Sid Meier’s Pirates! Review for the PlayStation Portable (PSP)

Sid Meier’s Pirates! Review for the PlayStation Portable (PSP)

Sid Meier’s Pirates! Review

System: PSP Review Rating Legend
Dev: 2K Games 1.0 – 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 – 4.4 = Great
Pub: Full Fat 2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Jan.22, 2007 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 – 4 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: E 10+ 3.5 – 3.9 = Good

A Pirate’s Life for Me

by Jonathan Marx

Man the bridge ye scallywags and prepare for fightin’, ole Sid has released Pirates! upon your PSP.

Sid Meier’s Pirates! will have you sailing the seas, cruising for adventure, romancing the ladies, and terrorizing colonial empires all from the comfort of your favorite armchair. That’s right, the remake of Sid Meier’s classic adventure strategy game is no longer confined to your PC or Xbox. The best part is that all of the charm and addictive gameplay is wholly intact. The PSP version has some distinct differences from the PC version that make it much more arcade-like and, in fact, is more similar to that of the Xbox, but the pick-up-and-play-anywhere facet of the handheld is a welcomed feature that tops both iterations.

Sid Meier's Pirates! screenshot

If you’ve never played Pirates! in the past, now is a good time to do so. The basic concept of the game is to immerse the player in the buccaneer-filled world of the 17th century Caribbean. Through cunning, charm, and sheer viciousness, you will find yourself the leader of a surly lot of pirate brigands allowed to run roughshod along the entirety of the Spanish Main at the behest of competing colonial powers. The cunning gamer will pit these European empires against each other on their way to acquiring a vast fortune in gold, lands, and titles. Indeed, it is quite possible to be both a lord and a scoundrel.

The characters in this game are of no real consequence. The story is a bit of a second thought but it goes something like this. You are a strapping young tramp from Europe who was forcefully separated from his family as a lad by the evil Marquis de la Montalban after your father squandered the family riches on a botched trading voyage to the New World. Upon reaching maturity, you become determined to reunite your family and regain your fortune. It’s probably a bit too righteous of a cause for an aspiring pirate, but suspend your disbelief. In any case, the clues all point to the New World and after leading a mutiny aboard the crossing vessel your pirating career begins.

Sid Meier's Pirates! screenshot

Sid Meier’s Pirates! is a very open world. There is an overarching storyline which keeps you on track and creates a sense of accomplishment by having you complete goals which further the story. However, one could conceivably never complete any of the missions and still have loads of fun sailing from harbor to harbor as a merchant or from battle to battle as a pirate. You can think of Pirates! as a kind of G.T.A.rrrrrgh! There are abundant tasks and mini-games to keep you entertained. You can dance with the various governors’ daughters in an attempt to spark a romance. You can end the sordid careers of notorious Caribbean pirates, or hit them where it hurts by collecting map fragments and uncovering their buried treasures. You can even concentrate on politics and help make a weak colonial power a mighty one by sacking rival outposts and cities with your pirate army or sinking the new governor’s ship before he arrives at his destination. You can turn the tides of war by waylaying helpless troop transports at sea or by thieving the military payroll. You can even choke off a town’s economic prosperity by sinking a ship full of unfortunate immigrants. Welcome to the New World, shark bait! The opportunities for adventure and fun are limitless and every decision you make will have an impact on the game world.

The graphics on the PSP are great. Everything looks crisp and rich though very small. The environments are lush and detailed. You will find yourself transported into the game. Additionally, the authentic feel is maintained by the music and the sound effects. As you pass Indian villages and Dutch trading posts, distinctive music will play giving an added layer of depth to the setting. Sound effects are also really nice. The occasional shouts from your lookout as land approaches, or the crash of lightning and the downpour of rain from passing tropical storms, to the thundering report of cannon fire between battling ships. All of these elements are expertly coordinated and plunge the gamer into a world of high seas exploits and adventure.

Sid Meier's Pirates! screenshot

There are some aspects of the game that could use revision, however. The story is weak. It does not lend itself to replayability. I think multiple stories are a must and could easily be done through a character creator that allowed you to choose your pirate’s bent. For example, I don’t really want to always be the suave, debonair, charming, good-looking rogue seeking to reunite his long lost family to which the game now confines you. I would love to be a greasy, filthy, rum-drinking, no-good, bearded, ruthless, toothless pirate king. You know the kind of malevolent soul that wears an eye patch, has a hook, a peg-leg, and a parrot that squawks at the swabbies as he issues impossible orders. That’s what I want. It would also be great if they made being a merchant more accessible. I would love to be able to establish a trading network and get rich through legal exploits. Alas, it is not really possible as demand is not very well incorporated into the prices for goods, and the land-based merchants have such limited amounts of gold that trading for a living becomes tiresome. Also, the arcade-like feel of the game makes it very accessible but very repetitive. Sword fights are an absolute joke. One can literally continuously mash the X button and win 100% of the duels; this holds true even at the hardest difficulty settings. Dancing with the ladies is also far too easy now. Dancing in the PC version of Pirates! made you want to pull your hair out but the PSP version is so simplistic that really it is devoid of any challenge.

Sid Meier's Pirates! screenshot

Multiplayer in the game is also pretty weak. The multiplayer mode is made up of simple PvP ship battles. You can choose from various settings and each player can choose their preferred vessel with which to do battle. It’s not that fun, especially due to the fact that I’ve never found anyone in the lobby with whom to play. I’ve always had to settle for playing the multiplayer game against computer generated foes which, of course, is not particularly exciting.

Sid Meier’s Pirates! is a very fun and well-crafted game. It will make a welcomed addition to your scant PSP library. You will find hours of fun in this title and will come back to it every now and again, as is the case with all Sid Meier’s productions. The complexity of the game may not be quite where it needs to be, but all in all this is a solid title that will transport you to world full of adventure.

By Jonathan Marx
CCC Freelance Writer


  • Wireless Multiplayer – Up to four players can play simultaneously using the Wi-Fi capabilities of the PSP system, each with their own dedicated screen. Additional multi-player maps, some of them much larger than those seen on Xbox, have also been added.
  • Treasure Hunt – The treasure hunt feature removed in the Xbox version has been re-introduced into the game. There are around 20 unique locations that the player will have to navigate around to collect pirate treasure, find lost relatives, and discover Incan cities.
  • Accessible User Interface – The menus and user interface are optimized for use on a portable device. The widescreen display is fully utilized and the controls available on the unit are used to their maximum potential. Navigating is smooth; the player won’t miss their mouse at all!
  • Stealth/Sneaking – Using a 3D tile-based environment, players move one square at a time around a large grid of buildings to hide for cover and fight with guards in the town.
  • Land and Sea Battles – The player fights in the same grid/turn based fashion as the PC/Xbox. Engage in fierce naval battles, against both single vessels and multi-ship convoys. Harrowing action sequences on ship decks include swinging from yard arms, slashing down sails, and clobbering enemy crew as players make their way to the enemy captain.

    Rating out of 5 Rating Description


    Clean and detailed but very, very small.


    The PSP’s little analog stick will drive you nuts when the wind blows too hard.


    Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
    The music and sound effects truly add to the feel and atmosphere of the game.


    Play Value
    There’s an awful lot to do here and it’s very fun.


    Overall Rating Great
    Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
  • Screenshots / Images


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