Sid Meier’s Pirates!

I got Sid Meier’s Pirates! for Christmas and played it in January, and seeing it mentioned elsewhere on the Intarweb reminds me that I haven’t reviewed it yet.

Like a couple of other JesusHers, I was really looking forward to playing this, both because I like Sid Meier’s games and because I am a pirate myself. OK, that’s not true, but the idea of extra-legally roaming around the Carribean looting and pillaging has always seemed kind of cool to me. Hell, I almost wanted to see Cutthroat Island–almost.

I got the game, installed it, and played it for about a week. Lots of stuff in the game was pretty fun, but this game has a serious Achilles heel: in ship-to-ship combat, you initially drive your ship around and the computer drives its ship around and you’ll try to get positioning and pound the other ship with your guns, and this is all well and good. Large powerful ships have more guns and more armor, and small fast ships have more speed and maneuverability and a real advantage where positioning is concerned.

Most ship battles will end not with you sinking the enemy ship–because come on now, that’s letting a ship you could board and plunder go to waste–but with one ship running into the other. If the enemy crew is completely demoralized from getting their asses handed to them in ship-to-ship combat, you’ll take the ship without a fight, but you might not want to do that, because you’ll have to damage the ship pretty extensively to get there. At best, the ship will probably be very slow and slow your entire fleet down; at worst you run the risk of hitting them too hard and sinking them.


Captain-to-captain combat. The guy in red’s about to get his ass kicked unless there’s a monkey at the keyboard.

So what I took to doing was boarding a basically undamaged ship. If this happens you and the enemy captain battle it out with swords. If you win, you get the enemy ship.

Forget for a second the idea of a 28-crew glorified sloop boarding a 40-cannon 200-crew dreadnaught boiling down to a captain-vs-captain sword battle, because what the hell, it’s a video game. The problem is sword fighting is really, really easy in this game, even at the higher difficulty levels. I’d estimate I won about 30 swordfights for every one I lost. (The excessive-ease-of-play-thing ended up happening with Half-Life 2 as well, come to think of it. Maybe I’ve just turned into a video game whiz over the past few months.)

This really damages any appreciation you might have for the game, because there’s really nothing the game can do to punish you for being unprepared or going rogue or something. Piss France off because you keep plundering ships flying their flag? Fuck France! What’re they going to do to you? If they send a warship after you, you’ll board it, you’ll kill the captain, you’ll take it, and you’ll either sell it to one of their enemies or scuttle it out of spite. Rinse and repeat.

I can’t recommend a game that is this easy to beat. One and a half Pochaccos, since up until I figured this out it was kind of fun.

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