I was pretty excited to get Sid Meier’s Pirates!: I’ve spent many a pleasant hour with the various Civilization games, and the reviews talked about how you couldn’t put the game down, how you’d find yourself playing it at two in the morning.
The reality wasn’t so great, however. Its resemblance to Civilization was very faint, certainly no more than its resemblance to many other games. And while it is true that it’s hard to put the game down, the reasons for that have nothing to do with its quality.
The game is a mishmash of various genres: fighting, dancing, rpg, strategy, turn-based combat, probably others that I’m not thinking of at the moment. You’re a pirate, sailing a ship around the Carribean. You recruit crew members, upgrade your ship, capture new ships. Capturing new ships is mostly done with a sword-fighting mechanism, occasionally combined (I hesitate to say augmented) with Shenmue-style QTE’s and ship-to-ship battles. You can dance with governor’s daughters; you can go on quests to find people and treasures. And you can conquer cities, and get special items to improve your skills.
The problem is, these genres are all done in an extremely sketchy fashion, and the game doesn’t combine them in a particularly interesting way. The swordfighting system is very basic. There’s almost never a reason to use your cannons. There’s almost no plot; in particular, the goals that you carry out over the course of the main quest are completely random, and the side quests aren’t any more satisfying.
This lack of plot is why it’s hard to put the game down: you never have the feeling that you’ve just accomplished something big (or even medium), so you don’t have the traditional video game cues to consider stopping. It’s like playing solitaire: sure, sometimes I end up playing game after game of solitaire later into the night than I should have, because it’s always tempting to play just one more game, but that’s hardly a virtue.
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