Review: 2K Games Sid Meier’s Pirates! for iPad
The popularity of iOS as a gaming platform has resulted in the adaptation of a number of classic games from the PC and console world. 2K Games was one of the first developers to bring a mainstream strategy game to the iOS platform with its 2009 debut of Civilization Revolution, a trend the company is now continuing with the recent release of the popular classic strategy adventure game, Sid Meier's Pirates!.
Originally released on a variety of computer platforms and the NES between 1987 and 1991, Pirates was remade in 2004 with a 3D game engine for the Windows PC and later Xbox, PSP and Mac OS X. The new iPad version is essentially a port of the 2004 version and remains largely true to the roots of the game overall with only a few relatively minor modifications to the gameplay and control optimizations for the iPad touchscreen interface.
Pirates puts the player into the role of a privateer in the 17th-century Caribbean, opening with a backstory on how the main character’s family was sold into slavery when he was a boy, setting the stage for the player to take on the role of a privateer setting out on a quest to find his family and exact revenge against their old nemesis, the Marquis de Motalban. The game begins with the player booking passage to the new world and signing on with one of the four major factions in the game; the French, Spanish, Dutch or English. Five difficulty levels are available to choose from, and in all but the Apprentice level the player can also choose to begin in one of five different 17th-century eras, ranging from the 1600’s when Spain largely dominated the Caribbean through to the 1680’s when the era of privateers and pirates began to dwindle in favour of more traditional navies.
The main objective in the game centres around the “Path of Revenge” comprised of fifteen general quests that the player must undertake to find his family and seek out the Marquis de Montalban. The game play itself is open-ended however, with the player deciding the best way to go about earning fame, notoriety and fortune. In playing the game, the player sails between various ports, trading goods, duelling opponents in sword battles, recruiting crew, building a fleet, capturing and sinking enemy ships and interacting with a variety of characters from barmaids to governors to glean information and receive missions and quests.
Most of the game will be spent sailing between ports and interacting with NPCs in the various locations. Players can acquire gold by trading commodities between ports or by plundering ships at sea, either through outright piracy or via a letter of marque from a governor authorizing service as a privateer against that nation’s enemies. Players can attack any ship they encounter at sea which initiates a naval combat mini-game where the player attempts to either sink or board the enemy ship; boarding an enemy ship will result in either the immediate surrender of its crew in the case of overwhelming odds, or a sword fight mini-game where the player must duel the enemy captain to capture the ship. Captured ships can be plundered for gold and other trade goods and optionally added to the player’s fleet. Sword fighting involves choosing an appropriate weapon geared for either defensive or offensive benefit and then using swipe gestures to thrust, parry and execute other swordsmanship skills.
Players can also attack cities, however this is where Pirates for the iPad differs in gameplay from other versions; rather than the turn-based strategy mode found in the 2004-era PC and console versions, in the iPad version the player chooses to “Bombard” the enemy city, which initiates a shooting-gallery style mini-game where the player must use his cannons to attack shore-based fortifications and then subsequently engage in a duel with the Captain of the Guard in order to capture the settlement and install a new Governor.
Pirates also includes a number of other challenges and quests, including collecting and assembling maps to locate lost cities or buried treasure from notorious pirates and seeking out and defeating famous pirates to gain notoriety and large quantities of gold. Special items and specialist crew members can be acquired throughout the game in order to provide unique bonuses, and the player can also advance in rank among any of the four major powers in the game by performing quests for local Governors or simply engaging in raids against the current enemies of a particular nation.
Advanced rank brings additional benefits and bonuses as well, including grants of land and introductions to the daughters of various Governors with accompanying invitations to balls. Accepting an invitation to a ball initiates a tap-to-the-rhythm style mini game where the player must successfully demonstrate their skills in order to impress the young lady. Advanced favour with a governor’s daughter may eventually lead to unique quests, duels and even marriage, with an appropriate boost to fame and reputation based on the attractiveness level of the daughter.
In addition to the quest and combat itself, the game provides numerous other more subtle challenges, including successfully recruiting crew for and repairing and outfitting the ships in their fleet, feeding your crew and maintaining their health and morale on long voyages, taking advantage of weather and wind conditions when sailing the open seas, and dealing with the ever-changing political climate between the four major powers in the area. The character also ages as the game progresses, making sword battles more challenging and eventually forcing the character into retirement. Upon reaching retirement, the player divides their plunder among the crew and receives a position based on their wealth, fame and other accomplishments in the game, ranging from a beggar to the Governor of a major capital.
Game Center integration provides another feature unique to the iPad, allowing players to earn up to 16 achievements through the course of the game, ranging from basic achievements for things like capturing your first ship to other more advanced challenges that will require more serious and dedicated gameplay. As an added interesting integration bonus, iPad 2 users can also take advantage of the device’s built-in camera to personalize their flag with their own picture.
Sid Meier’s Pirates remains very true to the original game with the added benefit of the touchscreen providing an even more natural and intuitive experience for many of the mini-games that were much more cumbersome with keyboards or traditional game controllers. The swipe-based sword-fighting and rhythm-tap-based dancing games particularly benefit from the touchscreen and are actually much more enjoyable as a result. Pirates also has the advantage of providing not only open-ended gameplay, but also enough random elements and additional difficulty levels and eras to provide great and enjoyable replay value. As with many classic PC and console games that have come directly to the iOS platform, much of the graphics and soundtrack are clearly from the era of the 2004 version and the game doesn’t really stand out in this respect, even despite the note of graphic improvements on the iPad 2. However Pirates more than makes up for this with a very sophisticated, enjoyable and open-ended adventure game style with an impressive scope of play that has allowed the game to remain very popular in all of its forms for more than 20 years. Fans of the various incarnations of Pirates will not be at all disappointed by the iPad version and new players interested in a sophisticated strategy adventure game will definitely want to give this one a look, especially for the $4 asking price—a bargain for a game of this sophistication and scope.