From technology to politics to video games; these are the random thoughts of a geek with too much time on his hands
Ok, some classics should NOT be remade
Published on January 12, 2005 By Zoomba In PC Gaming
Continuing on in the only thread of entries that seems to garner any real interest... another game review!

Pirates! by Firaxis

Ok, this is a remake of what is considered to be one of the classics of PC gaming. Sid Meier is one of those icons of the PC game industry whose name is whispered in hushed tones of reverence and placed along side other greats such as John Carmack (iD) and Will Wright (Maxis). He brought us some of the best games of the early days of PCs... Pirates and Civ being the two really big ones. Who here that has been playing games for years now can honestly say they weren't at one point hopelessly addicted to one of the Civilization games? They were simply great... and still are really. They represent a period in time where developers had to be extremely creative in portraying a story or game experience. They couldn't rely on graphics, and they had to be very smart about how they accomplished what they did since they had greater limits on disk space, ram and processing power. In their day, these men were geniuses of an order most can't grasp.

Now, lets fast-forward to present day. Sid and his team at Firaxis have turned out a new version of Pirates, but is this a new spin on the old game, or simply some new paint on a run-down old house?

I'm sad to say, it's more of a new paint job than anything else. While the game evokes that old adventure style gameplay with how you run around towns and get things done, and in the combat and dancing minigames, it falls well short of the mark for what it could have accomplished with new technology.

Graphics -
Like I said, much of the game is done in an adventure game style, where you're either choosing text options from menus or are viewing a predone animation drawn over a 2d backdrop. The world map where you spend much of your time is simple and without too many bells and whistles too. The few points that employs complex 3D are pretty straight forward. The fencing and dancing minigames are merely a scripted backdrop with you in the foreground executing one of perhaps four or five "moves" Every sequence also ends in one of two or three predone cinematics. Neat at first, but when you beat Pirate #7892 in battle, it's annoying. For all of that, the graphics are very clean and well drawn for what they are. It's obvious that attention went into polishing what little there was in the way of visuals. The graphics here are what I would have expected in a game 3 or 4 years ago.

Sound -
Not much to say here... there's rushing wind, seagulls, swords clashing, the dinging of ship bells, the bang of cannons and all the characters speaking a sort of "Simlish" with different tones and accents. The sound does its job, but there's nothing at all great or terrible about it... very *blah*

Gameplay -
Ok, let's break the game down into its main gameplay components
-Sailing your ship around the Carribean
-Engaging in ship-to-ship combat with cannons and such
-"Swordfights" with enemy pirates
-Dancing with pretty daughters of regional Governors.
-Playing the trade/economics game

Not a very impressive list, and a lot of your time is spent just sailing around, half the time trying to sail against the wind making it take FOREVER. The fighting and dancing parts are boring as all you're doing is pressing a keypad key in response to what your opponent does. In sword fighting, you have 3 attacks and 3 defenses and a taunt. Not very thrilling stuff and you can't do anything like combos or complex attacks. It usually just ends up being attack, defend, attack, defend etc... Just hit your opponent enough times to force them off the boat/into a fire/into a barmaid with a bottle to crack on their heads. Dancing is just hitting a direction key to keep in step with your partner. The better you do the bigger the heart at the top gets. Do really well and they'll tell you a secret or give you a mission or something like that. Taking care of business in a town is incredibly unsatisfying as well from a game perspective. Each town has the same services, and they all use the same graphics. There's no variety to this game at all. You end up doing the same actions over and over and over again attempting to gain money and prestige. The only ongoing goal is to find your long lost family.

Despite all of this, it's a quirky little game that's fun to play for a few minutes at a time while you're waiting for your World of Warcraft server to come back online.

This is a game that should have been priced at a value point. Charging $20 would have been appropriate for this game as it's pretty small, rather basic and only good for some quick light fun. It certainly doesn't have the lasting characteristics of most big-name games that have come out recently. Pricing this game at $40 ensures it will suffer a quick commercial death. If you can get it used for cheap, grab it and play it for a little bit. Like I said, it's a fun little game but nothing worth getting excited over. Treat it as a gaming distraction if you ever find yourself getting burned out on your other games.

The sad thing is, Sid here is effectively killing the market for classic game remakes by making really lackluster updates to his older titles. At best all he does is put on some newer graphics on his older games, maybe adds a few new features but nothing spectacular or worth going out and buying. Civ 3 is a great example of this. It was Civ, only with better 2d graphics and a few new features (influence) but essentially, it was just Civ 2 with a new face. Pirates! ended up being the same way. It's a shame really, because there are old properties that could do for a modern remake/adaptation/upgrade. The Master of Orion series for example really deserves a *real* sequel (MoO3 was a prime example of how poor management can kill a game).

on Jan 12, 2005
I have to disagree, I think the graphics are perfect for the game. Light, cheery, lots of little details. I find it very enjoyable just sailing around, seeing the wake behind the ship., seeing the dolphins swimming around...

I think ship combat is very fun too, nice and simple, something about seeing the cannon balls fly through the air. The little details there are nice, like people getting thrown overboard, same with cargo. Also the Top 10 pirates list is a great touch

I played the original on genesis alot, so maybe thats why I like it more. Its not a huge game, but does what it does well.
on Jan 13, 2005
My problem was it was such a small and overly simplistic game when it could have been more. Like I said, this game would have been perfect if it was packaged and sold for what it was... a budget game good for some quick fun here and there, not the engrossing experience we now expect when we plop down $50 on a game. It had its moments of neatness, but there was nothing about this game that really makes it stand out. It was pretty average across the board.