Pirates of the Caribbean


Review by Greg Wilcox

Bethesda Softworks


Graphics: 10

Sound: 9

Gameplay: 9

Overall: 9

A spectacular and epic role-playing adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean comes highly recommended to even those with little to no interest in gaming. With a truly deep gaming experience, lush visuals and challenging, open-ended gameplay, this is the type of game that shows true creative vision that goes beyond what could have been a tossed off movie license. In fact, the game is related to the film in name only- it places you in the same time period, yet frees you of having to play as a specific character from the film. This new Pirates manages to successfully combine elements of a number of genres, and Unlike Westwood’s cartoony (but well-meaning) Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat, it will immerse you in its world from the moment you pick up the controller. Some of you longtime PC gamers will no doubt bring up comparisons to games like Sea Dogs and Sid Meier’s classic Pirates!, but if that’s not a quality pedigree from which to draw comparisons from, I don’t know what is.

Unless you’ve played any of Bethesda’s great Elder Scrolls games (more specifically Morrowind), the complex control scheme and go anywhere gameplay may seem somewhat daunting at first, but don’t let that stop you from diving in. The fact that you’re completely in command of everything your character does in the game is what makes it so enthralling. The thrill of exploration and the decisions you make during your adventures is a driving force here, and although the game has a basic plot, you’re totally free to go off and trade rum, tobacco and chocolate or become a ruthless and bloodthirsty ship-plundering sea hawk feared by all. Of course, being evil has its benefits, but it’s a real challenge dealing with people who want your head in every port. Of course, your path is up to you here, and Pirates is all the better a game for it. Don’t let the Disney logo fool you one bit- you won’t see any big-shoed mouse or duck without pants here at all (unless you’ve been slugging back too much Captain Morgan to get in the mood before you play).

There are so many variables, interfaces, actions to take, and characters to deal with that the game really seems as if it has a life of its own. The game uses every button on the Xbox pad, with two at sea and two on foot control options. Experiment with them all early on, and nail down what works for you. You’ll command a growing crew, talk with dozens of unique NPCs (like in Morrowind, you can accidentally or intentionally kill them if you like), upgrade your ship along the way, and set sail on some truly realistic seas. Combat comes in many forms, from on land skirmishes and nearly impossible fort sieges (complete with duels, should you be so lucky to break through the deadly defenses), to the amazing sea battles, which I could write a book about. Here’s a free tip: Study the controls well, save often, and practice some deep breathing exercises if you’re expecting a walk in the park. Boarding a ship packed with cutthroats armed to the teeth is no easy task, even after you’ve softened up the swabs with grapeshot and blasted the rigging with knippel.

 Like in any RPG, there’s a level-up system, but here, it’s more complex, and takes into account things like leadership skills and sinking enemy ships much tougher than yours. There’s also a good chance that your crew will mutiny, especially if you’re not making enough cash to keep them fed and happy. So even if you’re the meanest, pistol packing Captain Blood there is, you’ll still need to have to do payroll on a semi-regular basis. The game has a great way of tracking your reputation for you. If you’re too wild and maybe kill a few too many innocents, you’ll become hated and the chances of your crew hauling out that plank for you to walk increases. That and the fact that useful information will be quite tough to come by as you play the game. Good, neutral, or evil, If you’re doing well eventually you can command a small fleet of ships, which is a bit tricky at first, but the feeling you’ll have by this point in the game is one of confidence in your capabilities- the world is your oyster, so to speak

And what a world it is. From the stunning seascapes complete with wind and rainstorms, to the beautifully detailed interiors and exteriors, Pirates scores a bulls-eye. While at sea, you’ll drop anchor and stare at some amazing sunsets and sunrises, and the first few times you participate in a battle, you’ll be blown away by all the attention to detail (and by enemy cannons if you’re not paying attention). There are loads of hidden islands, caves, dungeons and such to explore and plunder, and you can even hire NPCs as crew members or take them on as passengers. Developer Akella has made one of those great games that will immerse you completely in its world for hours on end, one that you’ll have a hard time leaving. The music, voice acting, and sound effects also thrill here, with Keira Knightley (who plays Elizabeth Swann in the film) narrating some of the game’s events. This adds a nice link to the film, and will no doubt sell a few tickets to those hesitant about the quality of the upcoming summer blockbuster.

 Oddly enough, that’s the only “complaint” I have, but it’s more of a compliment to the great game design. Pirates of the Caribbean is so well crafted a game that it may make you forget all about the film. Generally, most summer movies are made to go in one ear and out the other in two hours or so, although Disney and Bruckheimer films tend to be gargantuan, seat filling crowd pleasers. In a perfect world, three times the folks who see the movie will run out and pick up the game as well, and if you’re one of them, you won’t be disappointed. This is one of the best games you’ll play this year, period.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:30 PM