Video games and piracy are a combination that is often a major source of contention – but not the swashbuckling sort of piracy we’re exploring today. The Golden Age of Piracy on the high seas has long been romanticised in popular culture, with characters including Captain Hook and Long John Silver achieving mainstream status through their appearances in the novels (and later films) Peter Pan and Treasure Island, respectively.
Naturally, with such a wealth of both genuine and imagined history, pirates have long been considered by video game developers for inclusion in their works. From independent text-based adventures to triple-A blockbusters, buccaneers have appeared in a plethora of gaming franchises. Today, we’re taking a look at the greatest pirate-themed games of all time.
The Secret of Monkey Island (PC, 1990)
Considered by many to be the seminal graphic adventure title, Lucasfilm Games’ The Secret of Monkey Island was released back in 1990 for the PC. Co-designed by iconic game designer Tim Schafer, who went on to revolutionise the genre with his helming of Grim Fandango and Full Throttle, Monkey Island is set amidst a fantastical version of the Carribean age of piracy.
Players assume the role of aspiring pirate Guybrush Threepwood in the 2D point-and-click game, in which they find themselves on a group of mysterious islands in search of their destiny. Players must carry out a number of plundering trials set by the archipelago’s pirate leaders, which translates into some of the most engaging and influential puzzle-solving gameplay in history.
The Secret of Monkey Island has gone on to inspire a number of subsequent titles over the years. Its influence is clear in the Pirate Plunder online slot game, in which players can play for real money. The Playtech-developed title features a cartoony aesthetic and humorous tone which seems to pay tribute to Monkey Island. Elsewhere, comparisons can inevitably be made between the series and Naughty Dog’s acclaimed Uncharted series. The franchise’s most recent entry, A Thief’s End, even included a shout-out to Threepwood in the form of an in-game Easter egg.
Sid Meier’s Pirates! (Commodore 64, 1987)
Game designer Sid Meier is perhaps best known these days for his enduring Civilization turn-based strategy series, but the Canadian’s breakthrough title came with the release of Sid Meier’s Pirates! for the Commodore 64 back in 1987. Unlike many other piracy-themed titles, Sid Meier’s effort allowed players through their in-game choices to spurn the high life altogether, instead offering them the opportunity to become a pirate hunter or privateer.
Pirates! is an action-adventure game at its heart, but as with the majority of Meier-developed titles, also contains a heavy strategic element. Players must think logically when determining how to divvy up their ill-gotten gains, while the title’s land and sea-based warfare also involves gameplay more typically associated with strategy titles.
An open-world game with a focus on player agency like no other title that had come before it, Pirates! is considered to be one of the most influential titles of the 1980s, and laid an incredible foundation on which Meier would go on to build his later success.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (Multi, 2013)
To this day, 2013’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is considered by many to be the best entry in Ubisoft’s long-running historical action-adventure series. Set in the 18th century, it has the player assume the role of Edward Kenny, who has turned to piracy having previously been a British privateer. The title, the first in the series to be released on current-gen consoles, was praised for putting a greater emphasis on open-world exploration than previous AC entries, with a variety of island locations available for users to adventure in.
Black Flag is also more historically accurate than other entries in this list, with its narrative heavily focusing on the 18th-century conflict between the British and Spanish, and the attempted establishment of a Republic of Pirates.
The game was one of the best-selling titles of 2013; it has gone on to sell over 11 million copies worldwide.
Yarr, me hearties. Can you think of any better pirate-themed video games out there? Let us know in the comments below or on social media for your fill of the booty.