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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Role-Playing

 

Publisher

Bethesda Softworks

 

Developer

Akella

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

July 2003

 

 

- Lots of different gameplay elements

- Very swashbuckling indeed

- Great visuals

- Nice sound

 

 

- Trading is a shallow experience

- Character models could use some work

 

 

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean (Xbox)

Review: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC)
Review: Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (PC)

 

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Pirates of the Caribbean

Score: 7.7 / 10  

Pirate games are far and few between in gaming.  We see them on occasion every so many years, achieving the overall feel of swashbuckling adventure to varying degrees of success.  In order for gamers to get the pirate fix they pretty much have to wait for Halloween and dress up, or suit up for a few rounds of Long John Silver and the Tavern Wench on those sleepless summer nights.  Now Akella brings us Pirates of the Caribbean which in and of itself achieves the overall feel of swashbuckling adventure to varying degrees of success on the PC.  Virtually every aspect one would expect to experience in sailing the seas of the Caribbean are here, but itís very touch and go as to how enjoyable each element is in the game.  For those expecting a game to closely mirror the events of the Disney movie who shares this gameís title, you wonít find that here.  Outside of taking place in the Caribbean and the presence of some ghost pirates in the game there just arenít a whole lot of parallels with the movie.  Be that as it may, the game still does an adequate job of giving PC gamers the opportunity of hijinx on the high seas.  

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Right out of the gates, the game bombards you with intrigue, showing the teeter-tottery political balance of the region caused by its rampant colonialism.  Players are thrust into the role of Nathaniel Hawk, a young captain commanding his own tiny little ship in the Caribbean.  After unloading his initial cargo Ox Bayís local trading post, repairing his ship, and hiring crew members, Nathaniel and his ship, the Victory, head out to sea, narrowly escaping an attack on the bay by a squadron of French ships who promptly seize the settlement.  Nathaniel must then hightail it to the English Governorís residence on one of the nearby islands to apprise him of the situation.  With that players are forcibly taken into the service of the English Royal Navy and must find a way to send the French packing.  From there Nathaniel is embroiled in political intrigue as it becomes increasingly apparent that there are quite a few interests in the region, be it from the English, the French, the Dutch, or the SpanishÖoh, and of course the Pirates.  We mustnít forget the this is the Pirates of the Caribbean, not the English of the Caribbean afterall.  As time passes youíll also have to deal with supernatural ghost pirates causing trouble in the islands also, as the game barely skirts on reminding us that this is indeed a title that is supposed to have a movie tie-in.

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Dealing with all of these nations and their colonies in the region can be done in a number of ways as Pirates of the Caribbean shares much of the open-ended questing present in Bethesdaís other recent RPG, The Elder Scrolls III.  In fact it is a little more expansive than its axe-wielding, magic-spewing, clay pot stealing Vvardenfellian counterpart.  In Pirates you have the main quest that can be followed largely at oneís leisure, then on top of this 

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players can take advantage of the booming trade in the region, running escort missions for wealthy merchants, or even becoming a pirate or privateer themselves.  With all of these options available the game still manages to maintain its cohesion.  It by no means feels like a mish-mash of gameplay elements all thrown together for the sake of having them there.  Each serve a purpose and you always know the main quest is there ready and waiting when you decide to take it up again. 

Of all these play elements, sailing is by far what you will be doing most.  Itís largely a slow-paced experience as you cruise from island to island, and the controls do take some time to get used to.  When traveling to a new island you will navigate on a map screen with a top down view having your ship skirt between other vessels, some friendly others hostile, and also doing your best to avoid storms at sea.  When you hit one of these weather patterns or are attacked by another ship the game switches to a third person perspective as you try and get your ship out of the storm (no mean feat), or engage in battle with the enemy.  Ship battles are very slow-paced affairs as your vessel slowly maneuvers around the enemy, trying to align for a clean shot, meanwhile constantly adjusting speed so to continually fire the cannons at the other vessel while not staying to stationary, thus become an easy target for their cannons.  Ships also have various forms of munitions available from your standard cannonballs, to bombs, to ammo whose purpose is to kill the enemies crew or destroy their sails.  This variety makes players think a lot harder about how to approach battle, necessitating more than just pulling up, firing salvo after salvo, and waiting for the other ship to sink.  Get close enough to the other ship and you can board them or they may board you.  When this happens the game switches to a straight forward hack and slash experience as you swing away with your sword and take a few shots with your very slow loading pistol.  The controls here are adequate, but take some getting used to largely because the tradition walking buttons of ASDW are not used here, instead having the left and right mouse buttons dictating forward and reverse movement.  This is a bit disappointing though, because you only have one dodge button in the game that causes Nathaniel to hop backward a few paces.  There are no sidestepping buttons in the game, and when the swordplay continues it often becomes increasingly apparent how helpful having such movements would be.

pirates-caribbean-3.jpg (40644 bytes)        pirates-caribbean-4.jpg (61867 bytes)

Pirates is by no means entirely dedicated to naval warfare, though.  As mentioned already, thereís plenty of colonial powers to deal with in the game, and of course that means trade abounds for those so inclined.  Each outpost has items they have a surplus of and a shortage of others.  As such players can go by the ďBuy low sell highĒ philosophy of trade, loading up their ship with goods on the cheap at one colony, then sell them for a tidy profit at another colony who greatly needs it.  Itís a fast way to make some money, but ultimately shallow as the trade values stay the same at all times.  No markets ever saturate causing the values of goods to fluctuate, they simply buy and sell at a constant rate.

And of course as you accumulate more wealth youíre suddenly faced with what youíll blow your money on.  Naturally the first thing to pop into any self-respecting ship captainís mind is to buy a really big boat with an idiotic number of cannons on it, then hunting down smaller ships to destroy because it makes you feel like a big man.  While going to such extremes as that little example is probably, if youíll excuse the horrible pun, going overboard, buying bigger and better ships is not only a necessity, but very satisfying.  The larger ships obviously lack the maneuverability of their smaller counterparts, but they have so many advantages, be it crew compliment, storage capacity, or the vastness of their armaments, that they are crucial to becoming successful.  As the game progresses you can even amass a fleet of ships, either through continually buying more of them or commandeering enemy ships, thusly bringing in even more money through trade, or engaging in enormous sea battles.  There is also a degree of customization available for the ships, but unfortunately it is limited to the types of cannons you have equipped and to a lesser extent how well-manned your ship is.  Nonetheless, acquiring new ships is a very satisfying experience.

The overall flow of the story also proves to be satisfying.  It does a good job of playing with all of the politics in the region, at the same time keeping in mind that pirates abound in these waters and a certain amount of local lore is bound to be present in the region as a result.  However, the strongest point in the gameís story is its dialogue.  While it is all in text as opposed to being performed by voice actors, the way the characters carry themselves and the context of the various conversations in Pirates is quite engaging.

And if the story doesnít grab you the visuals certainly will; Pirates of the Caribbean is a very pretty game.  The sheer level of detail put into the buildings, the ships, and the environments is staggering.  The buildings all have tons of detail put into them, grass moves and flows as you run through it, and the water is absolutely gorgeous, especially with the moon reflecting off of it.  The one weak point in the gameís graphics are the character models.  They arenít terribly detailed.  The clothing they wear is reasonably true to the period, but they just donít jump out at you and the charactersí faces arenít very detailed at all.  The animation in the game is very smooth by and large, though again the characters in the game hurt the experience, as they walk around very stiffly with rigid backs and halted movements.  But despite the few problems the overall visual presentation of this game is very nice.

The audio experience is also very enjoyable, though it doesnít match the quality of the Piratesí visuals.  The music is catchy, and always appropriate to whatís happening in the game, and the sound is, well, there, doing what itís supposed to do without missing a beat.  There is a noticeable lack of voice acting in the game, however.  But whether or not itís present is neither here nor there, itís that the little catch phrases and sound bites that are spoken in the game are very grating and repetitive that causes the problem.  If there was a greater variety of little things said in the game this wouldnít be a problem.

By and large, Pirates of the Caribbean is a worthwhile experience.  The game does a good job of capturing all of the different aspects of what one might expect to deal with commanding a ship in the region during the 1700s, be it through the day-to-day duties of trying to run a successful fleet or staying wise to the constantly shifting colonial interests surrounding you.  With so few games focusing on pirates on the market, this is definitely one to consider if youíre looking to fill that void in your collection.

- Mr. Nash

(August 24, 2003)

 

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