I originally played Sid Meier’s Pirates (SMP) almost 20 years ago on a friend’s PC and then later Pirates Gold on the Genesis. This year 2K Games has published the updated SMP! for both PC and Xbox. It is amazing how much of the game has stayed the same after all these years.
Thanks to emulators and ROMs it is not difficult to see the similarities side by side. It is wonderful to see one of the greatest games of all time updated for the current generation.
It is striking how much the game has not changed since its 1987 introduction. You still have ship-to-ship battles, followed by swashbuckling with the captain. You still go to a tavern and talk to a mysterious stranger, etc., etc. The mechanics didn’t have to change. SMP! was a favorite of my youth, and the new version is just as enjoyable, if not more so. This is the best pirate game on the Xbox, possibly ever. (Disney ravaging Sea Dogs II did not help, of course.)
Maybe it was because I played through SMP! many times on the Xbox first, or because I was running the game on my Dell laptop, but I think you get a better experience on the Xbox. I like the interface on the Xbox a lot more.
There are some notable differences between the two versions. The world map screen on the Xbox isn’t cluttered, and is easy to manage. Ship-to-ship battles on the Xbox are the same, uncluttered and easy to manage. The Xbox version has been streamlined in other ways too – you do not get off your ship and explore land like you do in the PC version. This is a personal preference of course, but I like not having to go land exploring.
Dancing and many of the other mini games on the Xbox are a little easier. On the PC, dancing requires you do use eight keypad keys, while the Xbox uses the four face buttons (A, B, X, Y). The controls on the Xbox are not as frustrating.
In the end, the Xbox version of the game is faster paced and more enjoyable. You might call this “watered down” but I call it a smart move. Granted you don’t get Pirates of the Caribbean ship battles, but that would almost seem out of place here.
While SMP! does look better on the PC, it is not a looker by any means. It feels like it still has its roots from its predecessor both in aesthetics and mechanics. It is obvious this was done on purpose. You can tell a lot of thought was put into updating this classic to the current generation of gaming. Besides – graphics don’t make the game.
This update to the classic is hopelessly addictive because there is so much to do. It is open ended letting you sail the Caribbean, get into ship-to-ship battles to your hearts content, there is swashbuckling fun, dancing with the governor’s daughter, you can sack and take over a town in turn-based land battles, there is even even sneaking to get in or out of town.
None of these elements are very complicated or in-depth. This may be the biggest complaint of SMP! but I find it to be its strongest asset. For example you will not be buying and selling cannons to add to your favorite ship. That is just busy work that this game does not need.
If when you collide into a ship that has more crew members then you, you get a “Simon Says” mini game, that if completed correctly, shows an animation of evening out the numbers of your opponent’s crew. I like this approach; it keeps with the simplicity and pacing of the game.
I am starting to call this the Fabe Effect. It is something that has been changing the face of the video games in many genres, and the first major title to really embrace this was Fable. In that game, you have a true RPG that does not wear standard RPG clothes. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is taking the same cues. And SMP! is no exception. It actually takes it to an extreme. Nothing in the game is overly complicated. It makes the entire package that much more enjoyable.
Just like in the original, there are many things to do with no over arching mission structure. The game starts with your family being put into slavery by the evil Count Montalban, and of course you escape unscathed. Forward 10 years and the game begins. You are charged with finding your relatives and enacting sweet revenge. But just like game such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas or Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, there is so much more to do.
There are 10 other infamous pirates you can beat, doing so makes you the most feared buccaneer in the Caribbean. You should do this, as it is a good way to find specialist crewmembers and lots of loot. Each of these 10 pirates has buried treasures to find. Other side quests include uncovering four ancient civilizations, four lost treasures, and marrying a beautiful governor’s daughter. Oh, you can trade goods to make your money too, if you are into that sort of thing.
It helped that SMP! was released after a very slow summer that saw little on the Xbox, but I had more fun and got more out of this game then I have in a long time. In the end I had completed some eight or nine careers in the game. In my last career I had turned the Caribbean blue – turning every town French. One of the goals in the game was to sack every town, and yes, I did that too.
The trick to a long pirating career is dividing your plunder at the right time, and finding special items to prolong your pirating bliss such as the Mystic Salve.
It doesn’t happen often enough when a game has such high production values and keeps you engrossed to play through it multiple times. But you should expect nothing less from Sid Meier. This is one of the best games of 2005.
Also read what other Blogcritics had to say about Sid Meier’s Pirates!:
Sid Meier’s Pirates! is a rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Violence, Alcohol Reference, Mild Suggestive Themes. This game can also be found on: PC.