Sid Meier's Pirates! Updated Impressions - Land Battles and More

We take an updated look at the remake of designer Sid Meier's classic game.


Firaxis' Barry Caudill discusses updates to Pirates for the PC and the Xbox. Double-click on the video window for a full-screen view.

At a recent Atari press event, we had an opportunity to see an updated version of Sid Meier's Pirates! from Firaxis Games in action. Pirates! will be a remake of the classic and highly unorthodox strategy game that developer Sid Meier designed some 17 years ago. Like the classic game, the new Pirates! will feature ship-to-ship battles, sword duels, and profiteering, though it will also have several new features, and thanks to its fancy 3D engine, it'll look a whole lot better.

The most recent addition to Pirates! so far has been its revamped land battle system. Like in the original Pirates!, you can choose to serve one of the imperialist European nations that has settled the new world (like England, France, or Spain), but if you attack a town belonging to a rival nation, you'll enter into a land battle--a system that was recently revamped. The new system will feature simultaneous turn-based battles that resemble those in Meier's classic American Civil War strategy game Gettysburg!, only they will be more straightforward and less time-consuming.


You and your rivals will have several companies of one or more of the following: infantry, pistoleers, cavalry, and artillery, which, in your case, are cannons you drag off of your ship, assuming you have any left. While you'll need to mind some strategic concerns, like the power and speed of cavalry against the relative weakness of infantry, for the most part, land battles will feature just enough depth to be interesting without tying you down in lengthy, drawn-out sessions--like pretty much every other aspect of the game, really.

We also had a chance to see some of the newly created sword duels, as well as the improved graphics for exploration and sea battles. For instance, at the end of a victorious land battle, you may end up in a one-on-one duel with the captain of a garrison, whom you push back into the town's armory. After you've beaten him back enough to send him tumbling against a keg of gunpowder, your character will toss a lighted fuse into the building, causing both of you to run for cover (but granting you the victory). Both this and other areas of the game look brighter and cleaner than previous versions of the game we've seen.

Among other things, you'll be able to take on missions like this one.
Among other things, you'll be able to take on missions like this one.

Nearly all of the minigames in Pirates!, including swordfighting, battles, and others, use the keyboard number pad for controls by default (though you can remap these keys or use a gamepad if you so desire). Producer Barry Caudill explained that this control scheme seemed the most intuitive, though the recently announced Xbox version of the game will have an enhanced control scheme for some aspects of the game. For instance, swordfighting will have a different control setup to allow players to make better use of their controllers, as will ship-to-ship battles, which can be fought head-to-head by two players on the same Xbox.

This upcoming remake looks better than ever, and the prospect of having such an accessible and varied game on the Xbox is exciting indeed. If Firaxis can make good on its efforts, Sid Meier's Pirates! will be even more colorful, varied, and charming than the classic game that inspired it. The game is scheduled for release later this year on the PC and next year on the Xbox.

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