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Pirates of the Caribbean Review
publisher: Bethesda Softworks
PIII 800, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 1.5GB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Jul 02, 03 (released)
|» All About Pirates of the Caribbean on ActionTrip|
Sea Dogs say: "Plague upon you, Bethesda and Disney!"
I have been a Sea Dog all my life, and know many a decent Sea Dog that are simply appalled by the fact that you've changed the name of Sea Dogs to Pirates of the Caribbean. What have the pirates ever done to deserve such an honor? The pirates would sleep with many a filthy prostitute and get the funny syphilis, whereas, we honest Sea Dogs would only look at the sea with longing and adoration with the wind flapping at our ears, and bark at the occasional seagull. OK, we might occasionally lick our balls while we wait for the tide, but is that really so offensive? Does that make us worse than the pirates? If you prick us, do we not bleed? When have you ever seen a pirate hump away at the mast, or even try to woo a few conch shells when they pull into shore? I'll tell you! Never! And don't even get me started about how they don't find the wonderful, tasty, borderline-orgasmic smell of rotting fish all of those things I just said they were! (Sorry about the stuff on your leg mate, I, ugh, got a little caught up.) We Sea Dogs go through life with the most terrible curse upon us! We can never bury our treats, because they float! We have tried everything; even had teams of other highly trained Sea Dogs who would cast their lean bodies onto the floating bones in an attempt to bury them, but to no avail! And that's not all! We have to go walkies on the poop deck! How do you think that got its name, hmm? We go through all this hardship in life, and yet, it's the drunken whoring pirates that get all the credit! You have stolen the only honor we have by taking our name off the finest pirate game in existence! Why? A pox upon you, who steal our thunder!
Bethesda and Disney say: "Don't knock name changes."
"I think my penis grew 2 inches after I changed my name..."
"Just look at my tits before and after I've changed my name! 'Nuff said"
Artist Formerly Known as Prince
"People thought I was a stuck-up asshole! HA! I certainly showed them!"
C'mon, ya stinkin' filthy scallywags!
Hm, yer gonna have to swim for it, lad.
Before I delve into the heart of the matter, I think an explanation is in order for those of our readers who might think I'm on crack (You are. - Six), or worse yet, laboring under a misconception that I actually have a sense of humor. This rather goofy intro does serve a point you know. Once upon a time, a group of Russian game developers by the name of Akella made a rather fresh and unique remake of the classic Pirates. The game was called Sea Dogs and it was welcomed with open arms by both the gaming community and press alike. Sure, the game had its downsides (mainly, a host of launch bugs on certain machines), but its addictive gameplay proved good enough to warrant a release of the sequel. The sequel was naturally called Sea Dogs 2. That is, until one day Bethesda Softworks (the publisher) realized that the power of a known movie license is much greater than the draw of their own game license. Bethesda wanted new customers; ones that were going to see the upcoming movie starring Johnny Depp, entitled Pirates of the Caribbean; so, the game that once was Sea Dogs 2 became Pirates of the Caribbean. Bethesda gets more money that goes with a well-known movie license, and Sea Dogs fans get to wonder what the hell Sea Dogs 2 has to do with Pirates of the Caribbean. Sure, both the game and movie are about pirates and they are set in the Caribbean, but that's like saying Battlefield 1942 is a movie tie-in with "West Side Story." Financially, Bethesda's move makes all the sense in the world. In terms of the way it was carried out, it's about as subtle and graceful as a 900lb gorilla on ice skates.
The team at Akella has been busy expanding their franchise in these past few years. They've completely rewritten the game engine.
Sea Dogs 2 Pirates of the Caribbean is now powered by their STORM 2 technology. The in-game interface has been completely redesigned (not for the better mind you, because it can be overwhelming and overly-complicated without the auto-help feature), and most importantly, the gameplay has been expanded with new features and more areas to explore. I wasn't sure at first if Akella had done enough in the sequel to truly lift it beyond the original, but after spending sleepless nights glued to my monitor screen, I was finally convinced that they had. Sea Dogs 2 Pirates of the Caribbean presents enough improvements over the original to warrant a successful sequel. That is not to say, however, that all of the downsides of the original have been corrected, nor that the developers couldn't have done more for the franchise. But more on that later...
Designed as a blend of role-playing and action (think classic Pirates meets GTA: Vice City and Freelancer), Pirates of the Caribbean takes place in a large group of Caribbean islands during the golden age of piracy and high seas adventure. You will take command of a ship and its crew, swordfight with other captains, accept and complete daring quests, chase rumors of dangers and riches, and change allegiances amongst the colonial powers in the game.
In Pirates of the Caribbean, you assume the role of a freelance Captain, Nathaniel Hawk, who becomes caught in a struggle for power in the 17th century. At the start of the game, you witness French forces invading an English island. Sailing away to avoid harm, you set course for a nearby English colony to inform the English Governor of the bad news.
Upon reaching the island, the English Governor decides to enlist you to infiltrate the captured island as a spy for the English to see what you can discover about the French invasion force and their future plans. Thus begins your adventure.
As was the case in the original game, the game world is open-ended enough to let you choose between following the main quest (which is still very much linear) and going off on solo missions that might increase your wealth, skill and reputation. In those regards, the game is very similar to Freelancer (and of course the classic Pirates), but with a much heavier emphasis on the role-playing aspects. There are a host of skills and abilities you can learn, and it will take time to level your character, and level up the members of your crew (party). Action RPG fans might be consumed by this game facet alone. At first I thought my main character was leveling up pretty quickly, but I was also very frustrated by the lackluster performance I was getting from my officers (you can recruit them throughout the game). That is until I realized you can level up your crew as well. Becoming a mighty captain is one thing, but having fearsome officers to back you up at any time will make you truly the terror of the seas.
Roaming freely around the archipelago is only really effective if you want to level up more. As it is the case with so many other games of this type, boarding ships and plundering without any purpose soon becomes rather pointless, and ultimately boring. There is one more thing you should know about the "free play" mod. It ends when the main quest ends. In other words, you cannot continue to explore after you've finished the main quest. I don't have a clue why the developers decided to end the game like that but it certainly makes no sense to me. (I wish to thank Andy Burnes from VE3D.com for reminding me of this fact.) You should also make a note of the fact that Pirates of the Caribbean doesn't have a multiplayer mode, which makes the aforementioned decision by Akella all the more unreasonable.
Yarrr, yarrr, fire! We got 'em now!
Argh, by my scabbard, I'll be throwin' yee a shore!
Cap'n! We'll be need'n some nice fresh strumpets!
In other words, much of your time in this game will be spent pursuing the main quest. In terms of the storyline, it's clear that Akella has put some effort in it and has managed to surpass their achievement in the original. The narrative is bigger, more elaborate, and the characters are much more lifelike. The story itself is rather clich', but the writers did manage to create a few suspenseful moments and some nice twists and turns. The plot is good enough to keep you interested, and as far as I'm concerned, that is quite sufficient. What ticked me off, however, was that, once again, precious little effort was put into voice acting or the creation of cinematic in-game sequences. The story unravels mostly through text dialogue (like it did in Sea Dogs), and there are virtually no voiceovers for the main characters. The concept reminds me a helluva lot of old-school games of the (ancient) past, but if we compare that to say, Freelancer or GTA: Vice City, it becomes painfully apparent just how vivid and vastly more interesting Pirates of the Caribbean could've been if Bethesda invested more money into hiring real actors to do voiceovers (and actually recording all the dialogue), as well as hiring someone with a movie making background to direct captivating in-game cinematic scenes. As it stands, Pirates of the Caribbean features sporadic and repetitive voiceovers that start sounding really lame after a while, and a ton of text that even includes some glaring examples of bad English to boot. The plot itself is well-conceived, and it untangles at a nice pace, but the cinematic effect that has become so important in modern games of this type (Mafia, Freelancer, GTA: Vice City) is completely missing. Granted, people who are hardcore action RPG fans might not mind this, but I think Akella should really start thinking about moving beyond this retro concept in Pirates of the Caribbean 2, or Sea Dogs 3 ... or whatever the hell kind of name Bethesda chooses the next time around.
On the other hand, the game world in PotC has been expanded quite a bit. There are a lot more locations to visit, and the world appears a lot more unrestricted than before. You can travel on foot through dense and dangerous jungles, explore caves and do so much more than you could in the original. Towns have become bigger and their design more authentic. All this goes a long way in creating a more immersive environment for the players, which should in part compensate for the lack of more cinematic appeal.
Furthermore, the gameplay mechanics of melee combat, sailing and naval battles have been greatly improved, making the action portion of the game much more strategic, and ultimately more appealing. The enemy AI is very solid, and it will use its wits well. In melee combat it will be very important to choose the right weapons and pick your targets properly if you want your less experienced officers to live. During naval combat AI ship captains will try their best to avoid being boarded and will even use advanced flanking maneuvers. Once you've acquired more than one ship in your fleet, the crew you pick to sail the other ships might make or break a tough battle. Battles at sea are very exciting. Players can now give out orders to the ships in their fleet, making the naval combat a lot more strategic than in the original. The combat in Pirates of the Caribbean can be as much about your party as it can about your own acts of skill and bravery. Generally speaking, PotC has more of everything. More sailing, more locations, better incorporated and expanded RPG elements, better fights - it's just much bigger than its predecessor. And that is a very good thing. Needless to say, all this makes the series more addictive than ever before.
Still, the fact remains that the sequel still suffers from evidence of cheap production. As I have mentioned, the few voices that have been recorded for this game will get highly repetitive in no-time. Not to mention that some of the accents sound way too unconvincing. Similarly to the voiceovers, it seems that Akella didn't want to bother too much with character modeling. The NPC character models are way too repetitive and I just can't understand why they (Akella) didn't find some random method of changing their appearance-if only ever so slightly. For a game that's supposed to convey the atmosphere of a living and breathing Caribbean archipelago the programmers sure neglected to take care of some very important subtleties of one such endeavor. It's also worth noting that some of the tunes that were featured in the original also found their way in the sequel?! It's just more evidence of publishers trying to cut budget costs...
Visually, the game presents a real treat. Given the fact that this is a seafaring adventure, a lot of effort went into creating the best-ever looking water surfaces, with some extensive use of pixel shaders and texture filtering. You'll just love how the pale moonlight flickers across the rippling ocean surface at night... The water looks very realistic and so do the ship models. The terrain looks much better too, with lush vegetation and thick jungle grass that sways and bends under your feet. The textures are very high-res and look simply exquisite. The same can be said about the usage of dynamic lighting and shadows. The only aspect of the visuals that could've used more work are some of the character models that lack a few more polies or some better looking textures on them. Character modeling is simply not consistent enough, which goes in line with what I said about their repetitive appearance.
I should also mention that STORM 2 engine runs fine at max detail even on mid-level configurations. That is a true testament to solid engine design, especially if we take into account the kind of work CORE did on the new Tomb Raider game. Pirates of the Caribbean looks pretty and it runs smooth to boot. Good job, Akella!
As for the sounds, they are probably the game's biggest downside. The musical score is good, but, damn! Some of the tunes are actually borrowed from the original game! As for the sound effects, you can just take into consideration all the things I've already said about the voice acting (or the lack of thereof). It doesn't help the atmosphere, or the overall impression in any way.
Even though Pirates of the Caribbean has its ups and downs, the team at Akella should be commended for creating a game that, after all, presents a step forward for the series. Some of the initial thrill of playing Sea Dogs for the first time has been lost, but that doesn't mean that I didn't immensely enjoy playing the sequel. If only the publishers had realized the importance of a good cinematic experience and the little things that help create a truly immersive single-player world,
Sea Dogs 2; (Dammit - if you make me correct you one more time, I'll make you walk the plank! - Six) I'm sorry; Pirates of the Caribbean could've been the perfect sequel to the original Sea Dogs.
Closing comments: From a purely technical standpoint, this game doesn't deserve more than 77, but I've used my prerogative as a reviewer to add a few points based on my personal tilt. All those many hours of fun and addictive gameplay I got from playing PotC was enough of an incentive for me to overlook certain technical drawbacks and lack of more polish when scoring the game. Fans of the original will certainly appreciate the effort that Akella has put into the sequel, and I'm convinced that Pirates of the Caribbean offers a deeper gameplay experience than the original. This in turn justifies the slightly inflated score. Bear in mind, however, that the game might scare off certain less patient gamers, as its interface is rather crude and confusing, and it actually takes some time to get into the swing of things.
8.1 Very Good
Highly addictive, bigger and prettier than the original, improved combat and RPG elements, more engaging storyline, enemy ship AI is very solid;
Lacks more cinematic appeal, dreadfully repetitive voiceovers and NPC models, some of the tunes were borrowed from the original, the main quest is still very much linear and you cannot continue the game once it has been finished, no multiplayer mode.
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