Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004) Review

Screenshot from Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004)
Often it's not the biggest ship that wins the fight, but the fastest

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Firaxis
  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Release Date: 22 Nov 2004
  • Time played: 8.5 hours

What is it

The original Sid Meier's Pirates! came out more than three decades ago, back in 1987. I never got to play this game but it was apparently quite a departure from the combat vehicle simulations Microprose was renowned for at that point in time. The game was critically acclaimed and so was its 1993 remake Pirates! Gold. After Microprose merged with Spectrum Holobyte in 1993 and staff cuts in 1996, Sid Meier, Brian Reynolds and Jeffery Briggs left Microprose to form a new company called Firaxis. Firaxis would continue to develop the Civilization games that Sid Meier is most famous for but in 2004, they released another remake to Sid Meier's Pirates!. The 2004 remake, like its predecessors, was generally well received by critics with a Metascore of 88 for the PC version. The game also has a "Very Positive" rating on Steam with 93% of the 2,172 Steam User Reviews being positive.

In Sid Meier's Pirates! you play the role of an individual who signs on as a crew member for a ship heading to the New World with the goal of finding your kidnapped family. Along the way, you end up starting a mutiny and are ultimately successful in taking control of the vessel. From then on, you can choose what you want to do as it's very much an open world game: you can decide to earn money from trading goods or try your hand as a privateer. You can also hunt down notorious pirates, search for treasure and dance with governors' daughters. It's really up to you but the more you achieve, the higher your Fame score which will become important once you retire, and you will want to retire eventually since the older your character becomes, the more difficult things such as sword fighting will be due to deteriorating reflexes.

How I got it

I actually still own my retail copy of Sid Meier's Pirates! but since the game is one of my favourite pirate games of all time (next to the Monkey Island games), I had to secure myself a digital copy of the game on Steam in 2011 (along with other old classics like Streets of Rage and the Broken Sword Trilogy – guess I was feeling nostalgic).

Screenshot from Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004)
You can do almost anything in Sid Meier's Pirates! even plundering ancient Incan ruins

What I like:


Finishing the game will provide you an epilogue or career summary screen listing all of your achievements during your career as well as what happens to you during retirement (in terms of what profession you hold, where you end up living and whether you're married or not). I'm a real sucker for good epilogues and despite it being pretty simple in Sid Meier's Pirates! (it's just one screen) it brings your character's story to a satisfactory close.


I guess to save on the number of audio files used, everybody in the world of Sid Meier's Pirates! seems to speak the same language which sounds a lot like "Simlish" from The Sims (so it sounds like gibberish, more or less). Some of the words the characters utter are especially funny like when the bartender says "TESSSSST????" (which I'm sure wasn't the voice actor simply checking to see if the microphone was turned on 😉)


I love what Mark Cromer, Michael Curran and Roger Briggs has done with this soundtrack as it employs variations of a few themes to great effect. For example, when visiting a prosperous English port, you'll hear an upbeat rendition of "The British Grenadiers" but if you visit the same port when it's poor, you'll instead hear a despairing version of the same tune in a minor key.

Open world game that's fun

Often when I play open world games, 90% of the game (i.e. the side quests) feels like drudgery. Consequently, after a certain number of hours invested, I get bored and end up solely focusing on the main storyline; I've never felt this way with Sid Meier's Pirates! and I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe because there aren't that many side quests to complete and it doesn't actually take that long to complete them (the game's main storyline and a majority of the side quests can be completed in under 9 hours) or maybe because the game's side quests offer quite a bit of variety (e.g. courting governors' daughters through dance mini-games, defeating pirates in combat and searching for buried treasure to name a few).


It's probably pretty rare for anyone to say they like "ageing" but as a gameplay mechanic, it works pretty well, and it's a mechanic you don't often see in other games. Unlike other games where time has no impact on your character's skill and endurance, it does in this game. So, despite the fact you technically can play the game as long as you want, you'll find some of the mini-games (e.g. sword fighting) much more challenging as you get older. Consequently, you've got to realise when the right time to retire is and it also means you have to place priorities on performing certain achievements before others.

There's nothing really quite like it

There really aren't many games that I've come across that are similar to Sid Meier's Pirates!, which is a shame. Some come close (including Assassin's Creed IV which I've played over the past couple of months) but it seems to have enough nods to the real Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy to satisfy history buffs yet be accessible and casual enough for just about anyone to enjoy.

Screenshot from Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004)
The game is over a decade old and it shows

What I dislike:

Lack of Steam Achievements and Trading Cards

The game is pretty old so it's probably no surprise that there's no love in the Steam Achievements and Trading Cards department.

Dated graphics

While the graphics are passable for anyone who has played games back in the early 2000s, they are definitely starting to show their age. Low-res textures, basic lighting effects and the inability to run the game at my monitor's native resolution are just a few reasons the game needs a facelift.

Score – 8/10 (Recommended)

If you want an immersive pirate adventure that doesn't take itself too seriously and is chock-full of mini-games Sid Meier's Pirates! is the game for you. Yes, the game is starting to show its age so maybe it's again due for a remake but I really can't fault the gameplay and the game remains my favourite game about pirates, except for the The Secret of Monkey Island of course 😉.

Is the game worth $14.95 AUD?: Yes. No two games are going to be entirely the same and despite it showing its age, the game doesn't really have much in the way of competition. If you can get it on sale (like it is now for 75% off on Steam), it's a steal.

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[ LINK: Official Sid Meier's Pirates! Website ]