I Am Rubber, You Are Glue
The latest incarnation of Pirates! has been updated for the 21st century, with a new 3D engine, and several extra features, such as an added sub-game where you have to dance with the Governor’s daughter to impress her, and try to win her hand in marriage. If you’ve played the original Pirates! before, you’ll have no trouble at all. Jump in and away you go.
Pirates! is an open ended game. This means there’s really no end to it, and you’re not forced into a particular path or style. You can just keep playing the way you want to - until you get bored, or die, whichever comes first. There is a plot which gives you something to shoot for overall, but you don’t have to follow it to play the game.
It’s set in the early 17th century Carribean, and as you probably determined from the title, you’re a Pirate. It begins with an evil Marquis busting in on your family during dinner and enslaving them all because your Dad owes him some money. You manage to escape and vow revenge. 10 years later, you come back and sign up on a ship headed for the Carribean. This part is a very clever way of gathering information about you - your name, skill level, and what side you want to play for. During the voyage, the taunts and beatings of the officers become too much, the crew mutinies, puts you in charge, and that’s where the game starts.
The Jolly Roger
Gameplay itself is split up into several different sub-games, but each flows on to the next smoothly, and control is consistent. Most of your time is spent at sea, either sailing or fighting, but there are also scenes such as duelling, trading, escaping, treasure hunting, and the aforementioned dancing. There is also a 3rd person stealth game where you must sneak through a town as guards actively chase you - which has been overhauled for Xbox.
Open games such as Pirates! can become repetitive over time, but it’s kept interesting by your ability to dramatically alter the political landscape. You might be Privateering for the English, who are at war with Spain, and hear from a barmaid that the Spanish Ambassador is on his way with a peace treaty. Nothing will stop you from sailing out, destroying the Ambassador’s ship, and letting the war continue while you milk the profits. Another new feature, thanks to XBox Live is “Vs Multiplayer Ship Battles” - where up to four players (including any combination of human and AI players) can duke it out in an intense, party-game styled game of ship battles. Players can ram each other, causing spectacular splintering collisions, or pick up power-ups and try to blast their opponents out of the water. The XBox version has done plenty to improve on the single player aspects of the game, but also incorporate new multiplayer modes to increase the game life considerably.
Graphics are superb and the sound is very atmospheric, particularly during the battle scenes, with the wind rippling the sail canvas, and the boom of the cannons. I wasn’t so sure about the gibberish of the people you talk to in towns, but I guess that makes multilingual versions easier.
Overall, it’s a great game, fun for all ages and skill levels, and complex enough to keep you playing. It comes with a massive manual, which is an interesting read, but I found the game simple enough to pick up and play without really needing any of the information I had gleaned from it... and thank Sid it doesn’t force you into some Sidawful tutorial mode when you start, like some other games.