Akella Continues It's Painfully Putrid Pirate Games
You know the old song "How many dead men sit on a pirate’s chest?" Well, I’m going to rewrite it to ask "How many dead games sit on Akella’s chest?"
Developer Akella is incredulous. They keep putting out mediocre (at best) games that get some of the worst ratings in the industry, and somehow they stay in business making even worse pirate titles. After getting Bethesda Softworks to publish the terrible Sea Dogs and somehow tricking Disney into putting their name on that horrible Pirates of the Caribbean game (which lets face it, should have been called Sea Dogs 2 – with skeletons!) they are still at it.
Their latest trick involves getting Playlogic to publish Age of Pirates 2: City Of Abandoned Ships, which is quite possibly the worst of the bunch. This game is so bad that it’s not worth your time even at a $5 bargain bin sale. Avoid this title like the black plague. If a friend tries to give it to you, toss it back in their face and punch them in the stomach for good measure. Friends don’t let friends play bad pirate games.
Age of Pirates 2: City Of Abandoned Ships (which should be called Sea Dogs 3 or 4) is so bad that it’s hard to decide where to begin. Graphics? Great for six years ago. The tutorial? Non-existent. Gameplay? Perfect if you like wandering around in nameless woods without a compass or any sense of direction. Character development? Sure, you get three whole choices! Voice acting? It will have you rolling on the floor laughing – only they are trying to be serious. Multiplayer? It’s the game’s best feature – because there is none. Who wants to play something this bad online with other people anyway?
Things are so bad, I guess I better start at the beginning. The game does come with a nice paper map and a detailed game book describing the intricate aspects that were put into every skill, including how to calculate your chances of hitting with a pistol based on your base attributes. So why is it when you get to character generation that you are given a grand total of three choices for how your character looks? You’ve got the hunky Englishman, the swarthy Spaniard and the somewhat gay looking Dutchman (not that there is anything wrong with that). No female characters are present, unless you count that Dutch guy.
Whoever you choose, you are dropped into a "tutorial" level. I put tutorial in quotes because at no point does the game make any attempt whatsoever to tell you what the heck is going on or how to do anything. I call LAZY on you Akella. Case in point, as an Englishman I was summoned to the house of a noble and asked to treat his wounds. I went into the wrong bedroom since I was given no direction other than "He is in the West wing" which was an odd way to describe the situation given that YOU HAVE NO COMPASS. So of course I clicked on the wrong bedroom door and the game loaded up some generic interior room. There was a chest there and I thought it would be cool to rob the place, since I thought I was a pirate. I opened the chest and there was all this stuff, plus a bunch of picture buttons for spitting up your inventory in different ways. When you hover over one of the confusing pictures to see what they do, guess what happens? Nothing. So I thought I was robbing the house, but what I think I was doing was actually putting all my stuff into the chest. Later on I went back to grab my stuff and the door was mysteriously locked.
So then I find the right room and this starts a cutscene where I heal the guy. Then I am told that the British army is coming to kill everyone in the house. I’m not sure why, but I am told to get a sword out of a chest on the balcony. I go up there and find the sword and a pistol. Loaded up, I step out into the hallway as a bunch of Redcoats burst in. After some confusing dialog where you are given no choice whatsoever, the Redcoat officer orders one of his men to attack.
The funny thing was that when the attacker tried to run up the stairs to get me, another Redcoat was standing in his way. So my attacker just ran in place like he was on a treadmill for over five minutes while I watched and giggled.
Eventually he squeezed through and I hit the "E" key to activate combat mode, which I had to look up in the key commands because the game sure as heck wasn’t going to tell me how to do anything. Only nothing happened. I just stood there while the officer whacked me with a cutlass. I looked at the keys again and saw that Q fired a pistol and the left mouse swung a sword. Only neither worked in the game. I thought perhaps I had to bring up my inventory and equip the sword, but there was no inventory key listed that I could find.
So while the bad guy swung at me, I pressed every key on the keyboard, trying to get something to work. Nothing did, other than time slowed down or sped up. In frustration, I started running again. I found that I could use the other Redcoats as shields because they just stood there like statues while my killer and I weaved around them.
Eventually I just let the guy kill me. Only I didn’t die. I woke up in Bermuda. I have no idea how that happened. There was a chest in my new island room so I tried to open it, only it said "Trapped!" and cut me for more damage. Then I walked outside and someone ran up to me saying that I had to save the life of some woman who was, I deduced, married to the guy in charge of the plantation or at least someone important. This was a real quest I guess.
Only I couldn’t tell which way to go to find the woman. It was like the "tutorial" house all over again, but on a much bigger scale. There is no compass or mission pointer in the game at all that I could ever find. So I ended up running around this little plantation at night, which made the horrible graphics even more difficult to see, going into houses and trying to find the sick woman. I never did find her and eventually wandered off to some other part of the island. Nobody seemed to mind that I left what I can only assume was my prison. Why should they? Half the people there were statues anyway.
I loaded up a new game and eventually (after HOURS of trial and error) was able to get onto a ship. The ship combat is pretty detailed and is the best part of the game by far. However, I doubt all but the most dedicated players will ever find it. You are still cursed with the lack of a mission direction, and it takes a very long time to sail from port to port, so it’s not perfect, but a heck of a lot better than anything the game offers on land.
Once you get to a port, a bunch of people will ask you to do things and your quest log will fill up, only you won’t know how to complete the quests or where to go to even get started. So the game again degrades into wandering around the wilderness and occasionally fighting brigands guarding empty chests seemingly for the fun of it.
I try to say something nice about everything, and this horrible game is no exception. I liked the musical score. It was sweeping and grand, though it only served to remind me how out of place it was in this stinking game. So there, I was half-nice.
Look, I don’t want to be mean, but I’ve been disappointed by Akella-developed games before, though never really this bad. The game promises to be so much more than it can deliver. I was thinking that it would be like Sid Meier’s Pirates, only with more details. But those two games are not even in the same league. Akella tends to forget the primary rule of gameplay design – that games should be fun to play. Not even telling us how to play is not a recipe for this fun to begin.
As it stands now, almost ANY pirate game is going to be better than Age of Pirates 2: City Of Abandoned Ships. Even a somewhat middle-of-the-road title like CDV’s Tortuga: Two Treasures or a completely average one like Ascaron’s Port Royale is going to be a more fun experience.
All that Age of Pirates 2 did for me is wet my whistle for the pirate genre. So after a few hours with the game I did what any self-respecting gamer would have done. I uninstalled Age of Pirates 2 and loaded up Sid Meier’s Pirates. And I had a heck of a great time playing while trying to forget all about Age of Pirates 2: City Of Abandoned Ships. Sorry Akella, but you’ve fooled me far too many times. With me, your ship is sunk.