Sid Meier's Pirates! PSP Review - 07/06/2007

Raise the sails and ready the cannons because pirates are storming onto the PSP with a splash. Sid Meier’s Pirates has arrived on PSP and proves to be a solid sea faring adventure with enough “argh”s and “arrr”’s to keep even the most pirate-hating gamers busy for several hours.

Let’s face it. Pirates are cool. And we don’t mean the guys outside the corner shop selling DVDs. We are talking scary, bloodthirsty, swashbuckling pirates. They are cool, always have been and always will be. So how does this latest strategy based pirate adventure fare amongst the action packed free roamers of today? The answer: actually quite well.

You play the role of a young adventurer out to save his family from an evil wrong doer who captured them when you were only a small boy. On beginning your arduous quest you are given the choice of which country to aid, the Spanish, Dutch, French or British. Each varies in difficulty slightly so can make a small difference to the way you play. You soon come into possession of a ship and the open seas become your oyster. It’s up to you to make a living and return your relations to safety before you reach retirement age and have to hang up your cutlass for good.

With so much water to get lost on it can be quite daunting at first and difficult to find work. Your small ship is easy pickings for any other pirates roaming the waves but can be upgraded with new cannons and features that generally make your travels a little easier. Once you’re riding high in your perfected ship, you can sail up next to any nearby craft, exterminate the crew, and the vessel is all yours. This method doesn’t prove to be so popular with the ship’s country however, and you may find yourself being hunted down like a dog by paid pirate hunters.

Upgrades don’t come cheap and repairs aren’t free so you need to find some gold before you can sit back and catch forty winks. Money can be acquired in several ways. These include tracking down wanted criminals, digging up buried treasure, or looting passing boats. With no information, or more importantly directions, treasure will stay buried. Visit a few ports however, and you will be shouting “yo ho ho” in no time. Docking at ports scattered on the coasts of the world’s many islands is how you find information on the game's various tasks.

As already mentioned, missions vary from pirate hunting to looting. These quests, as they are known in the game, consist of several areas. Firstly, you need to locate the information required in order to find your destination. This is done by paying visits to ports and talking to bar owners and mysterious strangers. Once a map or some heading is acquired, you can head off into the horizon on your trusty ship. Arrival can result in one of several outcomes. You may have to search a grid based jungle for treasure, duel with a wanted criminal in the tavern, or take part in a sea battle between yours and the enemy’s boat - the latter being the best feature of the game. Sea battles combine elements of skill, strategy and sheer dumb luck into exciting tests of stamina for your vessel.

It may come as a surprise to some though that the game rapidly turns from thrilling and bold into bland and very, very samey. Choices such as “visit tavern” or “consult with shipwright” are always found at every port for example. And this is where the game starts to fall down. The feeling that you are paying for the same thing in lots of different packages soon dawns on you. Within a few hours of play you may start to realise some similarities between one tavern and another, or one sword duel and the next. This is because they are in fact all the same. The “mini games” that you find yourself participating in vary from ballroom dancing to treasure hunts in jungles and, admittedly, are good fun to play. But knowing that next time you visit a governor in a port you have to do exactly the same dance with an almost identical daughter kind of ruins the element of surprise you expect from this sort of swashbuckling adventure.

Another problem is the tendency for the rather brilliant sound effects and music to just vanish. Don’t try and adjust your volume settings people, it’s just the game. You can be sailing for a fair few minutes before the tinkering of bells and the crashing of waves is bestowed upon your ears once again.

Pirates is a very solid portable strategy game and is easy to pick up and play thanks to its ability to save anywhere at any time. If you are looking for a game you can dip in and out of then this could well be your next needed purchase. However, if you tend to spend many hours at a time on games, enjoy plenty of action, or simply hate pirates, you may wish to avoid this. Overall though, what Pirates does, it does very well. The solid game play is only let down by the sameness of some areas and the clearly noticeable sound glitches.

- Lee Harris – TGSN

Sid Meier’s Pirates is available now for Playstation Portable



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