Sid Meier probably didn't have a whole lot to do with it (hint: Firaxis bought the rights to Civilization from Atari for $15 million), but Sid Meier's Pirates!: Live the Life is just as good as the original ever was. In fact, if you've played the first game, you'll be perfectly at home with this one.
Pirates casts the player in the role of a young man who's lost his family to the evil Marquis Montalban and his equally evil side-kick, Baron Raymondo. If you wish, however, you can completely ignore the storyline and simply go on pirating, trading and sacking towns. There are changes to the gameplay, but nothing overly dramatic. Firaxis merely brought the game up to date, rather than re-working the whole idea.
The action continues from a third-person isometric perspective, similar to Diablo. The game is similar in artistic style to WarCraft III or World of WarCraft, emphasizing simple yet attractive cartoon-style graphics. It's not cel-shaded, but does make use of pixel shaders for water effects, though little else.
Pirates forces the player to start on the easiest difficulty level in the easiest period the first time around, but after completing that game, you can switch to any difficulty and any time period. Sadly, the original 1560: The Silver Age setting has been removed.
The game map is now fully 3D with other ships visible on the screen from a considerable distance, and there is also a full map of the Caribbean, and of course the treasure maps. On the world map, the player can sail via mouse controls or the keypad. Interestingly enough, all ships seem to have schedules and routes, and there appears to be at least rudimentary AI controlling the "needs" of the towns and cities under the AI's control. It will send of smugglers to trade with enemies it is at war with, invasion fleets to attack enemy towns, raiders to wreak havoc on enemy shipping and colonist ships from Jesuit settlements to bring up the population.
Following the footsteps of the first Pirates game, this modern adaptation pits English, Spanish, Dutch and French nations against each other in the Caribbean. In addition, there are now pirate settlements spread around, just in case the player decides to go truly hardcore and declare war on all four nationalities. These pirate settlements are usually host to one of nine other famous pirates, all based on historical figures. It is possible - and indeed encouraged - to hunt these rival pirates down in order to improve your own standing on the Top 10 Pirates listing. Not to mention the fact that these swashbucklers are typically floating around with holds full of gold.