Sid Meier’s Pirates – XB – Review

If you ever
dreamed of being lost at sea with a wild crew of men uglier than a warthog with
skip problems, you might just be a pirate. If you love drinking frothy ale from
a filthy mug in a tavern where the barkeep’s awful BO smells better than your
rotting teeth, you might just be a pirate. If Pirates of the Caribbean or
Pirates: Legend of Black Kat for the Xbox disappointed you, well, Sid
Meier’s Pirates!
is the game for you. At last, a pirate game worthy of those
who always thought the pirate life is for them.

Released awhile
ago on the PC, Pirates! resurfaces on our favorite black box with Xbox
exclusive features that, while it cuts the massive playing world in half, adds
more goodies that make this an all-the-more enriching console experience. Even
if you do own the PC game, you might want to catch this version loaded with more
cinematic cutscenes, shorter sailing time and more bonus material to keep you
even more busy. Even the simplistic control scheme fits the Xbox perfectly. In
short, this is how you port a PC game to a console!

Sid Meier’s
the tale of a young man who, at a young age, watches his family being taken
prisoner by the dastardly Marquis de Montalban. As the quiet dinner becomes a
tragedy, the young boy escapes and vows to find his family and have his revenge.
The young boy grows up to join a mean captain’s crew only to head a mutiny and
take over his ship. From there it is up to the gamer to pick a nation (English,
Spanish, the Dutch or the French) and attempt to become a famous pirate captain
while keeping your promise to find your family.

You can also
pick a skill that will serve you well as a pirate captain. You can become
proficient in fencing, gunnery, navigation, medicine or charm. Either one you
choose you will put to the test each of these skills in order to become a
successful captain. There are responsibilities you’ll have to tend to such as
the supply stock (your crew has to eat, you know) and plunder to split with your
crew (or you’ll have a mutiny in your hands). Aside from looking for your family
and making Montalban pay for what he did to you and your family, you must make a
name for yourself and that means pillaging, capturing ships and stealing gold
… you know, the pirating essentials. You’re never pushed into completing the
main task so you’re free to live the pirate’s life and, seeing how massive this
world is, there’s plenty of riches to be had here.

Each of the four
nations is always in turmoil and you can earn some respect as well as money by
doing deeds or crossing swords with enemies of a nation. For example, sail under
the English flag and take down a Spanish trade ship and you’ll be rewarded a
rank from the English governor as well as, say, a Dutch governor who hates
Spain. The more ships you sink or take as your own and the more each governor of
an island will reward you with titles, property and even a proper introduction
to their daughters (both beautiful and plain-looking ones). You can even head
into taverns to recruit new crew members, get the latest information or capture
hidden criminals wanted by different nations.

Sailing is a
major part of this game and this is where the game takes on a bird’s eye view of
the action. Steering with the wind, your ship will encounter galleons from many
nations as well as pirate ships. You’ll even encounter famous real-life pirates
along the way such as Blackbeard, Captain Kidd or Henry Morgan. The rewards and
riches for taking down these pirates will make you known throughout the nations
and will even put you on the list of famous pirates. The higher your rank the
more different ports will grant you cheaper repairs or supplies.

Ship battles are
also a major part of the game and in Pirates! the ship battles are pretty
simple and downright entertaining. You start by engaging a ship and the view
moves to the two ships locked in battle. You can select different cannon fire
and you can even ram another ship. When you ram a ship it game automatically
shifts to a boarding battle. Here your fencing skills are put to the test and
while there’s some limited moves including a taunt and dodge move, it’s really a
tug-of-war-styled mini-game. You’re given a choice of swords such as a longsword,
rapier or a cutlass. Rapiers are for quick attacks and thus the best choice of
the three. Defeat the captain and you’ll have the choice to sink the ship
(taking all the valuables first, of course) or take it. Taking a ship means
you’ll have to surrender some crewmembers to the other ship but at least you’ll
have backup during your journey.

The game is also
filled with various mini-games. You’ll have the opportunity to court a
governor’s daughter, which will open a dancing mini-game. Simply a rhythm-based
game, you’ll have to push the button that flashes on the screen but at the right
moment. Thankfully your dance partner indicated the direction with her hands but
it is still a pretty challenging game. From there you can court your chosen
sweetheart by bringing her gifts and finally marrying her. There’s even a
stealth mini-game that has you sneaking into a town third-person style while
attempting to avoid being caught by the local watchmen. You can even knock out
guards, hide behind objects to make your way through the maze-like streets. It’s
fun stuff, all right.

New to the game
is also an even-the-odds mini-game that has you evening the odds when attempting
to board a ship with a crew that outnumbers your own. It’s really a short
sequence where you attempt to push the right buttons before the timer expires.
Successfully push them correctly and you’ll be shown a cutscene of your heroic
efforts and will lead you to a fight with the ship’s captain. There’s even some
cool land battle sequences in the game that gel together nicely on the Xbox.
There’s even a multiplayer mode for up to four players that kind of makes up for
no Xbox Live multiplayer. You can also use Doubloons (the game’s currency), to
purchase bonus content such as galleries and behind-the-scenes stuff just to
name a few extras.

Visually, the
game might not be a graphical treat but then again it’s not a bad looking game
either. The world of Sid Meier’s Pirates! is a colorful one and it
definitely gives off the effect that you’re in the tropical seas and islands of
that period. The character you control is a dashing young pirate who is nicely
detailed but, strangely enough, everyone else that isn’t a famous pirate seems
to look alike. Even the girls you court seem to be cut from the same template
… with the exception of a change of skin and hair color, of course. Still, the
top-down view during the sailing is filled with little details such as dolphins
swimming besides your boat or a patch of dark clouds with lighting and thunder.
There’s some great cutscenes but by the first hour you’ll probably have seen all
of them again at least twice. 

While the
visuals won’t impress the gamers looking for eye candy, it will certainly more
than make up for it with its sound and score. Composed of snippets of familiar
seafaring tunes you’ll associate with old pirate movies, the soundtrack is
delightful yet repetitive. It certainly isn’t repetitive enough that it will
drive you nuts, though. While the dialogue is purely text, you’ll hear some
nonsensical gibberish from each character you speak to throughout the game. Yet
the best part comes while sailing. You’ll hear the storms coming before you see
it and during the battles you’ll hear men scream with pain and cannon balls
splinter hulls. These detailed sounds can also be heard in taverns or seaports.

Sid Meier’s
quite simply one of the most enjoyably addictive games and a genuine treat for
those who longed for a really great pirate game. Brilliantly designed and filled
with enough things to see and explore, this is a world we can easily get lost in
and enjoy every second of it. While there are certain things that could have
been a bit better, you can’t go wrong with this one. A Must Have for sure.

Review Scoring
Details for Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Gameplay: 9.5
Simple and to
the point, Pirates! gets straight to the heart of the matter and makes
everything from plundering, conquering the hearts of governor’s daughters and
duels with famous pirates short but sweet. There’s just so much to do, see and
thankfully its all handled well thanks to a simplistic control scheme.

Graphics: 8.0

colorful with nicely detailed environments while on ship or land. Ship battles
look good even from the distant bird’s eye view of the action but does every
governor’s daughter have to look alike? The animations are good but quickly
become repetitive.

Sound: 9.0
detailed sounds can be heard while sailing and the ship battles sound even more
brutal than they appear on screen. The music has that pirate movie feel and all
the pirates laugh and heartily spout their trademark “Yarr!” Good stuff, indeed.

The ship
battles, especially those against the more massive galleons, make for some truly
strategic and challenging battles. Some pirates are also better with swords than
others but time it just right and everyone goes down the same way. If things are
too easy the game offers you the option to continue the game at a much more
difficult setting.

Concept: 9.0

The game
offers loads of mini-games, the freedom to sail wherever you want and marry the
prettiest girl in the Dutch islands. Who doesn’t want to set sail and plunder
gold and fine spices with a rambunctious crew of seadogs anyway? Xbox Live
downloadable content is also planned.

Skipping Xbox
Live online multiplayer action (sob), there’s an up to four-player multiplayer
ship battle mode that allows you to pick from just a few ships and attempt to
sink your friends’ battleships. It’s fun but this would have made a great online
multiplayer game seeing as how the map is big enough to place dozens of ships at

Overall: 9.0
Without a
doubt, Sid Meier’s Pirates! is just one of those rare gems that make you
glad you own an Xbox. If you love a game that offers a lot and does it simple
yet addictively entertaining, this is a game you should pick up right away.