Whichever route you take, two things will keep your attention. Firstly, Pirates has real charm; the sort of charm that has you forgiving a game’s faults, glossing over its inadequacies, and finding new reasons to love it all the time. It’s partly all that swashbuckling, and partly the rip-roaring music and little humorous touches that remind you of every pirate movie you ever saw as a kid. It’s also partly the graphics, which are a mite stripped back and cartoony, but which do more with simple lines and bright colours than some other games can muster with their best pixel shaders on parade.
But I suspect the real trick is that Pirates is like most Sid Meier games – even when the gameplay is actually quite simple there’s something fiendishly addictive in the central mechanic. You’ve only just completed one self-imposed objective when another comes to mind. There’s always one more treasure to find, one more family member to save, one more fair maid to woo or one more villain to defeat. Admittedly, Pirates is no Civilization, and it’s unlikely this hold will last forever – despite difficulty levels that ramp up to keep the game a challenge, there just isn’t enough game here to keep you playing for months. But this is the sort of game you’ll play for weeks, then leave for a while, then rediscover in another year’s time. Above all else, Pirates is a superb game to wile away the hours with during what’s left of the British summer. After all, you could always get hot, sweaty and frustrated with Ninja Gaiden, Halo 2 or the latest hardcore action title, but why go to all that effort when you could just take things easy in the Carribean?
Pirates isn’t perfect – the mini-games are simplistic, and life on the high seas is repetitive – yet it still delivers hours of addictive, entertaining play. The summer’s most enjoyable chill-out game.