Summary: Avast me hearties! There's a flag on the horizon and it's a lone, weak ship. Why, it's Pirates of the Caribbean, the most confused game on the seven seas! It hasn't been a good week for Jakub, so maybe this theraputic bashing will help? Or did he have high hopes for the son of Sea Dogs, and is now crushed beyond repair?
Not so Caribbean
The first thing to know about Pirates of the Caribbean (for the PC), is that while it has pirates, it lacks a Caribbean and itís for the Xbox, not the PC. But boy, does it ever have pirates galore!
Piratesí most obvious shortcoming is that itís the sequel to a PC game, made for the Xbox, but it got stuck halfway on its return trip to the PC. Sea Dogs was clearly a PC game that worked great on the PC. Pirates of the Caribbean has been simplified somewhat, and its interface butchered, bludgeoned and generally beaten down into submission to work with a console. It works, but Iíd rather not play it even on the Xbox. On the PC, itís a disaster. From giant icons that cover half the screen, through dialog boxes that have to be navigated by keyboard, to a hopelessly bright, cutesy and Disneyfied Final Fantasy-like world map Ė there is no redeeming quality to the interface.
PotC, like Sea Dogs and unlike Port Royale, had a fake dynamic economy. Prices change but they donít have any relation to the number of goods that were being traded. Indeed, the only actual trade going on is from the playerís ship. All the other ships out on the open sea just spawn in the middle of nowhere and go around in random patterns. Sea Dogs may have had a similar system, but the difference was that it worked. Not being able to see the pointless circling other ships on the world map lent an air of believability that the whole system worked. PotCís world map ships are a rude slap in the face to anyone trying to believe thereís an actual economy in the game.
Worse than the common ships, are pirates. Like other ships they appear randomly, but these pursue the player relentlessly. It matters not if the player is sailing a squadron of 4 frigates into a friendly, fortified harbor and the pirate is a lone sloop Ė heíll come after you. Heíll fight for the 30 seconds that he lives, inflicting an irritating bit of damage, and waste a minute of your life because the AI is too stupid to know that a 16 gun ship stands no chance against 4 ships of 70 guns each (and a fort).
SIDEBAR: Iím extremely disappointed with Pirates of the Caribbean. I expected so much more from Akella and Bethesda, after the surprisingly good Sea Dogs.
Akellaís Storm engine is producing some of the nicest images weíve seen. A common use of pixel shaders is to enhance water by giving it Ďwavesí and the requisite reflections. Most games benefit only marginally from this, but since Pirates of the Caribbean has the player spending considerable amounts of time on the sea, the effect is quite dramatic.
Unfortunately, Pirates of the Caribbean doesnít take full advantage of the strengths of its engine. Too much time is spent on land or on the world map, rather than at sea. There also remains the size disparity between ships and land that irritated us with Sea Dogs. Ships are, relatively speaking, huge compared to forts and even cities. A frigate, never mind a battleship or man oí war, will dwarf a settlement.
The developers did an excellent job of simulating weather conditions and the various times of the day. The sun moves from horizon to horizon, can be obscured by a fog or cloud, and storms wrack the ship mercilessly with high waves and strong winds.
The sound is merely adequate for the job. Would it really be so much to expect cannons to fire with a resounding boom, or the explosions of bombs to tear into the silence like a thunderclap?
The music is blatantly recycled from Sea Dogs. While it wasnít all that bad for a dark horse budget title from a Russian developer, we were hoping that with PotC being a movie-licensed sequel and all, it would receive an overhaul in this department. Not that we particularly want that tired, stock Jerry Bruckheimer music from the movie, but at this point even that would be an improvement.
SIDEBAR: Pirates of the Caribbean is a great, great movie. Johnny Depp is truly amazing as Jack Sparrow. So amazing, I named my ship after him.
The core strengths of Sea Dogs remain evident in Pirates of the Caribbean. Ship combat is quite exciting and has enough realism to make for a satisfying experience, but doesnít emphasize the nitty-gritty of sail combat so much as to bog the game down with meaningless detail. The excellent skill system from Sea Dogs has been updated with Diablo II-like abilities that make life a lot easier for the aspiring swashbucklers out there.
Unfortunately, as we mentioned earlier, the console focus of the title is all too evident. Pirates doesnít just have a bad interface, or a console interface, it has a bad console interface. The mouse is nigh-on useless and the keyboard controls are nowhere near as friendly as a gamepad. Even if we did play this on Xbox, there are so many design issues with the interface that itís almost impossible to know where to begin. The playerís inventory becomes too full, the character still canít strafe side-to-side on land, aiming the pistol is hardly intuitive and the world map is a disaster.
Port Royale (more of a hands-on economic sim than pirate game) does everything but combat and graphics better than Pirates. Even though Port Royale gets bogged down with the tedious business aspects relatively early on, the dynamic economy, real setting and living world really shame Pirates of the Caribbean.
Bad bad bad
There is absolutely no reason for the pathetically small, characterless fantasy Ďarchipelagoí that Akella constructed in place of the real Caribbean. Oh yes, it may be that designing 100 3D cities and islands would be too much, but nobody cares. The on-land aspects of the game are a chore to be dispensed with, rather than a pleasant interlude. Thereís no thrill in fighting the same band of brigands (or at night, undead pirates) every time you skip by the same part of the island. Even if the on-land aspect was entertaining, people are buying a pirate game here, not a bad Neverwinter Nights module.
The storyline, such as it is, may be decent but itís not compelling. To make matters worse, the player is automatically thrust into the story, rather than choosing when it starts. The French are the only enemy the player starts off with and while it would be great if you could raid their cities, you canít. Their forts are indestructible, because theyíre the French and the Big Enemy in the plot.
Instead of simply fixing what was broken with Sea Dogs, Akella took on a slew of new features and implemented them in a half-assed way, so now players get to play a colossus of a half-done project, rather than a tightly-focused, kick-ass pirate sim.
SIDEBAR: I canít wait to fire up Port Royale again. Just get a money cheat going so I can skip that economy stuff, and itís all good.
SIDEBAR: Itís damn easy taking screenshots of a beautiful game.
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Itís funny, I expected Pirates of the Caribbean movie to suck extraordinarily Ė like a league of gentlemen of some sort or other, but was pleasantly surprised to get whack of entertainment value for my dollar. On the other hand, the lofty expectations placed upon Pirates of the Caribbean: the game simply highlight the incredible deficiencies it brought to the market. In the gaming industry, itís truly rare for a sequel to be orders of magnitude worse than its predecessor, but Akella managed to pull Battlezone 2: Redux out of their collective asses. Moreís the pity, aye mate?
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