I am rubber, you are glue! The latest incarnation of Pirates! arrived on the PC and Xbox back in 2005 and updated the franchise for the 21st Century, with a new 3D engine, several extra features, and proved a big success. Now 2K Games have managed to port the entire game onto your PSP, allowing you to swashbuckle your way home from work on a bus.
The game is set in the early 17th Century Caribbean and as you have probably determined from the title – you are a pirate. It begins with an evil Marquis busting in on your family during dinner and enslaving them all because your Dad owes him some moola. You manage to escape and (being a guy with a grudge) vows revenge. Ten years later, you are older and wiser and sign up on a ship headed for the Caribbean. During your voyage, trouble brews amongst the overbearing officers on board and before long the crew mutinies, leaving you in charge thanks to some clever thinking. This is where the gameplay starts.
Pirates! is an open ended game. This means there’s really no end to it and you can choose to play the game in any particular path or style. You can just keep playing until you either get bored or die – whichever comes first. Of course, there is a structured plot and storyline to follow but you certainly don’t have to. This pick-up and play nature of Pirates! suits the PSP perfectly, and the gameplay itself is split into several different mini-games. Each one flows on to the next smoothly with consistent controls, and from a distance makes up a seamless game of strategy and action. Most of your time is spent at sea, either sailing or fighting rival ships - but there are also scenes such as sword duelling, trading, escaping from prison, treasure hunting and even dancing (all in order to win the hearts of a buxom lass of course). Open games such as this can become repetitive over time, but Pirates! is kept interesting by your ability to dramatically alter the political landscape. You might be privateering for the English, who are at war with the Spanish and hear from a barmaid that the Spanish Ambassador is on his way with a peace treaty. Nothing will stop you from sailing out, destroying the Ambassador’s ship and letting the war continue while you milk the profits (like any good pirate would). These naval battles seem to offer the most fun with you trying to out maneuver your opponent to allow you to fire from your side canons. These battles last only a couple of minutes at the most, but there's a great deal of tactical depth to them, particularly at the harder difficulty levels. As a pirate you can even capture ships, but you must use different ammunition, including medium-range chainshot to destroy sails and rigging (rather than the precious boat itself!). Once the boat is crippled, you can board them and take on the rival captain in a classic sword-fighting duel which is a heap of fun. Another clever feature that aids your character development is that you will age over time, so that your ultimate goal is to hoard as much fame and fortune as possible before you retire. After that your pirate will go into the hall of fame, and you can start all over again!
The single-player game offers hours of gameplay so it was slightly disappointing playing the multiplayer games. It does offer up to four players to play ad-hoc but simply pits your sailing skills against others as you maneuver and fight in a handful of arena-like levels. Still - kudos to the developers for taking the time to include something in the multiplayer department.
The graphics on the PSP version are great and even in complicated battle scenes there is no lag. However, there were one or two slight graphical glitches of boats sailing into the land slightly. The sound at most times is atmospheric, letting you hear the sails rippling, cannons booming away and ports bustling. But strangely the sound is absent for some parts of the game, leaving you in a pit of silence for no real reason. The music during the dancing scenes is pleasant too – which is good because you have to listen to it in order to get your timing right.
Overall this is a very solid game and fun for all ages and skill levels, but complex enough to keep you playing. And for those of you who understood the opening sentence (and have played the legendary PC game Monkey Island) you will especially appreciate the charm and reminiscence factor of Pirates!