. It is battles which are great.
The battles are similar to that in Curse of Monkey Island though instead of throwing insults the swords are at the ready. Battles take place after selecting a ship and you can fire cannons, different types allow you to take down the crew or the ship. This gives you an advantage when you board the ship and battles take board, meaning your crew wont die on you and it is here where the action is. There is the dodge button and attack button and there is normal, high and low. At the start it is pretty easy, though as you verse harder enemies who seem to dodge and attack a lot better you must really think before you attack and learn what the enemy will do and although the battles are extremely repetitive they are strangely addictive watching your man jump a low sword thrust and attack back. You win by gaining ground and earn both ships and plunder this way. You can make a fleet of ships all varying with cargo size, speed and amount of cannons adding variation.
The city battles are arguably less fun though still ok, and it is like a mini-civilization where you move spaces per turn and have to defeat the enemy, a fight which happens automatically. They just dont seem to happen often or last long. The worst part of the game is definitely the stealth, where you sneak from the city. It is ok actually, though is very similar and gets very repetitive, though not addictive. With a sword in hand I just dont see why I can not battle the guards who are patrolling, and the army that stopped me from getting in town seems to be absent during battle.
The game is quite in detail and a way to get revenge involves marrying the governors daughter which means beating other ships to climb the ranks and playing a few mini games which is quite addictive, yet simple, just pressing buttons down when required to. The faster your reaction the better the move. Its a dancing mini game.
Overall it is very addictive and full of hunting down pirates and getting money. One of the downsides is the crew. Notorious pirates roam the sea offering money. However, it isnt too hard to take down the best since (if you avoid the ship battle and just swordfight) the sword fighting doesnt increase much with difficulty between them, just ship battles which means taking them down is easy and you can get loads of money. When taken down though your crew will soon get unhappy with the amount of plunder you are receiving and will soon become mutinous meaning you must divide the plunder. To keep them happy you really must ration big attacks, which is quite annoying since you will have to get the crew over and over again to track down the evil Montalban. When you meet him the process is the same as previous pirate, and you battle for a piece of the map of one family member. With five family members and a quarter of the map it is tiresome travelling from the Spanish main to the other side of the bloody map again and again to track him down just to do the same thing over and over. It is broken up by other missions such as treasure hunting, which is pretty dull and other missions such as escorting (a ship, of course) and rescuing though it revolves pretty much around the same thing.
Overall, the game is good though. The repetitiveness is good in many ways because it is good. The sword fighting is great and actually involves a bit of skill so doesnt get tiring, and the ship battles actually become fun, especially when you get the bigger and more powerful ships. The towns are all basically the same except for merchant prices, though for some reason it does not take away the fun and just riding the ship itself is nice.
However, the main problem is with the character. He ages which really is not what I look forward to which puts a time limit on the whole game, rather annoying since, although the repetition is ok, doing about 8 hours worth of gaming again just because the game has decided you are too old is pretty annoying. A fountain of youth storyline could combat this. It makes the game a little too repetitive and I dont particularly want to be going to save my sister which I had done with the pirate before. The idea of age really limits the game since it means you can not do every quest unless you rush about (making the crew unhappy), so completing it will probably take quite a few tries, and the best thing is probably to complete it again and again but with different aims to complete in each game. It means you can never relax and just pirate, knowing you can just do the mission any time, and rushing through the missions is not half as fun. To stop this you could maybe then start pirating as someone else in your previous characters honour, so you can actually finish the game with a different character you started with.
The Graphics are good as far as the PSP goes. The characters have a great amount of detail and so do the swordfights. The graphics of the ship battles are not the best (they are birds eye view basically) but this adds to the fun and makes for easier controls. My only problem is with the swordfights though. Whilst the graphics are great alone, there seems to be a lack of animations/cut-scenes. You always slide down the same rail, or throw and enemy through the same rails, and the game could do with more cut scenes.
The controls are easy to grasp since there is a lack of action. Analogue or directional buttons controls the ships and the only time you really ever need to use and complex controls is with the sword fighting though the controls are pretty simple to grasp. No problems there though.
A more in-depth ship battle which involves more cannons. Although worth a go it has no lasting appeal and you cant game share. Id much prefer sword fighting (though it would be hard) and maybe a co-op mode. Could have been more.
A great game with a few let downs. The piracy will definitely appeal to Pirates of the Caribbean fans who dont trust the game, and pirate or Sid Meier fans altogether. The game is extremely repetitive though for most of the game this really does not bother you much since it is so addictive sailing from port to port and the sword fighting is extremely fun, since it doesnt just involve button bashing but actual skill, something many games fail to include. Although wireless could definitely be improved to be something more than a basic add-on to fill up the manual and appeal to a few more gamers, the real main annoyance is the story. Repetitiveness is fine in one game though having to start a whole game again because you actually enjoy messing around and not just doing what you are meant to definitely limits the freedom you are given at the start and aging to some extent really does spoil part of the game. It is was improved the game would be far better since doing a whole story again just makes the game a little too repetitive and it doesnt give you time to breath between all missions, especially if you aim for everything. It will probably take a few times to complete the game completely.
A great game but could be improved.
Developer: FireAxis Games
Publishers: Atari, 2k Games, Valve Co-operation (steam)
Release Date: January 2007 (PSP)
Formats: PSP, Xbox, PC (old version)
Price: £17.99 used Gamestation. £24.99 new Amazon.
Memory: 672kb minimum
Wireless Compatible: 2-4 players.
Sid Meier debuts on the PSP with his award-winning adventure/strategy game, Sid Meier's Pirates! Take on the role of a Pirate Captain to amass fortune and fame and seize your rightful place as one of the most revered and feared pirates in history. There is a whole cast of interesting and dangerous characters to meet, mysteries to solve, exotic island destinations to discover, and powerful alliances to forge. Duel, battle (on land and sea), dance, sneak, and hunt your way to unimaginable riches! Each time you play you create a new and exciting adventure, so the replayability is limitless!