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Blast From The Past: Sid Meier's Pirates!

David Brown
Caribbean, Empire building, Pirates, Sid Meier's Pirates!, Strategy games, Swashing Thine Buckle

Blast From The Past: Sid Meier's Pirates!

After LA Noire, what I think Rockstar should really do – or someone perhaps wishing to ape them – is try to do for the pirate game genre what they did for the Western one. That is, re-make Sid Meier's Pirates. Last time out, we focused on the legendary developer's train-sexing Railroad Tycoon, but this time we're in far more attractive waters with his swashbuckle-'em-up.

There have effectively been three iterations of the game, from the 1987 original and 1993's effective remake Pirates! Gold through to 2004's similarly titled franchise reboot. Our focus is mainly on the very first one, which saw you as the privateer hero scouring the Caribbean for fame, fortune and a quick frolic with any number of governor's daughters.

Blast From The Past: Sid Meier's Pirates!

As a novice buccaneer with no experience at all, your first action was to choose one of the four European empires you wanted to nominally fight for, selecting from the Dutch, Spanish, English or French. Each choice allowed for a significantly different game world to explore, not in terms of geography but in how all the settlements would react to you, the ease in which you could trade with them and so on.

Picking the Spanish might have been the 'easiest' choice on paper, with their empire being by far the largest in the area at the time. There were many ports to dock in and a general safety in numbers feel. However, the potential for earning money was also reduced because there'd be less enemy ports to raid, less shipping to ambush and so on.

Blast From The Past: Sid Meier's Pirates!

Pick one of the other three and you'd open up the whole of the Spanish empire for looting, with huge rewards available at considerable risk. You could also choose different time periods, which also affects the political map of the game world. In 1560, it's pretty much only Spain, but by 1680 there are many non-Spanish colonies to visit and trade in.

The bulk of the game is spent sailing around, making use of the wind to speed your journey or gnashing your teeth as it blows the opposite way, making progress very difficult. You can sail to different ports where a number of options awaited, like visiting the tavern for gossip and possible treasure hunting opportunities, or perhaps you could have a natter with the local governor, who might be willing to offer you permission to attack his rivals, promote you to a higher rank within that empire and, if you were very lucky, offer his charming young daughter's hand in marriage.

Blast From The Past: Sid Meier's Pirates!

Action-wise, you could engage in some real (non-insult) sword fighting, rudimentary tactical land combat or you might exchange broadsides with deadly pirates or enemy ships, using the wind to your advantage and judging the accuracy of cannon salvoes over large distances.

All of this took place in a game world that had loads of randomly decided factors working on it to make every game you played markedly different. Nations might hate each more or less or the treasure maps might lead to a whole new location, plus every single city's statistics (population, gold etc.) would be changing constantly depending on various factors, not least of which whether they'd been looted by a scurvy dog like yourself.

Blast From The Past: Sid Meier's Pirates!

Pirates! Gold was pretty much the same, just with much prettier visuals. There were a few notable changes, like coastal terrain in sea battles and a 'secret treasure cave' – the Pirates! Gold equivalent of the customisable palace in Civ. 2004's edition famously included a terpsichory simulation, where instead of just being given the governor's daughter, you'd have to impress her with your dancing ability. There was also more of a plot involving an enslaved family and gathering map pieces to find them.

At the end of the game, you'd retire and how you'd done would give you a retirement rank. If you kept constantly getting captured and imprisoned, you might even die in prison. If you managed to stay out of the jug, you might – based on your accumulated wealth, land, marital status, rank and so on – retire at a level equivalent to a beggar (i.e. you had nowt) through to a King's adviser (i.e. you had loadsamoney).

Blast From The Past: Sid Meier's Pirates!

It was a remarkable game, containing many ideas that few have dared expand upon even to this day. A randomised game world providing (relatively) endless possibilities, with action, tactics, adventure and strategy gameplay all thrown together into one product. An extraordinary achievement, and one that even today is well worth playing.

Add a comment3 comments
Phil  Apr. 1, 2011 at 16:42

Total agree. One of the best games ever. The 2004 remake was also good (minus dancing). Reloaded it about a month ago and still fun to play. Little tip to new players - get a frigate as the flag ship!

Matt Gardner  Apr. 1, 2011 at 16:54

Brilliant game, absolutely fantastic. The PSP version of the remake was a permanent fixture on long train journeys.

Also, yes....Rockstar Pirates would be brilliant. As would Rockstar In Space. GTA meets Elite.

Or combine Cowboys, Pirates and Space and have Rockstar Firefly...sigh.

Matthew  Apr. 2, 2011 at 11:22

Whaaaaat, the dancing was fantastic!

Loved the original, loved the 2004 remake (alternative tip - get a Sloop of War or Royal Sloop as your flagship!). Now, if only it had a resolution patch.

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