Pirates! / Microprose 1987
Screenshots: play/stop

Land ho! Pirates transports you back to the Caribbean in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Your goal in the game is simply to seek fame and fortune.

Fame comes both from your exploits along the Spanish Main and the rank you achieve from the European governments who are the primary players in the New World: England, France, Spain and Holland. Basically, you are a mercenary for hire and you try to roll with the winds of war in order to get the most rank you can. You start off a lowly citizen with a letter of marque, your ticket to ride, and you can end as a Duke with privilege to the King's ear. As a general rule it is best to make war against Spain because they are the richest and most prevalent power. If your patron country is at war with Spain, then you get credit in addition to the riches you gain. As long as your patron country is not allied with the country you're warring on, it doesn't count against you.

Fortune, like fame, is earned in basically two ways, either with the gun or the sword. Guns come into play in ship battles on the high seas and on land when your party attacks a town (land battles take place automatically when parties come within range of one another). At sea, it's tricky as the cannon shot depends on the angle of your ship. You can only fire broadsides and even then it is angled slightly to the rear. Your shot also seems to arc at long rang, so this aspect of combat takes time. I don't recommend trying to earn your way by cannonade because you're too likely to lose men and your ship. In Pirates the sword is the main mode of combat and the one that is going to lead you to your fame and fortune.

In sword combat, without touching the joystick you are ready to parry a mid-level blow. Moving the joystick up parries a high blow, and moving it down parries a low blow. Moving the joystick to the left attacks high, mid-level, or low in correlation to the joystick position. Holding the fire button while moving the joystick to the left makes for a "slash" attack which takes twice as long but does double damage. High attacks have the farthest range but are the slowest attacks. Low attacks are the fastest attacks but have the shortest range. If you need a break, pressing the space bar will pause the game (this works with ship combat as well).

You can choose a rapier, a long sword or a cutlass for your weapon. The rapier does the least damage but has the farthest range. The cutlass does the most damage but has the least range. In the docs, Capt'n Sydney recommends the long sword as generally the best weapon. Better listen, Capt'n Sydney knows what he's talking about. Two more things to know about sword fighting. The morale and size of your party in relation to the size of the opposing party determines how many blows you can take before falling. And, generally, the higher the rank of your opponent, the better his ability. Beware of Dukes!

When it comes to sailing the ship, moving the joystick left turns the ship towards its left (that's the port side). Moving the joystick to the right moves the ship towards its right (starboard side). In battle, moving the joystick up will raise the sails, moving it down will lower the sails. You take more damage with the sails up but you move a lot faster. Moving the ship close to the enemy ship will allow you to grapple and board that ship. That does away with his broadsides and puts 'em at the mercy of your sword (which is a lot better way to do things in my opinion).

You'll find that there is more to Pirates than just sailing around the Caribbean looking for a fight. There are the governors' daughters but that's pretty self-explanatory (ho, ho, ho and a bottle of rum!). Probably the most important subplot to the game is recovering lost family members. Family members increase your final score and they possess maps to lost treasure. These huge treasures are your main source for building and maintaining an army of pirates necessary for grand exploits, such as capturing the treasure fleet or the silver train. Every time you go up in rank the local governor will give you information about a lost family member. He will name a city where an "evil Spaniard" was last seen. By finding and defeating this foul fellow in sword combat you will be given a fragment of a map that shows where your family member is hidden. Each time you beat one of these guys, you will be given another fragment of the map.

Once you have a small armada of ships, a king's ransom in gold and an army of pirates, you'll probably want to be careful with your encounters at sea, particularly at the higher levels (adventurer and swashbuckler). Pirate-hunters can be ransomed and pirates can be returned to a governor of the same nationality, which the game does automatically when you visit the governor, or ransomed at a foreign port. It goes a long way towards promotion to return a pirate to the right authorities. This being said, pirate and pirate-hunter ships, and an occasional merchant, can have about double the guns and men that you could put in the same ship. And just as high-ranking opponents make for formidable swordsman, they also make for expert marksmen. A ship armed to the teeth with the right captain and the wind behind them, can pound you to dust in a matter of moments. Thank goodness for saved games!

Pirates is a ton of fun! This game proves that it doesn't take massive amounts of memory or virtual reality type graphics to make an entertaining and engrossing computer game. Except for the graphics, Pirates compares favorably to any game that's ever been made in any format.

Reviewed by David Jaggers.

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Microprose 1987
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