Pirates are back, and I for one, am pretty happy about it. The enduring appeal of these seafaring scalawags means it’s never too long before a new pirate-themed game comes around. It stands to reason: there’s really nothing quite like the freedom and independence that comes from taking to the high seas with a ship, crew, and the heart of a scoundrel.
And so we’re once again seeing a raft of new pirate-themed AAA releases, starting with the eagerly awaited (and incredibly fun-looking) multiplayer co-op Sea of Thieves. Then, next year, Ubisoft’s seafaring warfare sim Skull and Bones will sail over the horizon, bringing competitive naval combat to the masses.
Want to celebrate the return of everyone’s favorite lovable rogues by taking a look at the best pirating games in history? Of course, you do.
6. Age of Booty (PC, XBLA, PSN, iOS)
If real-time multiplayer ship battles where you can team up with your friends to pummel enemy vessel into submission is the sort of thing that floats your boat (no more of that, I promise), then Age of Booty is a pretty strong choice.
The colorful visual style emphasizes a fun, light hearted take on the setting, and makes for a charming game to spend time with. There’s also a simple but neat little progression system which cleverly keeps rewarding you just enough to keep you craving to one more game. There’s a single player campaign too, but it's nothing to write home about: this game’s true strengths lie in its ability to throw you into the mix with a bunch of other players and get those cannon balls flying.
5. Risen 2: Dark Waters (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Last console generation, Developer Piranha Bytes threw aside the generic fantasy of their previous game, Risen, and took the action to the high seas for its sequel. And the piratey-feel of Risen 2: Dark Waters is its major strength. Probably the truest example of a pirate RPG we’ve ever gotten, the game’s fantastically realized world captures the feel of the golden age of pirates, with its gorgeous vistas, secret paradise islands and fabulous stretches of clear open water. And with the copious amounts of thieving, swashbuckling, and of course, drunkenness on offer, you really end up feeling like a proper pirate.
The game is far from perfect, of course, with the bumbling, ponderous combat a particularly big problem, along with the fact that it released more riddled with bugs than a barrelful of ships biscuits. It’s a little dour too, lacking in the sort of high-spirited, knockabout fun that most of the other games in this list employ. Still, for those hankering for a truly pirate-flavored single player RPG experience, it might be worth overlooking those shortcomings.
4. Lego Pirates of The Caribbean (Wii, 3DS, PSP, PC, OS X, X360, PS3)
Whether you’re a fan of the films or not (and may I say, after the steep decline in quality they suffered after the second movie, you probably shouldn’t be) they’re certainly tailor made for the Lego treatment.
In what is a notably strong Lego outing (and undoubtedly the best game using the POTC license) developer Traveller’s Tales’ usual confidence and verve is in full swing. The game’s cheeky interpretation of the characters is great, along with the simple-but-satisfying puzzle solving and, characteristically, more collectibles than you can shake a tiny plastic cutlass at.
If you can’t extract any joy from the Lego games, well, I suppose I can’t help you. But I’d take the Lego version of Captain Jack Sparrow over Depp’s increasingly hackneyed portrayal any day of the week.
3. Sid Meier’s Pirates! (PC, NES, XBLA, PSN, Wii, PSP, iOS)
1987 – 2012
That exclamation mark isn’t just for show, you know. Development legend Sid Meier’s perennially re-released, reimagined and remastered classic is all about living the pirate life and living it to its fullest. And there are certainly plenty of pirating activities to have a go at real time sea battles, turn based land battles, sword fighting, and even dancing are all represented here.
Yes, it's packed larger-than-life joviality, but in a sort of tragic nod to the inevitability of growing older, the longer you spend on the seven seas, the wearier you become, until the point where you’ll end up too jaded to be able to save your family in the end. How terribly sad.
2. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U)
For me, the last great Assassin’s Creed game, Black Flag is a triumph on two fronts. For one, it’s the current pinnacle of a truly superlative series. But it’s also probably the most realistic (and definitely the most realistic looking) simulation of pirating life ever committed to code.
The world, certainly, is both richer and larger in scope than any pirate-themed game that has come before, with the designers making the most of the opportunity to insert as much pirate themed lore into a game about stabbing important people as they could. As a result, busy trading ports, beautiful wildlife-filled islands and, of course, the boundless allure of the watery horizon are all lovingly crafted.
Aside from all the combat and exploration (and murder, obviously), you’d expect from an Assassin’s Creed game; there’s also some very well executed naval warfare. This aspect of the game was deemed so successful that Ubisoft’s upcoming standalone spin off, Skull and Bones, strips away the Assassin’s Creed part entirely, leaving only the ship battles. Let’s hope that’s enough to keep people interested.
1. Monkey Island Series (PC, PSN, XBLA, iOS)
1990 – 2009
A piratical list of the best games ever could never be complete without mentioning these utter classics. Standing out even in that golden age of point-and-click adventures in the early nineties as the pinnacle of the genre even then, this series is one of the greatest in gaming history and holds up even now. A testament to the quality of their original design, and of course, the class is shown in their recent remastering.
So what’s so great about the Monkey Island games? Well, there’s magic here, a certain indefinable something. Perhaps it’s the expert way the pirate backdrop is blended with comedic sensibilities, something that hadn’t been done too much before, but suddenly felt like a marriage made in heaven. Maybe it’s the memorable characters, a cast of eccentrics who feel like good friends you love spending time with. Or what about the locations, beautifully crafted areas so incredibly rich in atmosphere they feel somehow real, in spite of their cartoon aesthetic? Or maybe it’s the fiendish puzzles, tricky enough to elicit that delicious rush of endorphins whenever something clicks into place? Surely the humor has something to do with it. These games are amazingly, consistently funny — something that is sadly as rare in games now as it was back then.atmosphere they feel somehow real, in spite of their cartoon aesthetic? Or maybe it’s the fiendish puzzles, tricky enough to elicit that delicious rush of endorphins whenever something clicks into place? Surely the humor has something to do with it. These games are amazingly, consistently funny — something that is sadly as rare in games now as it was back then.
If you’ve never ventured to Monkey Island, now’s a great time, with the original two games available in a remastered state, and the (less great but still very playable) Tales From Monkey Island series out there too. Just know that the game many believe to be the best in the series (and my personal favorite), The Curse of Monkey Island, is easily the hardest to get hold of now. The fact that game isn’t readily available to a new generation is one of the most miserable (and baffling) travesties in gaming.
Which is your favorite pirate themed game? Did we miss any classics? Are you excited for the upcoming Sea of Thieves? Let us know in the comments!
Andy is a freelance writer for Game With Your Brain. You can follow him on Twitter.