Over two years after the C64 version first appeared comes the Amiga version of this swashbuckling adventure, that puts the player in the boots of a 17th Century buccaneer.
Out in the Caribbean, the general idea is to take command of a ship and sail around seeking fame and fortune. You start off at an English-owned port (usually the town of Port Royale in Jamaica) with a small sloop and a handful of men. Sailing around will soon have you coming face to face with an enemy ship (at the start of the game the English are at war with the Spanish and Dutch) and, as you have been charged to seek and destroy enemy ships and towns, it is time to engage in combat.
Combat involves moving your small ship around the screen and trying to get a shot off at the enemy while avoiding any of his salvos. Almost invariably, though, the two ships collide and combat is ultimately resolved by taking the enemy captain in a duel, which is never too hard to win. Then you are left with the option of either plundering and sinking her or sending a prize crew over and making her part of your mini fleet - handy because you can always sell unwanted ships at a port. Either way you will be making money, which always impresses the governors of English ports.
While you spend your life sailing around plundering enemy ships and towns - or your own if you fancy becoming a real pirate - you can often be sent off on little subquests like delivering messages or searching for your long lost sister. You can also sail around collecting pieces of a map to guide you in a treasure hunting expedition. Once you have had enough of the seafaring life you can always retire and take up another life depending on how successful you were and whether you have found a wife.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The little tunes that play occasionally are nothing special, but fortunately the graphics are much better, even though most of them are just still portraits or pictures of towns and the like. During the action scenes - sea battles, or attacks on towns - the graphics are very simple and blocky, but at least you can see exactly what is going on and whether you have hit or missed your target.
The game save option means you can keep one character going for a long time, which means you will be coming back to this whenever you feel in the right frame of mind. Which is surprisingly often, because the game has a strange sort of addictiveness about it.
MicroProse have a nerve to bill this as a simulation but it is still lots of fun to play. After a while it becomes a bit repetitive but it certainly appeals to the greedy nature in most of us as it is hard to resist going out and plundering a bit more to make some extra money. If the gameplay had been deeper and more complex, it could have been better.
Break out your wooden leg, stuffed parrot, eye patch, timbers (preferably shivered) and pieces of eight 'cause it's time to take to the high seas of the 17th century for a spot of plunderin', ahaaarrr, Jim lad (you try writing about pirates without using their vernacular!).
With mainbrace fully spliced, it's your task in Pirates! to eventually become adviser to the king, find yourself a wife(?) and get rich enough to retire early and in comfort. How you achieve these ends - whether by stealing, trading, treasure hunting, questing or a combination of all four - is up to you.
Before you weigh anchor, however, you're required to construct a character from options such as nationality, skill level, special skill (fencing, navigation etc), historical period, special expeditions and so on. MicroProse recommend that new players ignore the last two options and go straight into the main game where you're more or less free to cruise the Caribbean of the 1660s in search of fame and fortune.
Beginning in the harbor of a friendly town, you may visit the Governor for a bit of gossip, a mission or promotion (which can be bought if you haven't done anything to earn it), pop in to the local tavern for more gossip information and/or treasure maps (at a price) and to recruit a crew. You may also visit merchants to trade food, sugar, goods, ships and cannon or check out information gleaned from whatever source. Once you have won some treasure it's good idea to head for a friendly town and divide it up among your crew. This makes happy sailors and good fighters, although desertion is a higher risk once the swabs have been paid.
When at sea you have the freedom of the Caribbean - although information in towns should give you some idea of where to go. A map is provided with the game and this, coupled with the ability to take sun readings, prevents you from getting lost. Weather conditions are fairly stable and you should only really be troubled by the wind (that's Caribbean cuisine for you).
Vessels encountered at sea may be investigated, hailed for news, ignored or engaged in battle; cannons only fire broadside, so confrontations consist of maneuvering your ship to aim at the enemy, firing and getting out of the way before you get blasted. Each hit depletes the number of men and/or cannon onboard or damages the vessel. Should you decide you've bitten off more than you can chew you may (if not too badly damaged) run away, although this action risks the loss of a ship, should you have more than one vessel under your command.
Ports are friendly, neutral or hostile. Their attitude toward you determines how best to enter the port: attack, sneak into town or simply sail into harbor.
Dropping anchor near land where no port exists puts your crew in marching mode enabling them to explore islands for treasure and so on. Should you come across a town whilst on the march you are again given a choice of entry. Choosing to attack takes you into battle using muskets and fists. Often, attacks on enemies (whether at sea or on land) results in you having to duel with an opponent using rapier, cutlass or longsword.
Sailing, marching and battles are shown from a sea gull's eye view with your ship or men controlled via mouse, joystick or keys. One-to-one duels are displayed from third-person perspective with adequately drawn/animated characters battling it out horizontally across the screen. All other elements such as trading, visiting governors or talking in taverns are menu-controlled, enhanced by very nice animated graphics of appropriate persons, places or objects.
Although Pirates! runs the risk of becoming repetitive, the few hours of play I experienced on the Spanish Main were very enjoyable. All graphics are excellent, sound is good and gameplay exciting. The many options available both before and during play provide a vast (or should that be avast) arena in which to experience the life of a hero with at least three ears and his buckles swashed to perfection.
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