Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004 video game)

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Sid Meier's Pirates!
Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004) Coverart.png
Developer(s)Firaxis Games[a]
Producer(s)Barry Caudill
Designer(s)Sid Meier
Programmer(s)Don Wuenschell
Artist(s)Jerome J. Atherholt
Marc Hudgins
Dennis Moellers
Composer(s)Mark Cromer
Michael Curran
November 22, 2004
  • Windows
    November 22, 2004
    July 11, 2005
    October 26, 2006
    January 23, 2007
    November 1, 2007
    February 11, 2008
    August 29, 2008
    September 28, 2010
    July 21, 2011
    Windows Phone
    April 11, 2012
Genre(s)Action-adventure, strategy

Sid Meier's Pirates! (also known as Sid Meier's Pirates!: Live the Life) is a 2004 strategy, action and adventure video game developed by Firaxis Games. A remake of Sid Meier's earlier 1987 game of the same name, it was originally published by Atari Interactive but in May 2005 2K Games announced they had acquired the rights to the title from Atari's parent company Infogrames and later went on to publish console and handheld ports of the game.[1]

Overall, the gameplay remains similar to the original game, though it features a 3D game engine (NDL's Gamebryo). Some elements such as sun sighting have been removed but other features have been added, such as a ballroom dancing mini-game and an improved turn-based land combat system.

The Microsoft Windows version of Pirates! was released on November 22, 2004, was also available through the online GameTap video game service before it was shut down. The Xbox version was released on July 11, 2005, and includes some multiplayer capabilities. The Xbox version was re-released on the Xbox Live Marketplace for the Xbox 360 as an Xbox Original on February 11, 2008, as the Xbox version is on the Xbox 360 backward compatibility list in North America and Europe. A version for the PlayStation Portable was released on January 23, 2007;[2] this new version features some modified gameplay mechanisms, and was developed by Full Fat in collaboration with Firaxis Games. The Mac OS X version of the game was released in August 2008 by Feral Interactive.[3] The Wii version was released on September 28, 2010.

A mobile version has been released by Oasys Mobile. The iPad version of the game was released on July 21, 2011. On April 20, 2012, a version for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch was released, published by 2K Games.[4] In addition, the game was ported over to the Windows Phone platform in early April 2012.


Pirates is separated into several mini-games requiring different skills, as well as an overall "sailing map" mode where the player navigates around the Caribbean, looking for things to do. Sailing technique, evasion (running from guards), naval gunnery, turn-based strategy, dancing with the governor's daughter,[5] fencing, and strategic planning are all skills needed to succeed in Pirates. During the game, players can acquire items and special crew members who make some mini-games less skill-dependent, but must also choose one of five different skills at the start, which the game will give them an advantage in.

Most controls are relegated to the nine keys of the number pad, and the game is completely playable using only the keyboard (numpad keys and enter), excluding the start menu and control screen. This is assisted by a visual representation of the keypad in the lower right corner of the screen, which also shows the function of each key at any given time. For example, during ship-to-ship combat, the "3", "7", and "1" keys on the numpad representation are shown with images of different cannonball types - these buttons are used to select different types of cannonballs to fire. The on-screen keypad can also be clicked with a mouse, performing the same function as the keyboard key would have performed. Though the mouse can be used for various commands, the keypad is the preferred input mechanism due to the game's mechanics.


The majority of the game is spent sailing from destination to destination around the Caribbean islands. To control their ship the player must use the number pad (or the directional arrows) on the keyboard. Mouse navigation is also possible, where clicking anywhere on the screen will send the ship sailing in that direction. During the sailing segment, the player navigates between areas of interest in the Caribbean, including colonies, cities, missions, pirate havens, and others. Wind conditions have an important effect on sailing, as winds tend to blow westwards (especially on lower difficulty levels) and as such speed up travels to the west while slowing down travel to the east. Clouds passing overhead indicate barometric depressions, and at the centers of these depressions are storms which cause powerful winds, usually assisting sailing in any direction but also posing a threat to any ship passing underneath the storm. Unlike previous versions of the game, the Caribbean is teeming with ships represented visually by their three-dimensional models. The player can spot these ships from a distance and even collect information about their mission, port of departure, destination, and nationality. This allows the player to hand-pick their targets, as well as actively pursue most ships if an attack is to be attempted. Unlike previous Pirates! games, however, enemy ships cannot force the player to fight, although they can bombard the player's ships en route to a destination and even sink some (but not all) of the player's ships if they bombard them long enough. Fortified cities which hold a particular grudge against the player (or whose controlling nation holds a substantial bounty over the player's head) may also open fire upon the player's fleet as it passes by. The player must also navigate around reefs and shoals, which cause hull damage to any ship which passes over them (but rarely sink ships, unlike in previous versions). Finally, if the player wishes, they may sail the ship onto the shoreline, allowing the crew to disembark and begin to march. This can be used when the player wishes to approach a hostile city without being fired upon, to attack a friendly city, or to travel on land seeking buried treasure, lost cities, or Montalban's hideout.

Trade and economy[edit]

During the course of the game, the player can acquire large amounts of resources from ships captured, including cannons, food, supplies, and trade goods. These goods have varying values around the Caribbean, and will shift in value over time, though most do not change much at any given time. Areas with many nearby pirate havens will pay more for cannons, isolated settlements will pay more for supplies, and may have very cheap local goods, such as spices, and so forth. This is offset by smaller villages having fewer tradeable goods and less gold than larger cities, which also will trade less under poor economic conditions and small population size (which the player can also help or hinder). Also, the player can repair or upgrade ships at particular ports. These repairs depend on the player's rank and standing in the cities' controlling government. As the player rises in rank, the repairs are cheaper, and eventually are done for free.

Naval battles[edit]

The player will encounter numerous ships while sailing, all of which can be attacked. The player must decide to start a battle, although enemy ships may open fire and begin a chase on the sailing map. The player also gets the option to switch flagships, controlling which ships will actually engage the enemy. Sailing ships in combat is handled much the same as sailing them on the main map. The player controls a single ship and must navigate it according to the prevailing winds, the ship's specific sailing strengths, and the player's goals during the battle. Several differences do apply, mostly the inability to sail directly into the wind with most ships (which is possible, albeit slowly, on the sailing map), as well as the lack of dynamic weather (no storms, although engaging while in a storm will provide storm conditions during the entire battle). Depending on the player's ship, the enemy's ship, and various other factors, a battle may have one or more desirable outcomes in addition to the sinking of the player's ship. The most common goal in ship-to-ship combat would be the capture of the enemy vessel, either by directly boarding it and carrying the deck, or by subduing the ship by cannon fire. An enemy ship will always surrender if it is dismasted (except escort ships, which never surrender) although it may also choose to surrender if faced with a powerful boarding party compared to its own crew or if very seriously damaged. Smaller ships are suited to the former strategy (quick boarding, with little cannon fire exchanged), though some are nimble enough to evade enemy fire and win by wearing down even the most powerful warships, whose large crew makes early boarding impractical. Larger ships, especially frigates, often are more suited to subduing the enemy ship through cannon fire, due to their powerful broadsides.

Another possible outcome may be the sinking of the enemy ship. After the enemy's hull has been hit enough, a shot will end up in the powder magazine, destroying the ship.

Much of the naval combat mini-game consists of attempting to outmaneuver the enemy, bringing the enemy vessel into cannon range while trying to stay out of the enemy's line of fire. The player may also attempt to board the enemy as quickly as possible to avoid harm to either ship. Wind direction and specific ship capabilities feature heavily into this. Some ships are adept at sailing at sharp angles to the wind direction, while others can only gain reasonable speed while sailing across or with the wind. Turning speed is also different between ship types, and so some ships can actually weave between cannonballs, while others turn very slowly and cannot make fancy maneuvers. There is great emphasis on knowing the particular strengths and weaknesses of one's ship, and the ability to gauge wind direction continuously and act accordingly.

Automatic aiming is also applied to the shot, which may (especially in lower difficulties) cause the cannonballs to be fired at a narrower angle to the ship's heading. This automatic aiming attempts to take into account the heading and speed of the enemy ship, and often will cause a more accurate hit, although it can also be detrimental, especially against quick enemies. Cannon facing the enemy are fired in volleys. After firing, the crew begins to reload, a task which takes a certain amount of time depending on the number of cannon, the number of crew, and several other factors. Volleys can be fired even when not all cannon have been loaded, as opposed to a broadside. The largest broadside possible (24 guns) is fired by a fully armed Ship of the Line, which mounts 48 guns in total. Such a volley is often wide enough to hit the enemy regardless of his attempts to maneuver out of the way. The player needs to take into account the enemy's heading and speed when firing, as cannonballs take some time to travel the distance between the two ships and therefore cannot be fired directly at the enemy's position unless the enemy is motionless or at extremely close range.

Another important tactical decision is the choice of shot types. Round shot is the default shot type, with upgrades providing grape shot and chain shot. Each type causes a different type of damage, and also has different ballistic capabilities. Round shot has the longest range of the three, and greatest speed. Upon impact, it has a great chance of damaging a ship's hull (potentially sinking the ship), and a smaller chance of destroying cannon, killing crew, or damaging the sails. Chain shot has a shorter range and flies at a slower speed in a high trajectory. Its impact is most likely to cause sail damage to the enemy ship, slowing it down or potentially dismasting it. Chain shot also has a small chance of killing enemy crew. Grape shot is very slow and has a short range, but upon impact it can kill large portions of the enemy crew, weakening the ship and slowing its reloading. Grape shot also has the potential of damaging enemy sails.

Ship capture and prizes[edit]

If a ship has surrendered, or its captain is defeated in combat, it is considered "captured." The player may now unload any gold and cargo from the ship, and may also add it to the player's fleet if there is room. If the ship's crew had a specialist, like a sailmaker or a cooper, these will be added automatically to the player's crew. Some of the captured ship's crew may also be inclined to join the player's ranks, especially if the player's crew morale is high. Captured enemy crews also may have news on various events of interest to the player.

It is also possible to sink (scuttle or burn) the captured ship, desirable if it has been damaged too severely to be towed quickly to port, if no friendly ports are near, or if the player has no interest in selling ships. Also, if the player's crew is very small or is already maintaining a large fleet, adding an extra ship may cause the whole fleet to become inefficient, slowing it down considerably on the sailing map.

Sword fighting[edit]

Several events in the game will trigger a sword fighting mini-game in which the player fences an opponent in one-on-one combat. These segments may or may not include crews fighting in the background, being affected by the progress of the battle as well.

Most often, sword fighting duels occur when two ships collide during naval combat. Sword fights can also break out during attacks on cities, particularly if the city has too few defenders to mount a battle outside the city gates, but also if the player manages to reach the town gates during such land battles without first having defeated the enemy force. During these two kinds of fights, the player's crew and the enemy crew will have an important influence on combat. Crew sizes and morale dictate which side is more likely to lose men during the conflict: as a leader loses men, the effectiveness of his combat moves is reduced.

Dueling also occurs when the player challenges an enemy. This often takes place in taverns, when the player challenges the captain of the guard, or when confronting a known criminal and attempting to bring him to justice. When the player woos a governor's daughter, she will eventually request him to defeat a jealous suitor in one-on-one combat. These duels occur without crew presence and as such are not subject to the effects of crew morale.

A duel is carried out with swords, although pistols can be acquired by the player to gain a starting advantage. During the duel, each combatant attempts to strike at his enemy without being struck. Each combatant can use one of three attacks: a low slash, a high chop, and a middle thrust. Each combatant can also defend against incoming blows with a dodge (against high chops), a jump (against low slashes), or a parry (against middle thrusts). When a blow "connects"—that is, the opponent fails to block with the right move—the struck duelist moves backwards. When one duelist reaches the "limit" of the fighting area, he loses the duel and either surrenders or is knocked out of the battle.

A red and white bar across the bottom of the screen indicates battle advantage. Where the red and white portions of the bar meet indicates which duelist has the advantage. The closer the meeting point is to a duelist, the worse he is faring. When the player properly performs a blocking move or strikes the enemy, the bar shifts towards the opponent, indicating that he has lost advantage. The duelist with more advantage can attack faster, while the duelist with less advantage attacks slower. Also, a failed attack has the chance of disorienting the attacker, causing him to become even slower for a short time, in addition to opening him up for an attack.

Another important combat move is the taunt. If this move is executed in full without the opponent striking, the opponent loses advantage.

When fighting on ships, several events can provide opportunity for an unconventional attack. These include buckets and gaffs lying around on the ship's deck, as well as ropes swinging overhead. When the player or the enemy is situated adjacent to such an item, executing the correct attack will use the item (kicking the bucket, swinging from the ropes, etc.). If such an attack is successful, it knocks the enemy back and causes more disadvantage to him than a normal strike.

Lastly, almost every fighting scene has a middle point that has a strong effect on combat. On a ship, this is the flight of stairs leading from the poop deck or forecastle onto the main deck. In a tavern, this is the balcony and the stairs leading up to it. If a combatant has been pushed all the way to the middle point, a cut scene will show the two combatants moving past the obstacle. On a ship, they run down or up the stairs. In a tavern, the enemy will be knocked down the gallery, and the player will jump down as well. This has the effect of giving time for the advantage bar to swing back to the neutral position, equalizing the fight somewhat during this cut scene.

Most importantly, each contestant in a duel will select his dueling sword out of three possible selections: the rapier, the cutlass and the longsword. The rapier is swiftest in attack but slow on defense. The cutlass is strong in defense, capable of quickly blocking or dodging out of harm's way, but is slow on the attack. The longsword lies in the middle, with average attack and defense. When playing on the lowest difficulty setting, the player cannot choose a sword but is automatically given a longsword. Several items can be acquired that enhance the player's fighting capabilities. In addition, selecting the "fencing" skill at the beginning of the game will allow the player faster performance.

As the character ages, his sword fighting capabilities will gradually decrease, causing him to become slower (less so if the user selected the fencing skill at the beginning of the game). This is one of the game's methods for ensuring that older characters are pressed into retirement. On higher difficulty levels, duels become impossibly fast after the character has reached a certain age.

Land warfare[edit]

Pirates! also has land battles in which the player fights battles in a turn-based system on a grid map, much like in Civilization. This occurs whenever the player assaults a well-defended city (80 or more soldiers in the city's garrison) or Montalban's hideout.

When beginning a land assault, the player is given several units. The exact number of units is determined by the proportion of the player's crew versus the size of the city's garrison. An overwhelming superiority for either side will give that side up to 10 units to command, while equally balanced fights will generally produce four or five units for each side.

Land combat is asymmetrical; the player possesses strong units that specialize in either close or ranged combat, while the enemy's units are equally capable in both but excelling in neither. The enemy also has exclusive access to cavalry, which is a specialized close combat unit that is extremely powerful when attacking open, flat terrain, but poor on the defense and on hills and in woods. Native Americans may join a city's defense, augmenting the local garrison. Natives deploy two types of units—one for close combat and one for ranged attacks. Neither are particularly powerful, but both can move quickly through woods.

Battle takes place outside the city, on a map with hills, forests, and plains. The player's force starts out in one of three selectable positions nearer the bottom of the map, while the enemy force begins closer to the top of the map, near the city gates. The goal of this minigame is either to defeat the enemy force altogether or to have one unit reach the city gates, after which a sword duel commences against the city's captain of the guard and all remaining defenders (or, in later versions, the city is captured immediately.) If the garrison initially has fewer than 80 soldiers, the battle immediately segues to the duel with the captain of the guard.

Combat is turn-based. During a side's turn, each of its units can move, attack, or fire ranged weapons. Most units can move up to two squares a turn or one through forests. Native Americans can move two squares through any terrain. Cavalry move three, giving them much higher mobility. Ranged units can move one square and then shoot or shoot first and end their turn. Units can also turn about using one movement point. Many factors determine the strength of a unit when attacking or defending, such as damage received from other units, flank attacks, combat in forests, and terrain height.

Units that are damaged in combat will lose morale, lowering their combat strength. When a unit drops below "panicked" morale, it is routed, fleeing from the field of battle. Some units will rout without reaching their lowest morale—this occurs when a unit is being attacked by a much stronger opponent, especially when flanked. If the number of enemy soldiers left to defend the city drops to 80 or lower during combat, it becomes possible for the city to be conquered for a different nationality.

Capturing cities[edit]

Successful land combat on the part of the player will yield a one-time ransom. The exact amount is determined by the city's wealth and population parameters. If the city's garrison drops below 100 during or before combat, successful land battles allow the player to change the city's government to that of a different nationality. This not only changes the political situation in the Caribbean, but also makes the new owning nation greatly pleased with the player, as well as any other countries who disliked the original owner, with whom the player's standing drops. The attack also has the effect of lowering the city's wealth rating.


Upon performing tasks favorable to one of the four nations in the game and thus being promoted enough, the player may be given the chance to dance with a governor's daughter at a ball. Dancing is done by following the daughter's hand signals (left, right, back, forward, spin left, spin right) and moving appropriately. Successful dancing is rewarded with 'amour' from the governor's daughters, as well as gifts or valuable information. The player becomes more nimble with the purchase of dancing shoes from the tavern merchant. When the daughter's 'amour' is high enough, she will request items such as a diamond necklace or ruby ring (purchased from the mysterious stranger at the tavern) or notify the hero that someone seeks to fight a duel over her. In the final step, the daughter is abducted, and the hero must track down the abductor aboard his ship and defeat him. Upon returning the daughter to her home city and the hero subsequently agreeing to marry her, the game will show a cutscene of the marriage, and the hero will gain bonus fame points. The more attractive the daughter (plain, attractive, beautiful), the more difficult the sequence of moves required during a dance, the higher the player's rank must be to be invited to the dance, and the more fame points she is worth upon marriage. The difficulty level selected also affects the complexity of the steps and introduces new and more demanding musical scores.


The player may be refused docking privileges at an enemy town. In these cases, the player is given the option to sneak into town. This is done by avoiding the town's guards who patrol the city and moving towards the tavern, or governor's mansion, which are pointed to by signs throughout the city. The player may run, walk, or climb over fences, and has hay bales to hide behind to avoid detection. The player may also sneak up behind guards and knock them unconscious, which risks discovery if they are discovered or they come to. If caught, the character is thrown into jail, where he must remain to serve a sentence of several months, bribe a guard, or attempt escape. Certain items can increase the chance of a player's escape.

Historical pirates[edit]

In the game, there are nine computer-controlled historical pirates, though many of them could not have existed at the same time, because they are based on pirates who are born variously in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Each bears his own unique flag and is present on the "top ten pirates" list with the player as the tenth. Each is also based in a particular Pirate Haven. Each time one is defeated, his plunder and ship are acquired. Part of the player's overall score is determined by how many of these pirates have been vanquished. The nine are Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet, Captain Kidd, Jean Lafitte, François l'Ollonais, Roc Brasiliano, Black Bart Roberts, and Jack Rackham (also known as "Calico Jack").

Each has a buried treasure, and portions of the treasure maps sometimes may be purchased in taverns. If a player digs up a pirate's treasure before defeating him, the pirate will act like a "Pirate Hunter" when the player comes into view. However, the ships they possess are not historically correct, as Blackbeard's ship "Queen Anne's Revenge" is controlled by Henry Morgan and other pirates in the game. This issue can be corrected for the computer version with the v1.01 patch.[6]


The critical reception for Sid Meier's Pirates! was generally positive. The PC release has an aggregate review score of 88 out of 100 on Metacritic.[7] Steve Butts of IGN highly praised the solid gameplay design that combines a large variety of activities and allows the player to choose one's own style of play. The reviewer also noted the attention to detail in both visuals and sound, and described the stylized look as adding life to the experience. However, he pointed out the repetitive nature of the gameplay over time, and some mechanics that feel inconsequential.[20] The Xbox port also was received favorably, with an aggregate review score of 80 out of 100 on Metacritic.[8] The PlayStation Portable release scored 82/100 on Metacritic.[33]

Computer Games Magazine named Pirates! the second-best computer game of 2004, behind World of Warcraft. The editors wrote, "It's like nothing else out there, and is as good today as it was in 1987."[34] The staff of X-Play nominated Pirates! for their 2004 "Best Strategy Game" award,[35] which ultimately went to Rome: Total War.[36] The editors of Computer Gaming World named Pirates! their 2004 "Arcade Classic of the Year", and nominated it for their overall "Game of the Year" award, which ultimately went to World of Warcraft. They hailed Pirates! as "the year's most purely entertaining single-player game".[37] It received a runner-up position in GameSpot's 2004 "Best Strategy Game" award category across all platforms, losing to Rome: Total War.[38]

The game sold more than 1.5 million units.[2]


  1. ^ Full Fat ported the game to the PlayStation Portable, Robosoft Technologies ported it to the Mac OS X, while Virtuos ported the game to the Wii.


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  3. ^ "Sid Meier's Pirates! for Mac Feral Interactive".
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  8. ^ a b "Sid Meier's Pirates! for Xbox Reviews - Metacritic". Metacritic. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
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  18. ^ Matt Peckham (January 31, 2007). "Sid Meier's Pirates! for PSP Review -". 1UP. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  19. ^ Greg Ford (July 11, 2005). "Sid Meier's Pirates! for Xbox Review -". 1UP. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  20. ^ a b Steve Butts (November 19, 2004). "Sid Meier's Pirates! - PC Review at IGN". IGN. Archived from the original on November 20, 2004. Retrieved 2011-07-12.
  21. ^ Douglass C. Perry (July 8, 2005). "Sid Meier's Pirates! - IGN". IGN. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  22. ^ Chris Roper (January 22, 2007). "Sid Meier's Pirates! Live the Life - IGN". IGN. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  23. ^ Anthony Gallegos (July 29, 2011). "Sid Meier's Pirates! - IGN". IGN. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
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  27. ^ Carolyn Petit (October 12, 2010). "Sid Meier's Pirates! for Wii Review on GameSpot". GameSpot. Archived from the original on October 23, 2010. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  28. ^ Dave Kosak (December 1, 2004). "GameSpy: Sid Meier's Pirates! Live the Life - Page 1". GameSpy. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  29. ^ Eduardo Vasconcellos (July 13, 2005). "GameSpy: Sid Meier's Pirates! Live the Life - Page 1". GameSpy. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  30. ^ Kieron Gillen (June 12, 2004). "Sid Meier's Pirates! PC Review • Eurogamer.net1". Eurogamer. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  31. ^ Tom Bramwell (August 2, 2005). "Sid Meier's Pirates! Xbox Review • Page 2 • Eurogamer.net1". Eurogamer. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  32. ^ Simon Parkin (January 8, 2007). "Sid Meier's Pirates! PSP Review • Eurogamer.net1". Eurogamer. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  33. ^ "Sid Meier's Pirates!". Metacritic.
  34. ^ Staff (March 2005). "The Best of 2004; The 14th Annual Computer Games Awards". Computer Games Magazine (172): 48–56.
  35. ^ X-Play Staff (January 18, 2005). "X-Play's Best of 2004 Nominees". X-Play. Archived from the original on November 7, 2005.
  36. ^ X-Play Staff (January 27, 2005). "X-Play's Best of 2004 Winners Announced!". X-Play. Archived from the original on March 15, 2005.
  37. ^ Editors of CGW (March 2005). "2004 Games of the Year". Computer Gaming World. No. 249. pp. 56–67.
  38. ^ "Best and Worst of 2004". GameSpot. January 5, 2005. Archived from the original on March 7, 2005.

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