Developed by Firaxis
Published by Take-two Interactive
By Miles Baker
I once knew a guy who had scurvy. He wasn’t a pirate but probably often wished he was — just like the rest of us. He wasn’t trying to live like a pirate; he just ate really poorly. If he did — or still does — want to live the life a pirate, but would like not to sleep in terrible conditions and have his teeth fall out, I would suggest he play Sid Meier’s Pirates! The game takes you through every part of a pirate’s existence. You’ll plunder ships, fence captains, woo barmaids, attack ships, claim bounties, have bounties placed on you, face mutiny, and dance with governor’s daughters, among other things. The game is structured so that you can be any kind of a pirate you want: you can just trade with other nations, you can be a patriot by just attacking the Spanish or French, or you can attack everyone and piss off the world. You can also try to save your family that was sold into slavery, but you can also be a dick and let them rot while you keep banging the governor’s rather plain daughter.
All of this is extremely fun, but it shouldn’t be. I don’t mean that in a Grand Theft Auto “how can I do this to simulated people” kind of way, but in a “this game isn’t very good kind” of way. There is no aspect of this game that is well executed: the fencing system is easy, the dancing is a simple rhythm game, the trading isn’t refined, and the ship-to-ship battles are cumbersome and pointless. However, the combination of these crappy elements somehow creates one of the most fun and addictive gaming experiences I’ve had in years.
The game is charming in so many ways: the music, the gibberish the characters speak, your handsome protagonist, the cute animations he has, the fact that your date to the governor’s ball is “rather plain,” all of it. You look past all the bad in order to search for a better boat to raid, keeping your crew happy with frequent combat, and maybe getting around to rescuing your family and bringing the culprits of their abduction to pirate justice — also known as stabbing.
This game was originally released in 1988 for the PC and you can definitely tell, based on how the game doesn’t walk you through every little thing. They expect that you’ll actually read the instruction manual, something I haven’t done in years. The game just drops you on the deck of your ship and you’re out to a sea of possibilities. Ultimately, Pirates! is worth buying because you’ll never have the same gaming experience twice — exactly what you’d expect from a Sid Meier game.