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Critical Reception: Firaxis/2K Games' Sid Meier's Pirates!

This week's Critical Reception, a regular column that looks at how the gaming press has received a particularly notable recently released game, focuses on the newly relea...
This week's Critical Reception, a regular column that looks at how the gaming press has received a particularly notable recently released game, focuses on the newly released Xbox conversion of the Firaxis-developed strategy title Sid Meier's Pirates! Sid Meier's Pirates! is a remake of the classic 1987 PC and Amiga game developed by Meier while at seminal developer Microprose, and updates the game's formula with what GameSpot's Jason Ocampo described as "an intoxicating blend of action, strategy, role-playing, and pure fun" in his November 2004 review of the PC SKU of the game. With the PC version of Pirates! scoring an average rating of 88% with reviewers, according to review aggregation site GameTab, a relatively technologically straightforward Xbox conversion must have seemed like a natural step to Firaxis. A switch of publisher, from Atari to Take-Two/2K Games, along the way didn't seem to affect the final result, with GameTab noting an average score of 86% for the Xbox version of Pirates!, released on July 11th. As for why the game is worth getting excited about, as good a place to start as any is Jason Ocampo, again reviewing the game for GameSpot, and he explains the title's allure succinctly: "This open-ended strategy game lets you live the glorious life of a swashbuckler your own way. You can pursue the career of a privateer, a treasure hunter, an explorer, or a trader. More often than not, you'll dabble in all those fields at the same time." In other words, a smorgasboard of piratical sandbox fun, largely irresistable to the cutlass-happy game reviewer of today. But what of the actual gameplay? The title's blend of ship-to-ship real-time combat action with a large variety of diverse mini-games seem to agree with the majority of those rating it - GameSpy's Eduardo Vasconcellos comments that: "Considering the sizeable number of different genres packed into one tiny disk, Firaxis has done a great job of gelling everything together. It's a game that you can pick up and play for 20 minutes, or keep hammering on for several hours at a time." But there are some quibbles on a couple of fronts. For one, at least one reviewer has issues with the mini-games' playability in the longer term. Yahoo Games' Chris Hudak rates this part in a lukewarm fashion, suggesting: "In fact, Pirates! is awash in mini-games -- none particularly deep, none particularly wretched." GameSpy's Vasconcellos bemoans the fact that "...after a while, things become a routine." But conversely, IGN's Douglass C. Perry looks more positively on this facet of the game, arguing: "Each [mini-game] is rough around the edges, but they're all more than competent, and some are surprisingly good." Another factor looked at closely is the necessary feature changes to take a keyboard and mouse-based PC game over to the console. GameSpot's Ocampo comments of the conversion: "For the most part, the Xbox version is faithful to [the PC version], though it does have a fair bit of give and take." But a new map overview feature for the Xbox is praised by many, as is a party game-styled multiplayer mode that GameSpy's Vasconcellos calls "basically a destruction derby between the ships." Conclusions? 1UP's Greg Ford ends on a high note, rhapsodizing: "For a few weeks, Pirates! reached full-fledged addiction status for me, complete with numerous lost hours and mutterings of "just one more mission." A fine summer fling indeed." Even with mini-game replayability and PC to Xbox conversion intricacies, it seems that Meier has come up trumps with the reviewers yet again, although it's as yet unclear whether the title's performance in the currently competitive chart scene will reflect the high ratings.

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