Sid Meier's Pirates! E3 2005 Impressions

We sail the seven seas with Sid Meier's swashbuckler, now on the Xbox.

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The dearth of console piratical simulations is about to come to an end, as Sid Meier's Pirates! cruises to a new port of call on the Xbox. Various adaptations have been made to the game as it moves to the console, in terms of both graphical appearance and new gameplay features and a few tweaks. We had a chat with a Firaxis representative on the E3 show floor to get the scoop on what's new in the Xbox version.

First, though, the game just looks really nice. It's obviously been toned down some from the PC version, but given that the game already featured a cartoon-type style, the visuals have transferred over well. From what we could see, the animation seemed fluid on the characters, and the ship movements were smooth and brisk.

While the game was demoed, we were told that the developers had worked on tweaking the difficulty so that the game was overall a bit harder than the PC version. However, they also added a few elements to help propel you along. For example, there will be more short-term goals for you to strive for in the game, which will be relayed to you via a "mysterious stranger" character inside the tavern. For a fee, he'll grant you information on places you can go and things you can do to increase your renown.

A new minigame was added for ship boarding in case you attempt to board a vessel where your crew is outnumbered. It's essentially a quick-time battle, button-matching sequence, where controller buttons will flash across the bottom of the screen and you'll have to press those buttons to perform action sequences, like squirming free of grasping buccaneers and deflecting incoming attacks. When you're successful at these, you'll either incapacitate or frighten away the enemy crew, evening out the odds to let you have a chance to seize those vessels even if you start off outnumbered.

When you attempt to sneak into a town, the interface changes. Instead of an isometric sort of view showing your pirate creeping through the city streets, the camera will be much closer to the action, directly behind you. Destinations will appear as icons on your screen that you can use to orient yourself as you wander about, so you'll still be able to find your way. Since you're a bit more likely to run into guards in this mode, a feature has been added where you'll struggle with guards in close quarters (mashing a button to fill up a meter), and if you're lucky, you'll be able to successfully overpower your opponent and keep going. However, for each guard you run into, overpowering them will become slightly harder, so you still want to avoid them as much as possible.

Have you ever wanted to helm your own pirate ship against those of your friends and cannonball them into oblivion? You'll be able to in this game, as Pirates! for the Xbox allows for multiplayer ship battles. Up to four players can vie simultaneously for dominion over the seas, and there will be power-ups for you to pick up out of the water. There will be attack, defense, and speed-enhancing power-ups. You'll only be able to have a maximum of three, but if you stack the same type of power-up, you'll gain even better power. For instance, if you grab a single speed power-up, your ship will move faster. If you use two, your ship will move faster and turn faster. And if you use three speed items, your ship will move faster, turn faster, and reload cannons faster.

Firaxis says that in addition to polishing the game for the Xbox, it has speeded up movement in general (the ships in particular seemed to scull rapidly over the wide ocean) and added new cinematics in the game to complement some of the new sorts of gameplay it has introduced here. If it's a pirate's life for you, you'll want to keep your spyglass trained on this game, which is currently due to appear on the Xbox in July of this year.

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