Pirates of the Caribbean
You can almost hear the sound of players running at top speed in fear of their lives at the thought of another movie tie-in masquerading as a PC game. But relax, people, apart from a tenuous plot tie-in, the two are related in name only.
Pirates Of The Caribbean (or Sea Dogs 2 as it was more commonly known until Ubi Soft decided they could make more money by changing the title), is an RPG which plays by its own rules, unhindered by any links to the movie of the same name. It's brought to us by Bethesda, the developer behind Morrowind. But while The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was remarkable for its groundbreaking construction set, Pirates will make waves for a different reason - namely its gobsmacking visuals. With such a stupendous engine at play, even the land and sea combat - which are fairly basic -become enjoyable thanks to some great effects and explosions. Both first and third-person views are supported, though in first-person the camera has an annoying habit of randomly jumping back into third-person view.
Back to the story: things kick off right away when an English colony is taken over by the French. The governor of a nearby island sends you off to get to the bottom of it, thus pitting you head-to-head with our garlic-munching friends from across the water. While all this isn't the most compelling plot we've ever seen, there's enough to keep you wanting to know what's going to happen next.
General gameplay is a mixed bag, with a host of role-playing elements which see you gaining experience and attaining ever higher levels through quests, combat, trading, crew management and a choice of skills and abilities. But sadly these aren't nearly as varied as you'd like them to be, and feel thoroughly underdeveloped.
Thankfully, the open-ended gameplay, combined with some of the best RPG graphics ever, make Pirates Of The Caribbean an enjoyable experience, if hardly an essential one.
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Most gamers probably won't make it eight hours into this nautical Arr-PG before tossing it overboard--two hours max for anyone lured in by the slapped-on movie license. Why? After a pathetic "tutorial," Pirates hurls you into an ocean of confusing menus, frustrating battles, jittery camera movement, and more bugs than a beehive. But, as with Bethesda's medieval RPG Morrowind (on which this game is heavily based), Pirates offers unique game-play freedom as a reward to those dedicated enough to play through the pain. Exciting options abound in how you choose to build up your character (gutsy swordsman, expert seaman, or shrewd trader?), shape your reputation (hero or rogue?), choose and solve missions (plunder towns, explore dungeons, or bother with the main quest?), and more. And yes, the controls and interface are terrible, but as your characters gain skills and you learn tricks for avoiding the game's rough edges, they become bearable. Like sunken treasure, hidden within Pirates' choppy seas is a decent game only those with plenty of time and patience will ever discover.
My Pirates experience was far from swashbuckling--this is one of the most wildly inconsistent games I've ever played. Ship combat is a beast to master and only becomes something less than frustrating once you've upped your skills and amassed an armada (but even then it's still tedious). And I spent hours at a stretch not really sure where to go or what to do, only to--shiver me timbers!-- suddenly have a dozen plot points and subquests hit me at once. It was just enough to keep my interest afloat despite so much of this game being barely shipshape.
The complex plot, deep customization, and copious subquests can't save this shipwreck. It's like Morrowind, minus the best part--exploration. Here, you spend too much time running errands between a handful of tiny islands. The gameplay simply isn't fun: Delving into the intricacies of pirate economics left me cold, and sloppy control leeched all fun out of stabbing skeletal monkeys. It's not a total wash, though--I warmed up to the naval warfare, and I've rarely seen a nicer virtual sunset.
Oxbay Island in the 1600's is a small, yet burgeoning English settlement in the heart of the Caribbean, and your current port of call. You've just unloaded a nice load of chocolate and silk, and are looking to beef up your crew, when the alarm sounds: 'The French are attacking the port!'? Quickly returning to your boat, you are one of the few who manage to escape the attack. Now, you have a choice to make: Will you warn the English governor of the attack? Continue your modest yet lucrative trading business? Or perhaps leave it all behind and enter the cutthroat world of piracy and bootlegging? It's up to you, in Pirates of the Caribbean!
I admit it, I was expecting yet another quickly produced, sub-par title based on a blockbuster movie (e.g. Lord of the Rings). But to my surprise, Pirates of the Caribbean is a well-realized, excellent, and more importantly, fun adventure title. Bethesda Softworks put out a keeper in this one, which obviously must have been in development long before the movie was produced.
In a nutshell: In the role of English sea captain Nathaniel Hawk, you play an interesting mix of real time, first person combat, sailing and real time/turn-based sea battles, and trade. The unconventional controls take quite a bit of fine tuning to make playable, and though somewhat difficult moving from the first person character movement to full scale ship control, it is still rewarding gameplay. The graphics are first rate, with detail in both the scenery, character skinning, and all other visual aspects of this title. Audio is crisp and well realized, with a minimum of voiceover distractions; a definite plus in my book. However, all of these items are merely window dressing for the excellent gameplay. Sea battles are well executed, with good physics and great battle effects (torn sails, damaged yardarms). While first person combat is somewhat simplistic, it is also used with good effect. The storyline itself, while a bit contrived, is also fairly accurate to the time period, so no qualms there.
A few minor flaws mar this game. There are still some bugs that cause the title to crash to the desktop, as well as some scripting errors for things that are supposed to happen, and of course, no multiplayer. This and kludgy controls aside, Pirates of the Caribbean breaks the mold of movie-inspired titles this year; and in fact, had Disney not pasted the pirate head in there, the title and the movie would have little to nothing to do with each other. Highly recommended to adventure title aficionados and gamers of all stripes.
Not to be confused with the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean is a RPG that creates an entirely new experience. Although the absence of Johnny Depp may cause some disappointment (or maybe not), choosing a direction that is unique instead of following the movie is generally a better way to go. The game isn't without its problems, however, it has a number of bright spots to help balance the game out.
As a RPG, Pirates of the Caribbean does create a multifaceted gameplay structure that keeps the game interesting for much longer then you might expect. Although is does start slow, it's not long before you're sailing the seas on the latest quest for gold. You'll be hiring crew, seeking out treasure, and collecting gold for services among many other tasks. It's the different aspects of the game that help it shine combined with the depth of details scattered throughout. For instance, there will be ship fighting on the seas with numerous attacking strategies possible, tons of exploration both by ship and land, and many issues to look after like keeping from becoming a victim of mutiny from your crew and protecting or destroying your reputation.
Personal combat is also a large part of this game like in most RPGs, but is poorly implemented. Armed with a pistol and sword, this type of combat is real time and is similar to the combat in action games. Unfortunately, you'll find yourself severely limited in attacking strategies, consisting of using a self aiming pistol, sword attack, block, and dodge. In addition, this is where you increase your stats so avoiding this combat can't be done. When you win a battle however, you can increase your stats in ten different categories that do effect how you respond in different situations, so the points you allocate does help to make these battles tolerable.
Similar to the gameplay, the video follows the same trend with beautiful environments and outstanding visuals when at sea but various problems when walking around in third person view on land. Here you'll notice fighting is sometimes achieved through objects (poor collision detection) and generally uninspiring character movement. There are also frame rate issues throughout that can be distracting but you can get accustomed to them. As for the sound, it could have been better as well but isn't much of a factor. The music is appropriate and other sound effects at least keep don't sound out of place.
Overall, Pirates of the Caribbean is a full experience but can be frustrating as well. The depth of the game should help most overlook its other shortcomings, however, and sail the seas for some time.