Sid Meier’s Pirates! is a classic game of pirating across the Caribbean, and is very similar in scope and structure to Tradewinds 2 which we scored an extremely good 87%.
Pirates! differs from that title by offering more action elements, as you actually take direct control of the ship and its captain instead of just directing an icon. The game is more rewarding as a result, as exploring, combat and even trading become far more compelling as you climb the pirate ranks and attempt to control the seas.
The majority of the game is spent sailing around, with your ship or even fleet controlled by tapping an area that you want them to move to, and your ship will also follow if you hold your finger down on the screen, which is handy for combat. You can choose to have your sails up or down, with the ship moving faster with the wind when the sail is up, although I found it very handy to quickly take the sail down to perform tighter turns in combat.
Tapping another ship passing by gives you all the information on it, and also the option of whether to attack. Once you do attack, you are taken to the combat screen where y
ou can either fight or board your opponent. Combat is really enjoyable, as you can only shoot cannons on the sides of your ship and must wait for them to reload, and the fights usually become very tactical and you can take down ships that are far better armed and armoured than you with a bit of clever sailing.
The only disappointment with the combat is that you can’t take your fleet into combat with you. I guess this is because you would easily overwhelm many ships, but having fleet vs fleet battles would have been epic.
You can either destroy your opponent outright, which is only going to be something you would do to escort ships really, or ram and board the ship. If you have worn the ship and its crew down sufficiently, then they will surrender and you get to decide whether to take additional crew members and also to plunder their cargo hold and choose whether to sink the ship or add it to your fleet. Sometimes, the ship’s captain will want to fight back, and the one on one combat mini game commences. The idea is to push the captain back while the battle rages on around you, and it is really simple, as you only have three forms of attack and three of defence. The fights are quite easy once you get the knack of them and actually prove quite tiresome after a while.
There are a lot of towns and ports to explore where you will find shops, shipwrights(where you can repair, upgrade or sell your ships) and story elements, such as clues and mission relating to your quest to find your sister. You can also get clues here when ships laden with gold are setting sail and to which port. A major point of each large town is the Mayor or Governor, especially when the town is under the control of one of the games’ navys, such as the English and the French, and here you can try to get up the rankings for each power, unlocking extras. You have to be careful when you visit certain towns, as it is not a good idea to visit a Spanish garrison after just sinking a few Spanish ships, for example.
You can also woo the Governor’s daughter by playing an infuriating dancing mini game. Doing well in certain missions and collecting rare items can make these easier, but they are unavoidable if you want to complete the main quest. It is a simple rhythm tapping mini game, but you have to get a lot of perfect taps in a row to win, and I just found it irritating.
Every town has different values for all the goods in the game, and you can make a lot of money by trading, but robbing treasure galleys is the quickest way to earn cash. You can also choose to bombard a town, at which point another mini game will surface, but a decent one this time as you have to target cannon placements and anchored ships while timing your reloads in a way reminiscent of games like Virtua Cop. It is good fun, if a little long.
You may have noticed a running theme here: Mini games.
Yes the game can essentially be described as a sailing game broken up by a series of mini games. That’s no bad thing, as most of the mini games are pretty good, and the world and main gameplay are really strong, with a great main quest, interlinked with achievements that can be left as long as you like and can come back to.
The graphics are pretty good, with nice cut scenes and decent characters, although the main ocean and ships are a little uninspired. There is plenty of game here, with a huge sea to explore and many ports to dock at, and you can land anywhere and send a party to explore.
Overall, this is a great game, and extremely addictive. As a trading combat game, I would say it is the best on iOS, my only complaints are the bland overworld look and a couple of duff mini games.
If loved the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, then you will also love this game, as it balances trading, exploring and combat perfectly, all wrapped up in a compelling and believable pirate world.