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Sid Meier\'s Pirates!: Live the Life Developed by: Firaxis Games Published by: Atari ESRB Rating: E for Violence, Suggestive Themes, and Alcohol References For: PC System Requirements - Windows 98/ME/2000/XP - Pentium III or AMD Athlon 1 GHz or higher - 256 MB RAM - 1.4 GB hard drive space - 64 MB video card - Direct X 9.0c (NOTE: Pirates! is due out for the Xbox in mid-2005)

The original incarnation of Pirates!, which came out in 1987, was a bit of a sensation, drawing upon multiple game play elements to create a diverse and engaging adventure that had great replay value. Recent years have seen a new round of pirate sims of varying quality, including Sea Dogs (PC), Pirates of the Carribean (multiplatform), and Galleon (Xbox), to name a few. But leave it to the architect himself, Sid Meier, to once again redefine the genre. Pirates! has returned in an updated incarnation, and the product is classic Sid Meier. Namely, this new pirate sim offers epic gameplay, a load of different options within a gloriously nonlinear world, and enough diversity to bring you back for plenty of extra helpings.

GAMING EXPERIENCE: Game Play:

Pirates! begins as your character, then a boy, watches his family imprisoned. The character escapes and, ten years later, seeks his fortune on the high seas. After choosing a patron ? England, France, Spain, or the Netherlands ? your character finds himself on the high seas with a small sloop and a modest crew. From there, your options are literally endless. You can attack or sink other vessels, seek out your lost family, hunt down famous pirates, sneak enemy towns, escort important dignitaries, court a governor?s daughter, and engage in swordfights and duels. You can sail across the seas after treasure galleons or march across the land in search of buried treasure. You can rise through the ranks of one empire or offer your services to several at once. You can befriend or antagonize Indians, Jesuits, and other pirates. And that just scratches the surface. The true miracle is how the game pulls off such complexity with such simplicity. The game is very easy to pick up and play, and the interface (described in more detail later) is easy to use.

This is a game that invites you in to play with little trouble, then sucks you in. If you have ever been the victim of one of those ?just one more mission? games, beware. Pirates! is one of ?em. ?Just one more ship battle,? you?ll say, and then you?ll find yourself chasing after the elusive Blackbeard. ?Just one more escort mission,? you say, and then you?ll get a hot tip on a big haul that you can?t resist intercepting. Pirates! boasts numerous game engines, all of which are nicely polished. They include: an overworld sailing engine, from which you will do most of your traveling; a swordplay engine that allows for dodging, parrying, and a few other maneuvers; a land exploration engine, which lets you scour an island for buried treasure; a land combat engine, which allows you to match your melee and ranged forces against an opposing force; a stealth engine that allows you to sneak in and out of hostile towns; and even a dancing engine, that has you following the dance moves of a prospective lady. The variety of the game is fantastic, even moreso when you consider how seamlessly one engine will transition to another. But the most significant, and addictive, aspect of Pirates! is undoubtedly its ship battle engine.

In an RPG-style format, you?ll have the option to engage or run away from any ship your ship touches in the overworld map. At that point, the screen shifts to a battle screen, and using the keypad or the mouse you will be able to maneuver your ship and bring its cannons to bear on the opposition. In the event that the ships collide and your foe is not sufficiently weakened, the game shifts to the swordplay mode where you duel it out with the opposing captain, even as your respective crews fight it out in the background. Behind the scenes, there is a little bit of Sid Meier?s other classic, Civilization, at work. The major factions in the game will all build and develop new outposts and communities, and as that unfolds you will have new options for reward and conquest. By the same token, you can influence the balance of power in the region. You can escort a governor to a new home to bolster that area?s wealth, or conquer an outpost and install a new governor from a different country.

There are also several role-playing elements within the game, including several criteria (fame ranking, land acquisition, and quest success, to name a few) that determine your final score. Your character can select a special ability at the outset of the game, and throughout the campaign you will be able to pick up various special items, ship parts, and crew members who will bolster your abilities and perhaps even extend your career. Conversely, age is the bane of your pirate - the older he gets, the harder it is to recruit crewmembers and hold your own at swordplay. Although the game does not set a firm retirement date - you can play through a single campaign for as short as you want or as long as you are able - eventually the passage of time makes the game harder and harder to play. Part of the complexity of the game, though, is deciding when to call it quits. Retire on top at 30? Or fight it out to the end as a 50 year-old veteran? In case you haven?t figured it out yet, Pirates! is a game with enormous replay value. Because you have a relatively limited time to make your fortune in a single playthrough ? in actual game time, it winds up being between 10-20 hours before your character will reasonably need to retire ? it is more or less impossible to do everything the game allows you to do in a single run. Instead, you?ll find yourself coming back to Pirates! over and over, exploring the many finer details and scenarios you could not in previous trials. Or, just as likely, you?ll find yourself coming back simply for the ship battles.

Graphics:

Fans of the original Pirates! will love the makeover this game has experienced. Although the game is, like other Sid Meier games, normally seen from afar, the graphics are nevertheless crisp and colorful, and a few of the close-up scenes, including the cityscapes, look really good. The strongest presentation graphically, though, has to be the sword battles, which use large, crisp characters on the deck of a ship. The game is smooth and transitions cleanly from combat to cutscene. All and all this game does a fantastic job in terms of visual quality and presentation.

Sound:

The strongest suit of this game?s sound is, in my opinion, its sound effects, which are incredible. The ambient rush of the sea, the intermittent call of birds, the creaking of wooden ships, the boom of cannons, and even the bustle of taverns all combine to create an immersive experience. My favorite touch, though, is the cheer or moans of your crew, which react accordingly to hits upon your enemies or cannon shots landing on your own deck. There is something satisfying when your broadsides crash into an opponent and your crew roars with hearty approval. The music is mostly good, although the game?s synthetic soundtrack oscillates between grandiose and sort of cheap. To be fair, most of the pieces come off as really epic and make you feel like you?re on the high seas.

I especially liked some of the soundtracks that occur when you enter a city, which are not only believable but are upbeat or somber depending upon the current condition of the city in question. In a couple of cases, though, the tinny synthetic instruments used to orchestrate the soundtrack come off as a bit contrived. This may have worked in ?The Princess Bride,? but Pirates! probably would have done better in some spots with a fully-orchestrated soundtrack. In spite of this, the music is more good than bad. The voiceovers, if they could be called such, are serviceable but not impressive. Many of the characters seem almost ?Simish? in their dialogue, and often will speak in incoherent mumbling or something that resembles a language other than their native tongue. I would have liked to have seen more complete voicework in a game that has almost none.

Control:

Versatility and intuitive design are the key words here. The game can be controlled using the mouse, the keypad, or some combination of both, and the controls are easy to pick up and use. Better still, the game has a nice keypad legend in the lower-right hand corner of the screen, so you don?t have to worry much about remembering what key does what.

Stability:

I experienced absolutely no stability problems with this game. There is a minor patch available for some issues surrounding the copy-protection key for DVD-ROM version of Pirates!, although I played using the DVD version and had no need for the patch.

APPROPRIATENESS ISSUES: Violence:

- Cartoon Type Silly, Non-Deadly Violence (-2 pts) - No Blood (-0 pts) - No Gore (-0 pts) As one might have deduced from the previous portions of this review, there is a lot of violence in Pirates!, although it is more of the cartoonish, almost fantasy-style violence, rather than realistic blood and gore. The characters are more animated than realistic, and although there are moments when swordplay happens, no blood is seen and you never actually see anyone die. Opposing pirates fly haplessly into the ocean or simply retreat.

Language:

- No Foul Language (-0 pts) - No sexual dialogue. (-0 pts) There is no foul language in this game.

Sexuality:

- Characters clothing is sexy or accentuates their sexuality (Ex. tight clothing or low cleavage) (-1.5 pts) - No Sexual Content (-0 pts) The women of Pirates! are a bit on the underdressed side, with the barmaids and many of the governor?s daughters in somewhat provocative outfits. Meanwhile, although courting and potentially marrying governor?s daughters is part of the game?s plot, the game keeps things above board and there is no sexual content here.

Occult Themes:

- There is no occult or supernatural environment in the game. (-0 pts) Although there are some lost treasures and strange-looking landmarks that are mysterious and sometimes strange, I did not observe any supernatural or paranormal activities during the game.

Moral/Ethical Issues:

- No authority issues involved with this game. (-0 pts) - No gross humor in the game. (-0 pts) - No prejudicial bias in the game. (-0 pts) - Poor value decisions are promoted through the game, but not required to progress. (-1.5 pts) Pirates! does theoretically allow for the rejecting of authority ? namely, turning against your patron country ? but it is rarely a profitable decision, and in general the game?s mechanics discourage it. One thing the game does allow, obviously, is piracy. By nature this game puts you in the role of a pirate who steals from others, although the game legitimizes this practice somewhat by giving you a Letter of Marque - essentially a government permit allowing you to raid enemy ships - from your patron country. Alternatively, the manual notes that you could theoretically play the role of a ?legitimate trader? who only fights when attacked first, and being a pirate isn?t necessary to advance in the game, although the game certainly is predisposed toward piracy.

Closing Comments:

One of my good friends is an enormous fan of the original 80?s version of Pirates!, and for the last year he had been eagerly talking about the anticipated release of this remake. Having not really experienced the original myself, I did not share his enthusiasm, and only casually decided to borrow the game from him. But I now understand where he was coming from. Pirates! is a fantastically accessible, deep, addictive game, and it is simply a load of fun to play. Definitely one of the best of 2004, and probably the best pirate sim created to date... and, just as importantly, a pretty clean game.

Final Ratings:

Game Play: 19/20 Graphics: 9/10 Sound: 8/10 Control: 5/5 Stability: 5/5 GAMING TOTAL: 46/50
Violence: 8/10 Language: 10/10 Occult Themes: 10/10 Sexuality: 8.5/10 Moral/Ethical Issues: 8.5/10 APPROPRIATENESS TOTAL: 46.5/50

Overall Score: 92.5

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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