reviews\ Jul 12, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Pirates of the Caribbean - PC - Review

Well, here we are … Pirates of the Caribbean has finally been released in theaters and it was definitely a movie that I was anxious to go see. The previews looked great, and I always enjoyed the ride at Disney of the same name, so it looked like a winning combination to me. Of course, popular or potentially popular movies normally will have a video game to follow either right before or right after release, and sure enough … out comes Pirates of the Caribbean for the PC. Being the fact that it was produced by Bethesda, I was even more excited to play it since I loved Morrowind and just the thought of a similar atmosphere involving pirates made it a must get for me. Well, I’ll just open this whole review up by saying it’s not identical to Morrowind and it doesn’t follow the movie, but it has some similarities and is addictive to play. Read on …


Pirates of the Caribbean (which I will refer to as PotC going forward due to laziness reasons) revolves around captain Nathaniel Hawk as he wakes up in the town of Oxbay after a rough storm battered his ship and washed some of his crew off deck. There is a guy who meets up with you and offers to show you around and give you a little tutorial on how to move, get items, equip things, fight, block, and begin completing objectives that you get up front like “buy a new spyglass” and “sell your cargo of chocolate and leather”. You don’t have to do the tutorial, nor do you really have to any of the objectives, but it’s nice that it was included when you first begin and will help you get started the right way. After doing everything you need to do, you set sail at which time a nifty cut scene comes up where you find out that Oxbay was attacked and taken over by French forces, and you were the only vessel that made it out on a mission to inform the English of the attack and occupation.


There is a storyline that follows which is good and involves some neat things like spying, bullying or bribing info out of people, and stopping trade ships … but I won’t really go into all of that since from the time that the cutscene is over, it’s pretty much up to you what you want to do and write your own plot. Like Morrowind, PotC is an open-ended title that lets the player decide what he or she wants to do and be. From that point if you want to be a trader and buy exported goods to sell them to places that are importing and try to get rich … you can do it. If you want to be a career criminal or smuggler … you can do it. If you want to work with the French, Spanish, or Pirates instead of the English … you can do it. It definitely ups the replay value and fun in my opinion since there aren’t any boundaries or mandatory linear story that you have to do if you don’t feel like it.


The actual style of Potc in itself is also pretty neat, and blends in a good 3rd person action / adventure title with an RPG style level up system. As you go about completing tasks and whatnot, you gain experience points that will help you level up when you get enough of them. As you level up, you get points that can be applied to a number of personal stats, including Leadership that helps determine price at which you hire crew, the salary you pay, and morale hits that they may take if you don’t pay them or Grappling which determines the range at which crew can toss grappling hooks so you can board and takeover a ship rather than sinking it. As you progress in levels (every two), it will also allow you to begin commanding higher class ships and will give you some additional skill points that can be distributed however you want to use them.


The gameplay element of PotC is also is very well done, and crosses between running around fighting, exploring, conversing, or whatever on land and setting sail aboard you ship and setting out to sea. While on land, there are a lot of different things to do as you can possibly imagine, and you’ll find yourself getting some local gossip or wild rumors about different areas of the game or hiring officers to escort you around and help take care of scuffles or whatnot. The controls are pretty solid, although they can take a little bit to get used to. 


The true gem of the game in my opinion lies with the sailing part though, and I was having a ball setting out from a city and cruising to different parts of the world or getting into conflicts with other ships at sea. The controls for the ship are also easy to pick up and get into, but I will say that getting somewhat decent in combat will take a few tries and attempts. When a fight does break out, you can handle it one of two ways … either in a third person view or from a first – person deck viewpoint. The benefit to the third person view is obviously the fact that you have a little more LOS to work with on what’s around, but in first person mode you can use your spyglass to be more precise on your shots which can be beneficial as well obviously. There is also a decent amount of ammo to select from and use as well, like your normal cannonball rounds, knipples to shred opposing ship sails, grapeshot to shred enemy crew on deck, and even bombs which are expensive but extremely effective in tearing apart enemy ship hulls. Now, this is just the combat option, and doesn’t include the fact that you can also attempt to toss grappling hooks at the opposing ship to board and attempt to either take or sink the ship and it’s cargo which results in some neat on-deck fighting.


While I enjoyed the heck out of this game, there were a couple of things in PotC that I felt could have been a little better or different though. For starters, one thing that caught my attention was a picture on the back of the box and a caption that read “thrilling sword and pistol duels”. Well, I personally found the combat to actually be a little base and repetitive, and it wasn’t any more thrilling than some other similar 3rd person games that I’ve played like Drakan or Pirates: Legend of Black Kat since the basic element of combat is this … draw your sword, hold the block button while enemies take swings at you so you don’t take damage, swing back when you have an opportunity, repeat until someone is dead. You also have a slower flintlock at your disposal to kill or wound enemies from a distance, but it was usually only good for a shot or two especially if there were a group of enemies. Even conflicts that I encountered with multiple foes while alone weren’t too tough, and usually two would attack while the others walked in place and waited their turn. I also thought it would have been nice if you could loot the bodies once they were dead, but they fall down and disappear so there’s not much reward to it with the exception of some experience points.


Another issue that I encountered dealt with the battles while at sea. While sailing from island to island, you can use a world map view that helps to get you where you need to go faster and speeds up time, and it also displays other ships that are at sea when you sail near to them. Well, every ship at sea is represented with a little single ship icon, but attempting to grapple one or engage in battle can reveal that it was actually a fleet of much better ships than yours which means you’re going to get shredded … especially since you can’t run away from a battle once it’s begun. It would have been helpful to maybe color code them to display the difficulty levels so that you don’t get aggravated by having to re-load your game and try over again.


Lastly, I really found a lot of the environments that you encountered to be pretty repetitive in the way that a lot of them were set up or looked. Areas that you can explore on islands are divided into sections, and most of them were set up like this … port, town, outskirts, jungle, outskirts, and then another town or possible shoreline. There are some extra areas here and there, and it’s not a terrible thing … but it just seemed more linear than I expected especially since each area outside of towns had a similar look and feel to it. In addition, it’s not as large or free roaming as some other similar games, and most of the “outside of town” areas that I explored had set pathways that can be moved away from to an extent, but not enough to really open up a full search and explore that I was thinking was going to be there.


Graphically, the game is nothing short of spectacular for the most part … especially the looks and details in town and at sea. The water looks so real you think that you might be able to touch it, and the way that some of the little things like moonlight reflecting off the water surface was done was absolutely amazing. I was also pretty blown away with the environmental effects that they did, and I recommend sailing towards an oncoming storm in map view and then flipping over to the third person ship viewpoint just once. You can actually see the water start getting rough and building into a frenzy and the sky darkens as the storm moves in over you. The battle scenes at sea were also great and loaded with flying ship parts, explosions, and fire, and everything from good splash detail when ammo misses the boat and even your crew scurrying around the deck or climbing the masts was added in. Shadowing detail was awesome in my opinion, and the characters (even though some looked a little cartoony or exaggerated here and there) moved well and were fluid for the most part. As I stated before, I thought that a lot of the environments that took place outside of town were a little bit repetitive though, and every island that I visited seemed to look the same as the last one when I was in the outskirts or jungle areas.


The sound for PotC was pretty good overall, included some decent sound effects like the howling wind or pattering of rain, and the voiceovers were pretty good, even if some sounded a tad bit cheesy. The music was also pretty accurate to what you happened to be doing at the time, and would have just sort of an upbeat tune while you were wandering around or would get more intense if you were in danger of entering combat with potential foes.


Overall, PotC isn’t 100% perfect, but then again … nothing really is. Even with a few issues that I felt could have been better, I can’t say that there was ever a time that I wasn’t enjoying myself playing … and many hours were drained in one night when I got so into it I completely lost track of time altogether (needless to say I was a “tad” late for work the next morning). If you enjoy pirate and action stories with perilous adventure possibilities that you can technically write yourself and a very light sprinkle of undead supernatural elements, this is definitely a game that you will have a blast with and is one that will amaze friends or family graphically as well. As with some RPG style games, it is difficult in the beginning at a low level and it will take a little time to learn and some do overs when you get killed, so if you can’t wait that long you may want to check it out before you buy.     


Gameplay: 8.0
This is a fun title and a great action platform with some RPG elements added in to add to the overall appeal. The ability to do what you want and be what you want to be will offer hours, days, weeks, and months of play … and also offers a ton of replayablilty to go back and try something different. There is a learning curve to it though in both land and sea battles, and you may wind up finding yourself dead a lot as you are trying to level up and grow stronger. I also thought that the combat could have been refined a little more, and it seemed repetitive to me overall. It also would have been nice to have some kind of potential challenge rating or something to help you in deciding whether or not you wanted to get into a battle at sea. 


Graphics: 8.5
The sea and town graphics, environments, detail, lighting, shadowing, day and night transitions, etc. were absolutely second to none. There were even extra things added in like dark storm clouds brewing or tornado waterspouts forming in really bad storms. The characters moved well and weren’t too choppy or stiff, and naval battles both ship to ship and on deck were really great. Areas out side of towns like outskirts or jungles to me were repetitive for the most part though, and I really didn’t see much difference in the different islands that I visited when you got outside the towns.


Sound: 7.6
The voices were pretty good overall, even if some of the dialogue was a tad bit cheesy here and there. The music that plays in the background would change based on the scenario or what you happened to be doing at the time, and while there weren’t many tracks included they weren’t bad. The sounds of gunfire and whatnot from the ships or forts that were attacking you were done well.


Difficulty: Medium
There is a real simplicity to this game since you can pretty much do what you want to do, so therefore it’s not hard to play since you make your own decisions. There is a learning curve to learning how to play and maneuver, especially in naval battles and grappling, etc.


Concept: 8.5
An open ended action / RPG game meets pirates of the high seas. This was really well done and a great idea, even if there were a couple of things that I personally thought could have been done a little better.


Overall: 7.9
Overall, this is a great game and a really great concept. Granted, there are some things that could have been done a little bit better in my opinion, but that also may just be me. If you like action games, RPGs, and especially pirates with a completely open ended storyline, you should get this one and it will offer a lot of time and replayability. If you are more of a straight action fan who doesn’t have time for learning curves and leveling up, you may not be as impressed with this title and may want to check it out prior to buying it.



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