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PSP  header logo

Sid Meier's Pirates!

For: PSP   Also on: iPhone, Mobile, iPad, Steam

Grand Theft Water

Product: Sid Meier's Pirates! | Developer: Full Fat | Publisher: 2K Games | Format: PSP | Genre: Adventure, Strategy | Players: 1-4 | Version: US
Sid Meier's Pirates! PSP, thumbnail 1
The most clichéd way of introducing the game Pirates! would be to swap the traditional, somewhat romantic meaning of the word with the modern definition, and joke about how it's a game where you have to sell illegally downloaded computer games at some God-forsaken street market in Glasgow, and about how that's actually a front for terrorism and drugs and other brilliant things.

It's not, of course. Sid Meier's Pirates!, to give it its full, somewhat egotistical name is an update of a game that originally appeared back in 1987, a hideous time when Steve 'Silk' Hurley ruled the charts, and both Mel and Kim were alive.

And it's proof of Meier's design genius that the fundamentals of Pirates! remain as strong today as they were 20 years ago.

The objective is pretty open-ended. If you want to while away a few hours raiding passing ships and killing Indians, then this is the game for you, Jade Goody. However, most players will want to be slightly less racist, preferring instead to amass fame, fortune, land, political power and treasure, pretty much in any combination. Besides, you can also despatch the Spanish, Dutch, English, or French. Your call.

You'll meet many Governors, who have many daughters – which, following a series of exceedingly protracted courtships, you can marry if you choose. Some are better-looking than others. Be warned that the ones described by the game's narrative as 'plain' tend to look like they've got cerebral palsy and are best avoided.

In addition, there's the opportunity to quickly progress along a linear series of objectives that will eventually see you rescuing your family in order to avenge the type of hackneyed pre-game cut-scene plaguing interactive entertainment narrative these days. Something about revenge, you'll no doubt be astonished to discover.

What all this boils down to is a period of exploration around the Gulf Coast, Caribbean and the tip of South America. Over time, the actions of your character and those of the in-game nations affect how the key locations develop and prosper, giving rise to friendly territories where you can happily pick up new objectives and missions, or hostile ports which will open fire on sight.

The key to being successful is gaining popularity. The more famous you become, the more eagerly additional sailors will join you – and soon you can overwhelm pretty much any situation. Your crew frequently tires of life at sea, mind, so juggling their mood is crucial. Mutinies are commonplace, and best avoided; far better to periodically divide up the plunder and begin afresh with a more enthusiastic bunch.

Outside of the sailing, the game breaks down into a series of mini-games and cut-scenes. These are mainly highly entertaining – duelling and sea-battles rarely disappoint – though some do appear incongruously shoe-horned into Pirates!'s elegant original design. The turn-based ground assaults are particularly unwelcome, a case of messing too much with the original masterpiece, eventually colouring over the lines.

It could do with a few more cut-scenes, character models and quests, for sure – the Caribbean, it seems, is populated by five or six identical looking individuals, save for the colour of their skin – which may be a strong message for the kids, but it somewhat shatters the illusion of this being a huge in-game world. And there are glitches here and there.

Still, cramming all of this onto a UMD must have been a challenging task. The result it so rewarding, it's easy to forgive the odd ship zipping across terra firma.

Overall – and often despite itself – Pirates! is a lovely jaunt, brimming with charm and humour. It's an entertaining counterpoint to the endless stream of Grand Theft Auto clones, presenting a similar open-ended structure but without the need for swearing and gratuitous violence.

A near-perfect handheld game, then, enjoyed equally in five-minute bursts or over a long weekend. Even if a couple of the new features do occasionally grate, in its watered down form, Pirates! proves some games are called 'classics' for a reason.
Sid Meier's Pirates!
Reviewer photo
Simon Byron | 5 February 2007
Timeless gameplay, expertly ported, Pirates! is a game to savour throughout
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