Review: Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Sid Meier's Pirates!Platform: PSP
Publisher: 2K
Developer: Full Fat/Firaxis
Release Date: 1/23/07
Genre: Action/Adventure
Players: 1-4

For any gamer who has ever wanted to live the swashbuckling life of a pirate, Sid Meier’s Pirates! has been the game of choice for two decades now, be it the original classic from the 1980’s or the recent PC and Xbox update that has become a classic of its own on both platforms. Amazingly, the trend holds true once again with 2K’s PSP edition of Pirates!, a downsized port of the PC/Xbox title that somehow manages to stack up comparably to its bigger brothers.

Part strategy, part simulation, part adventure, part mini-game collection, Sid Meier’s Pirates! has you sailing the Caribbean as a young pirate on a quest of rescue and revenge after his family is captured. While there is a main line of quests to be followed to that end, Pirates! has always been so beloved for its “go anywhere, do anything” sandbox gameplay, and that hasn’t changed in the portable transition.

As you live out an adventurous swashbuckling career, you have free reign to do as you please (though you better do it fast because your pirate ages over time and eventually needs to be sent off to retirement), and there is a wide range of activities to partake in. The action-based ship battles are probably my favorite, but the sword duels and turn-based land battles are right up there as well. If violence isn’t your thing, you can attempt to woo Governors’ daughters from port to port via a fun dancing mini-game, search hazardous islands for buried treasure, discover lost cities or simply live out a peaceful trader’s life – it’s all completely up to you.

[gv data=”/wp-content/uploads/Games/PiratesPSP/Trailers/Pirates! PSP ESRB_full.flv” width=”416″ height=”352″][/gv]However you choose to play, you’ll have to properly manage your crew, fleet of ships and relations with the game’s four nation factions (English, French, Dutch and Spanish), and that’s where the simulation aspects kick in. Maintaining a healthy cargo of food and limiting the length of time at sea are gravely important to your cause, otherwise your crew may mutiny if the conditions become too brutal. And if there aren’t enough crew on board, your ships won’t run at full capacity. It’s also important to keep your ships repaired and updated with the latest equipment by visiting the shipwright in every town along the way. Also be sure to keep track of your standings with each of the four nations. Get on a nation’s good side and you’ll be treated to cheaper merchant prices and more fruitful dealings with the Governors at ports under its banner, but get on a nation’s bad side and risk being attacked on sight out at sea and barred from entering any of its towns.

Throughout all of its many endeavors, Pirates! controls extremely well and offers a brisk pacing that is so perfect for quick play sessions on the go yet so rewarding that it is equally enjoyable playing for hours on end at home. Ad Hoc multiplayer for 4-player ship battles has even been thrown in for added measure, although I must say the mode does feel tacked on as more of an afterthought. But hey, it’s fun for a couple minutes here and there when you just want some quick action.

For all that it gets right, Pirates! does miss the mark in a few key areas. Ship travel, for starters, grows tiresome from time to time if you’re sailing from one side of the world to the other and the wind happens to be blowing against the direction you’re heading, which needless to say bogs down the sailing speed to a crawl. My only other complaints have to do with presentation. The game looks and sounds nice overall, but fails to captivate or immerse in either area as much as it could’ve. Cut scenes, character models and locales, as detailed as they are, are heavily recycled throughout the adventure, causing a certain amount of repetition to set in over time as you see the same things over and over again. Even worse, large chunks of the game go completely mute for some odd reason. While out in the open sea, all music and ambiance cuts off noticeably and you’re often left listening to complete silence for minutes at a time.

While bothersome, none of these quirks significantly tarnish what is an all-around fantastic game. I wouldn’t quite say it reaches the elite ranks of the PSP library, but there can be no denying the diversity, value and quality Sid Meier’s Pirates! brings to the platform and portable gaming as a whole. My hat goes off to 2K, Full Fat and Firaxis for putting such care into faithfully porting this classic over to the PSP rather than slapping it onto a UMD with terrible load times, missing features and unoptimized controls like so many other ports, it’s a rare (and very welcomed) occurrence, as PSP owners know all too well…

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!