Sid Meier's Pirates! E3 2004 Preshow Impressions

We took a ride with this seafaring remake to the classic Pirates!.

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The original Sid Meier's Pirates! appeared for the first time about 17 years ago, and many fans still have fond memories of swashbuckling adventures and sailing the open seas. It's been a long wait to revisit the property, but Sid Meier and Firaxis Games have finally brought forth Sid Meier's Pirates! for the PC. Set in the 17th century Caribbean seas, Sid Meier's Pirates! will have you assume the role of a young pirate captain out to make yourself infamous. We got to check out the progress of this seafaring action game that will encompass land battles, sea battles, treasure hunting and more, and it seems to be shaping up quite nicely.

Your goal in Sid Meier's Pirates! will be to take yourself--a pirate captain with grand aspirations--ever upwards in notoriety, and the game will give you a number of ways to make a name for yourself. You'll visit many diverse ports of call, and stopping in at a friendly tavern, you'll be able to take actions like recruiting men to add to your crew, and getting updates on what's happening in the rest of the world. You also might be able to buy a treasure map from a mysterious stranger, or take on tasks from the local governor that will allow you to do a little sanctioned plundering.

On the open seas, you'll be able to explore all manner of remote coves as well as target passing vessels to attack. When you commence an attack on a vessel, you'll be able to fire upon the unfortunate ship with different kinds of cannon shot. One kind of shot will damage your enemies' hull, one kind of shot will tear holes in their sails and rigging (thereby negatively affecting their maneuverability), and another kind of shot will target their crew. When deciding which kind of shot to use, you'll have to take into account the fact that, the greater the damage upon the other ship, the more of your own crew it will take to man that vessel if you decide you want to keep it and limp it back into port. If you move to take the ship and it still has a goodly amount of crew left, that crew will fight your men, and you yourself will fight a duel with the ship's captain to determine your victory or failure.

You'll also have the ability to move your forces over land to challenge the fortifications of enemy territory. We were able to see a land battle between foot soldiers and pirates that had a skirmish in a field near a stand of trees. There will be several kinds of enemy land units in the game, including infantry, artillery, and cavalry. Once you're inside a town, you will also be able to not just fight your foes, but use stealth to escape their notice. In one instance, we saw our character sneaking along the roads of a village at night, careful to stay out of the range of the guards' lamps. When moving slowly, we could see a large portion of our surroundings via an isometric view. But when the character started to run, the perspective changed to a more-narrow view behind the pirate, taking away our peripheral vision. You will also be able to sneak up behind guards and knock them out to avoid detection.

Another portion of gameplay revolves around the daughter of the governor (of each individual port). If your actions please her enough to gain her favor, she'll invite you to a party. At the party, you'll be able to dance with the young woman, following her subtle instructions on how you should be moving. Firaxis representatives told us that there are plans to allow you to set your own dance music in the game via "beat files" that you'll be able to make for music that you own. Regardless of the music type, if you dance well, you'll sometimes be able to get useful information from the daughter about new locations or people. In addition to dancing, you'll be able to bring her gifts, duel any rival paramours, rescue her from kidnappings, and even eventually marry her.

Sid Meier's Pirates! looked good with clean, brightly colored character models and some nice static artwork for certain scenes. The characters themselves were voiced, but they spoke in gibberish that the developers are calling "Firaxlish" (a nod to The Sims' "simlish"). The rest of the sound effects sounded good, with lots of cutlasses clashing and cannons booming.

Pirate lovers and fans of the original Pirates! will absolutely want to keep their eyes on the progress of Sid Meier's Pirates!. The game is currently scheduled for release at the end of this year.

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