January 22, 2007 - When we put together our Top 100 Games of All Time list way back in 2005, Sid Meier's Pirates! sat confidently at number six. In our estimation, only two Mario games, one Zelda title, Tetris and Sid's own Civilization III have ever bested the classic adventure romp. The game first pulled anchor in 1987 and saw two overhauls in later years on the PC, first in 1993 with Pirates! Gold and then 2004's remake with Sid Meier's Pirates!, which also saw a release on the Xbox.
The franchise has now set sail on the PlayStation Portable with Sid Meier's Pirates! Live the Life. The game is something of a mix between the PC and Xbox versions, bringing back some of the features that were stripped down for the console release, while also tweaking some of the PC's aspects, like sneaking into town. The resulting game is a classic in the truest sense of the word, a title that adheres to everything that we've loved about the franchise for roughly 20 years now. The port (get it?) did take on a few rough edges in the translation, but on the whole, it's an experience that's not to be missed.
For those who have never played Pirates! on any of its released systems, you've missed out on one of the most open-ended sandbox games that's ever been released. You begin a career (of which you'll have many) by choosing your starting year, difficulty and allegiance, either the English, Dutch, French or Spanish. Most every action you perform will alter your standing with one or more of these countries. Attack one of your enemies and not only will your country begin rewarding you with a new rank, some loot and maybe even some land, but the attacked country and possibly even its allies will turn against you.
Once a country has you on its bad side, its ships may begin attacking you at open sea and it may block your entrance into its towns. Anger a faction enough and its town may even open fire if you approach its vicinity. One of the game's coolest elements is that the ownership of towns can and will change over time. You can attack and take them over for your own country, and the computer will fight amongst itself over time. Indian tribes can also take over villages, and rogue pirates can attack and pillage towns and leave them empty.
While this sounds like Pirates! is based entirely around battles, that's not the case at all. You can make a lot of money by trading goods amongst towns or selling off booty that you've picked up from other ships. Treasure maps and the like will make their way into your hands, and the governor's daughters are always looking for a dance partner and even husband. Should you have an aversion to open warfare, you can make an entire career out of simply trading goods and looking for lost treasures.
The most important aspect of any game of Pirates! however is the management of your fleet and crew. You can pick up new seamen by either taking some on after winning a ship battle or by recruiting them at a local tavern. If you win a battle without sinking a ship you can add that to your fleet, though you need to manage your total crew count with the required hands for each ship, possibly leaving you with a small crew on your lead battle ship. You also need to make sure that your crew stays happy, and the bigger the crew, the more likely they are to become upset with "the man" (a.k.a. you) and attempt to take him down (a.k.a. mutiny).