As movie sequels go, Pirates of the Caribbean is not too bad. I played it on the PC and despite little flaws, managed to have a pretty good time. My review will be based solely on my PC experience.
However, I want to put up front that the Xbox version of the game is nowhere near as good. It was pretty buggy, with disappearing quests and crashes during FMV sequences. In fact, our Xbox review console broke while playing the game. We won’t blame Pirates for this, but the combination of an old Xbox and a disc-intensive game was apparently too much for it.
We did play the game enough to see that there were a lot of flaws however. So if you are buying this game for your Xbox, you may not have as good an experience.
On the PC side the game ran fine, or at least did not threaten to bring the system down. There were a lot more bugs than usual, but I was able to plow through the game without hitting any flaws where the main storyline was broken or anything like that.
You play a captain in the game, set in the golden age of buccaneer heroes. Much like the movie, you will visit British and French colonies and deal with the governors and commoners that live there. You will also visit Spanish and Dutch colonies as well. The game has elements of the movie in it, but you are not directly playing the same storyline as the movie.
The nonlinear gameplay is one of the best features of the game. There are missions to follow, but you don’t have to pursue the plots if you don’t want. There is plenty of action to find on the various islands, or you can make a good life as a trader or even a pirate raider.
There are two main game elements. The first is a shooter interface (third-person) that happens when you are on the islands or the dungeons beneath them. The second is a ship combat interface for when you need to take out or defend against bad guys at sea.
The shooter-type interface features mostly sword fighting, thought you also have a pistol to start the game and can upgrade later on. Your best friend in this mode is going to be the block key. Fighting is basically keeping your block up, and then swinging at your opponent the instant after he swings. Using this technique I was able to destroy legions of enemies, so long as I could find a doorway or narrow cave so that they could not come at me more than one or two at a time.
There was a slight annoyance with the pistol. I bought up my skills so that I could use a four-barrel derringer. However, every time I fired it, my character would put it back into his holster. So I could not squeeze off four shots at one time, and I was vulnerable to attack while he was fumbling to put his gun away. Apparently the designers used the same code for the multi-shot pistols as they did for the single shot models, which is sloppy.
Another annoyance is the fact that any NPCs following you around are probably going to get killed, since you can’t give them orders and many times they would just stand in place instead of charging forward with me in battle. Especially when boarding an enemy ship, you can expect to lose you entire NPC officer crew every time unless you "fire" them the second before you board. These gameplay elements are the worst part of the game. I really wanted to love the game, but I felt like I was constantly fighting the interface instead of the bad guys. There are a few other odd things too, like always finding gems and treasure in the same place every time. If you find a bag of gold in the garden outside the governor’s house, take it and come back the next day, it will be there again for you.
The ship combat interface is very nice, and considering this game is really Sea Dogs II, (the movie tie-in with Disney was added later) that should be no surprise. Ships are rendered in 3D and look fantastic. Cannons fire realistically and damage to the ships is impressive. Watching them sink is a real joy too as they slowly go beneath the waves, so long as it is not your own ships doing the sinking.
Graphically, the game is quite good. Even the slightly flawed 3D land interface looks good, with waterfalls and lush scenery creating a really nice tropical environment. Caves and dungeons looks like they should and are sufficiently scary. Married with excellent sound, including background noises like merchants hawking their wares and you have a really nice environment to journey in.
The actual tie-in to the movie is a bit tenuous. It kind of felt to me like the game could have been fine without it. You eventually run into some undead pirates that can’t be killed, just like in the movie, and even their infamous ship, The Black Pearl. Keira Knightley from the movie does one of the best voice-overs I’ve ever heard, and really sets the mood for advancing the storyline. But don’t expect to be swinging from the rafters like the characters in the film.
If you like pirates, and especially if you were a fan of the original Sea Dogs, then Pirates of the Caribbean is a good game. Especially if you play on the PC, this sea-based RPG is worth picking up. It earns a respectable 3.5 GiN Gems overall.