Sid Meier’s Pirates! has been around in one form or another for over twenty years! In that time, it has seen countless remakes and ports onto different operating systems. Now, the 2004 version originally available for Xbox and PSP has arrived on the iPad. Despite the countless iterations of the game, it feels like Pirates! was made for iOS.
Pirates! lets you live the glamorous, yet dangerous life of a Caribbean pirate in the 1600s. Rather than patrolling the seas aimlessly however; you are on a quest to rescue your family after they were enslaved by the evil Spanish nobleman – Marquis de Montalban, for defaulting on their debts to him. Pirates! is an immersive and addictive title which makes great use of the iPad’s large touchscreen. The sheer depth of the game ensures that this will be a game you will replay over and over.
Starting a new game will introduce you to the story with a brief cut scene. The fearsome Spanish nobleman Marquis de Montalban bursts in on a family dinner, taking your family as slaves, as they are unable to repay their debts to him. You play a young boy who manages to evade capture and goes in to hiding for ten years. At the age of twenty, you venture down to a local tavern where you decide to enlist in the navy.
At this point you are given some choices:
Choose your player’s name, his experience (game difficulty), his speciality, and the game start date. For a new player, I would recommend the easiest difficulty, skill at fencing, and the default start date – although as you come to play a second time round you can tailor these options to suit your play style.
Following your character creation, you are able to choose which nation’s navy you would like to join; choose from the French, English, Dutch or Spanish. Another cut scene follows; you are aboard your chosen nation’s vessel. You and the crew are subject to harsh treatment by your captain and mutiny ensues. You are elected as the new captain of the ship and the game begins with you aboard your vessel outside your chosen nation’s major city.
The game now begins, a pop-up will show you how to control your ship in the game world and you are left feeling bewildered as the game is somewhat lacking in the tutorial department. Pirates! is an immersive, open-ended game where you can play however you wish. The sheer depth of the game can be daunting at first, but stick with it and you will come to thoroughly enjoy it!
When you start you will see something like this:
None of what you see is explained in-game to you, so let me help. In the bottom left you can control your sail, and thus control your speed, there is also the button for the menu. The bottom right shows the interaction buttons – use these when you are near a port, ship, or land to perform a corresponding action such as dock, battle, or go ashore. In the top right you have the map, as well as three icons whose meaning can initially be a bit mysterious.
From top to bottom; crew size (the smiley face indicates the crew are happy!), amount of gold, how many months worth of food you have.
Now, with the basic introduction to the game over, let me show you this:
This is the ‘Pirate-O-Pedia’ and contains information on every aspect of the game. If there is anything you are unsure about, consult the Pirate-O-Pedia, it will know the answer.
New players will definitely need to dip in and out fairly often, but even veteran players familiar with the 2004 remake will benefit from using the Pirate-O-Pedia occasionally.
After starting your game and familiarising yourself with the controls, you are probably going to just sail around for a while, I did. Take this chance to explore the rich 3D Caribbean islands and master sailing your ship, let me know when you’re done…
After a bit of sailing, head to a city, preferably one owned by the nation you sided with at the start. Upon entering you will be introduced to a major new hub of information.
Nearly all city screens look like this, a brief description of the city with 7 options below. You are able to perform a number of tasks from the city screen and a large proportion of the game will see you travelling from city to city, discovering new information and seeing what each city has to offer.
From the city screen, left to right, you can; visit the governor to obtain missions, visit the tavern, visit the merchant to sell/buy goods, visit the shipwright to repair and upgrade your ship, check your status, auto sail to a destination, or leave the city.
The world map shows you all the places you can sail to – here you can see there are over 40 different cities to interact with. Cities are not static however, nations will fight for control and new cities may be founded as time progresses.
Use the autosail feature in a city to automatically travel to any previously visited city. This will be much faster than normal sailing, however your ship will receive more damage and use more food than you would typically expect.
Most of your time will be spent visiting taverns; I told you the pirate life was glamorous! Taverns are a great source of information in-game, they also allow you to speak with the travelling merchant who will often have pieces of maps for sale or rare artefacts.
The barmaid will often alert you to any ships travelling in the area that carry a larger-than-average cache of gold, which can be yours for the taking. She may also tell you the rumoured locations of feared ‘Top-10 Pirates’ such as Blackbeard himself.
One of the more important reasons for visiting the tavern is to recruit the local drunks and get them to join your crew. A larger crew makes you more fearsome at sea, but be warned, the larger your crew the more food you’re going to need!
Visit a governor after performing good deeds such as attacking enemy ships and you may be in line for a promotion. One of the benefits of promotion is, you are able to recruit more locals at taverns than normal, making it easier to quickly boost your crew size.
Remember every time you visit a city to check the tavern and you’ll soon be on your way to becoming a great pirate!
Time for Action
After all this, I imagine you must be thirsty for some real pirate action, so let’s take to the high seas! When you leave a city, you return to the ship view and are once again able to freely sail around the Caribbean. If you’re looking for action, let’s start with a naval battle!
Whilst sailing, there are many other ships sailing around the Caribbean too, approach one and you have the option to enter battle. Doing so will take you to a screen similar to the one above.
Defeating a ship in battle will decrease your relationship with the ships captain’s nation. It will also increase your relationship with nations the captain was at war with.
Naval battles are definitely a lot of fun, fire your cannons with the button on the bottom right and watch them tear your opponent’s ship apart. Upgrading your ship in a city can benefit you in battle in a variety of ways – increased cannon range, for example, or a variety of cannonballs to rain down upon your opponent (as shown above).
There are three outcomes in a naval battle; a ship can be destroyed, your opponent can surrender, or either ship can be boarded by their opponent. If a ship is destroyed, all its loot is lost, if it is your ship, you will end up marooned on an island, waiting months for someone to save you!
If a ship surrenders you can plunder it:
Plunder gold and food, as well as other goods to sell to merchants in cities. You may be lucky and find that some of the opponent’s crew want to join you… unless you killed them all in battle. You also have the choice of keeping or sinking the plundered ship.
If a ship is boarded, you enter the sword fighting mini-game where you must defeat your opponent before his crew kill all your men.
The sword fighting mechanism is quite similar to that found in Infinity Blade, you must dodge, parry, and avoid your opponent’s strikes whilst trying to land your own. Personally, I found that sword fighting can be extremely difficult, especially if you have the difficulty set to anything other than the easiest.
There are a number of special items which you can collect throughout the game which increase your sword fighting ability; there is also the option to practice if you speak to a city governor following a defeat in battle. Despite its difficulty, sword fighting can be fun, but expect some short battles when you first begin as your opponent will quickly finish you off!
Even Pirates Like to Socialise
I imagine the above screenshot isn’t what you were expecting in a pirate game, I should probably explain what is going on…
When you complete missions for a governor, he will be gracious and may promote you. This will give you benefits in cities of his nation, such as cheaper ship repairs or upgrades. It will also make him more inclined to offer that you accompany his daughter to a dance. If you treat a governors daughter right, she may even marry you, be warned though, the ‘plain’ daughters are more willing to marry than the ‘attractive’ or ‘beautiful’ ones!
Accompanying a daughter to a dance will start the dancing mini game, in which you must tap the circles in time to the music. The better you are, the more you impress the governor’s daughter. If you have ever played any of the Tap Tap Revenge games, then you should find this mini-game both fun and easy. The governor may even offer you a special gift after the dance which will aid you in your travels.
What Else Can I Do?
So far, you’ve seen that the main aspects of the game include; naval battles, sword fighting, and dancing. Well there is one more major aspect which will keep you busy as a pirate and that is; bombarding cities.
You have the option at every city to either enter it,t or bombard it. Bombarding a city can be a bit tricky at first but once you get the hang of it, it can be a very lucrative pastime. Your aim is to fire your cannons at the targets and reduce the ‘health’ of the city to zero before they do the same to your ship.
This requires the tactical firing and reloading of cannons as well as managing the speed of your ship. If you don’t succeed on your first pass, you can sail by again. You also have the option to escape if you aren’t doing so well. In large cities, the governor will also engage in a swordfight with you after, which you must win to successfully complete your attack on the city.
Shoot treasure chests during city bombardment to receive an extra 1,000 gold!
So What Is the Actual Aim?
As I’ve said before, Pirates! is a completely open ended game, if you wanted you could just sail around engaging in battles with other ships until you succumb to ill health or get thrown in jail. For those who prefer a bit of direction however, there is always the ‘Path of Revenge’.
The Path of Revenge is a 10-step plan for avenging your family’s capture; each step is a different quest which you can start by speaking to any travelling merchant in any tavern. This helps to keep you on track as you progress through the game.
There are also many other things to complete aside from the ‘Path of Revenge’ such as; defeat the Top 10 pirates, find all 9 hidden buried treasures, find all 4 lost cities, all this in addition to finding all of your lost relatives. There are also a number of Game Center achievements to unlock as well. There is a vast amount to do in this game, which is sure to keep you interested for weeks!
A Pirate’s Life
Pirates don’t live forever, in fact, they don’t live long at all. As such, your crew will not appreciate being stuck on a ship for years at a time, this introduces the final game concept of splitting the loot.
When your crew begin to get unhappy, it is probably time to disband and share the loot. Each member of your crew gets a share of your total wealth and your share increases as you increase the difficulty.
When you split the loot, you have the option to increase or decrease your difficulty, you also have the option to retire. Retiring will end your current game, allowing you to start again as a fresh faced youngster. If you choose to carry on though, you get to keep your flagship and you get an appropriate share of your loot. All your goods and other ships will have been sold and you will have a small crew of 40 men again.
If you want to rescue all your family members, you are going to need to split the loot a few times – don’t go retiring just yet!
Sid Meier’s Pirates! is such an in-depth game, that trying to explain it succinctly is a difficult task. The game has a number of concepts to interest everyone and keep you coming back for more. This is definitely a game which has replayability value.
Fans of Sid Meier’s Pirates! will definitely enjoy this port to iOS, but newcomers to the game, like myself, will be immersed and amazed at how well the game works with the iPad’s touchscreen.
Although the vast game mechanics are a major selling point for Pirates!, they are also its weakness. A lack of tutorial leaves a newcomer completely lost upon starting and most casual iOS gamers will not be used to such complicated gameplay.
Overall though, Pirates! is a great game that you will find yourself spending hours with. Probably not for the casual gamer, but more for anyone familiar with the Pirates! series or those of you looking for a more immersive style of gameplay on the iPad.