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Sid Meier's Pirates! takes place in the 1600, when tall ships were a common sight on the ocean and legendary pirates were forging their infamous reputations.
Upon starting the first game, the player isn't given the choice of which era they wish to play it. They are straight away force to play the 1640 era, Buccaneer Heroes. This does offer a brief tutorial and help with some of the more finer points of game play and mechanics; but it still doesn't offer much information on sailing itself.
Even though this game was released in 2005, the graphics are still very good. The rival ship Captains and Officers in the game, no matter their nationality or alliance, all have different character models and colours. This especially for Blackbeard, who has slow-match burning in his beard and appears rather intimidating. This also applies to the governor's daughters, who come in three levels of 'attractiveness'.
Sailing is a very simple affair under the easiest levels of difficulty. However, this quickly changes on the harder difficulty levels, where the player must face the ship in the right direction to get the winds effectively in the ship's sails and can also be blown backwards if the prow faces into the wind. This jump in difficulty makes itself known in the sword fighting sequences and also the dancing mini-games, where the easier difficulty levels allow a much higher level of success.
Even though the game is based around piracy, it doesn't need to be played through looting and pillaging. It can be played as a trader or even a pirate hunter, however playing as a trader does not bring the promotions that playing as a pirate hunter, a pirate does. These promotions in game, allow for a variety of bonuses, such as free repairs and upgrades upon reaching a certain rank and even getting the chance to woo the Governor's daughter.
There is also a large quest in the game, that can be ignored if the player so wishes. This quest is finding missing family members and ultimately getting revenge on the Spanish Marquis who torn your character's family apart. This in itself, isn't easy on the higher difficulty levels, as the player must contend with hunting down other Spanish officials before they can find family members or even locate the Marquis' hidden fortress.
Of course, this game wouldn't be about pirates if it didn't include the cliche buried treasure and portions of treasure maps. This information can be purchased from taverns or rewarded by the Governor's daughter. While lower difficulty levels show more of the map, the higher levels require the character to expend more money when getting these portions of the maps. Sometimes, even with a completed map, it can be near impossible to find some of the locations, due to no proper points of reference being included.
Sid Meier's Pirates also allows a character to get married to a Governor's daughter. This happens after duels, attending balls and ultimately rescuing her from the clutches of a Spanish Count. The more attractive the daughter's rating, the harder they are to impress and woo. However, if the player does well in the dancing mini-game or gives the Governor's daughter an expensive bit of jewelry, the character may be rewarded with one of the rare character upgrades.
Combat at sea has a very strong arcade feel to it, but it does work rather well. Both ships take damage, and too much damage to the hull will see an impressive spray of debris being blown out of the side and smoke rising from the hold, while too much damage to the mast and sails will see the mast collapse onto the deck of the ship and cause the ship to lurch in the water. This damage can cause ships to surrender, and avoid the entire boarding sequence, or the crews may continue to fight even though their ships are close to sinking.