Pirates! hands-on preview

There are few games with as deep a history as Sid Meier's Pirates! and fewer still that receive a proper remake 17 years after it was first released. That's what we're looking at here though, a proper remake. Sid and his fellow 'Firaxians' are bringing Pirates! into the 21st Century and are about to prove that a solid game concept can stand the test of time.

Let's start with a short introduction for those new to the world of Sid's Pirates! First off, you're going to have to get used to that exclamation mark. It is supposed to be there. I have always felt that Sid meant the title of his game to have the urgent sound of a lookout shouting from the crow's nest of a merchant ship in the 16th Century when he caught sight of an ominous Jolly Roger on the horizon. In Pirates!, the player finds himself in the role of a pirate captain, given charge of a small ship and eager to set out to sea and do... well... whatever it is that pirates do. Fortunately you can take that with a grain of salt. For instance, where true pirates tended to die a lot, you won't do much of that in here. Realism has moved aside in favor of fun in Pirates!, just like it did in its predecessors. Full ahead, mates, and let's take a look at what kind of fun one can have in the game.

Good, evil, neutral? The choice is yours

You'll start your game by choosing your name, nationality and pick a specialty from a list of skills. Once you've gone through these steps, you're ready to start the game. There are all kinds of places to visit; Cities and settlements from the four major nations (Spanish, English, Dutch and French), Indian villages, Jesuit missions and Pirate hideouts. Depending on your status and the type of place you're in, you can conduct trade, talk to its leader, visit the local tavern or repair your ships. Quests and missions can be given to you by a variety of people and ways. You may be asked by a mayor of a small settlement to escort him to a city where he's been named governor, you may be told of a treasure that's been buried somewhere and ripe to be dug up or you could be handed information where a long lost relative can be found.

There are many different missions and between those and furthering your pirating career, you'll never see a dull moment. Of course it's up to you whether you'll take a pass or agree to go on the offered mission. And then, in true Pirate fashion, it's also up to you whether you'll complete the mission or, for example, decide the ship of the mayor you're escorting is actually a pretty juicy looking target.

The Shipwright, a Privateers best friend

Most buccaneers will quickly outgrow their starting ship. The simple sloop will only carry you so far, right? Well, actually... wrong. Pirates! is filled to the brim with all kinds of ships, ranging from Sloops to War Galleons and Barques, right up to Ships of the Line. Each ship has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, and applying the right ship for your purpose can make a - very - big difference in the outcome of your mission. Trading is a valid option to gain wealth and sailing ships that are suitable for trading will make life as a merchant a lot easier.

Of course, most pirates will want a ship that can handle some aggression and this is where one of the coolest new additions to Pirates! comes in; ship upgrades. Many shipwrights throughout the Caribbean have their own specialty. One port may offer your bronze cannons that will do more damage, another will sell fine grain powder which will increase their accuracy. There are other upgrades to be found as well. Copper plating to increase the turn rate of your ship, or cotton sails to make it sail faster and triple hammocks that will let your ship carry more crew. The effects of these upgrades are noticeable and will provide a much needed edge, especially as you rise through the difficulty levels.

The battles themselves are challenging and reflect differences in ship types quite well. Small vessels are easy to sink, but you've got to hit them first. Large ships can take a beating but they're slow and especially when there's little or no wind, hard to turn. So a small Sloop can run circles around a War Galleon, but a single salvo from the Galleon might end the fight instantly. A well aimed shot may cause men, goods and cannons to fall off the ship. Cargo and men stay afloat for the duration of the battle and if you take the extra time, you can pick these up. It's not without risk though. The enemy ship isn't going to wait for you to finish, it'll keep pounding at you!

Approaching a Dutch Port

Eager Spaniards

Friendly Bartender

Jesuit Mission

Ship Upgrades

Sunk!