Xbox Review - 'Pirates of the Caribbean'

by Jordan Van Nest on July 24, 2003 @ 12:47 a.m. PDT

The Pirates of the Caribbean game "transports players to the 17th century, where they can experience life as a pirate in any way they see fit," said executive producer Todd Vaughn. "Whether they want to be feared by all and welcome nowhere, or just enjoy compelling missions or a life at sea, we're creating a game that fits their gameplay style."

Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: Akella
Release Date: July 6, 2003

Buy 'PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN': Xbox | PC | Game Boy Advance

Somewhere over the horizon, past the churning waters of the ocean, lies a mystical land. A land of mystery, betrayal and unimaginable treasure. It is a land plagued by war, where only the strongest survive. It is this land which seems to lure the most bloodthirsty of men to its shores. Men with no regards for order, seeking only treasure and profit. And wherever these men go, death follows. Authorities fight them, and citizens curse them, but they are all helpless to the men’s growing thirst for power. A cloak of fear seems to surround the land, while people quietly spread stories. Stories that tell of the men as they once were, and what they have become. These men are hated by many and feared by all. They are the Pirates of the Caribbean.

I was expecting one of two things from Pirates of the Caribbean. Firstly, I imagined the game might be like many of the previous movie-licensed games to be released over the past few years. Usually these games have not lived up to the standards we gamers have set for them.(ex. Matrix, Hulk, Spiderman) We all know that games that try to follow a movie’s storyline too closely will most likely fail. So, it’s no surprise that upon picking this game up I felt there was definitely a possibility of failure. However, another part of me had high hopes for this game. Being a big fan of Morrowind, I knew what Bethesda was capable of, and was expecting a high-caliber role playing game from Pirates of the Caribbean. Little did I know that the game would turn out to match neither of my expectations, but instead land somewhere in the middle.

Pirates of the Caribbean had huge potential. The game was originally being developed as Sea Dogs II, the sequel to an open-ended sea-based RPG. However, half-way through production, the game acquired the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie license, in anticipation of the blockbuster movie which would eventually hit theaters. In Pirates of the Caribbean, you are Nathaniel Hawke, captain of the Victory and loyal subject to England. The adventure begins when you witness the invasion of an English town by French troops. You barely manage to slip away, heading to inform the English Governor on a nearby island of the invasion. Eventually you end up working for the Governor, gathering information on the French troops, and helping prepare for a retaliatory attack against the French. As the story progresses, you have the chance to build an armada of ships, hire officers, and make decisions that will directly affect gameplay.

I found this game to be very entertaining. Like any game, however, it does have problems (more on this later). Firstly, I want to stress that this is not “Morrowind with ships”. This game is much different than Morrowind, sharing only the common open-ended theme. Throughout the game, your character will have the opportunity to “level up” and improve skills of your choosing. They range from sword fighting to leadership. In addition, your character can also gain certain skills (such as professional gunman) which will make those tough situations a little bit easier. The game is basically split into two different types of gameplay- on land, and at sea. The game contains 8 major islands that you can explore to your heart’s content. In a typical town, there are 4 main buildings (in addition to houses and other buildings). They are the port, the store, the tavern, and the shipyard. One of the things I really enjoyed about this game was the “Quick Travel” option. From anywhere in a city, you can instantly travel to any of the four major buildings. This was a relief since games like Morrowind usually require you to manually walk wherever you want to go. It’s also great if you have just landed on the island for repairs and want to set sail again quickly.

In addition to the four main buildings, some islands have loan sharks, churches, and townhalls. Throughout the game, you will encounter many different nations, some of which will greet you and others who will kill you. These nations include the English, the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese, and the Pirates. Alliances can be set and broken at your will. There are many things to do on land, such as repairing your ship, buying a new ship, hiring crew members, hiring officers, gambling, buying materials, selling materials, and looking for work. In addition, you can explore the outskirts of the islands for hidden treasures. This is where my first complaint arises. I have read in numerous places (such as the manual) that the Caribbean is “filled” with treasures waiting to be discovered. After beating the game, I can say that I only found one spot with “hidden treasure”, and it was part of the main quest! The main problem that the game has with this issue is that there is really not that much to “explore”. I was disappointed to discover that upon leaving the main towns, you are basically led on a path which branches every so often and eventually reaches the shore. In addition, you can only walk about 5 feet off of the main path and then you meet an invisible wall! So, this basically makes exploring impossible. I think the game could have been much much better if you were allowed to walk off the trail and explore the entire island.

One interesting aspect, however, is that from time to time you will meet pirates in the jungles of an island who will demand your money or your life. You can cooperate or fight, but if you choose to fight, they usually always outnumber you. This brings us to the issue of combat. The development team stuck with “short and simple” for their combat system, and I think it works. There are only three buttons involved in combat (attack, block, dodge) which makes every battle more strategic than a button-mashing frenzy. I found the early battles to be fairly hard, since I had not yet mastered the combat system. In addition to your sword you also carry a pistol which you can use in combat. However, using the pistol in short range leaves you vulnerable to a quick stab in the chest. Overall I thought the controls were well done. One thing on land that I found annoying however, was the fact that for the first few hours of play, the game tends to do a lot of lagging. I guess the hard drive eventually gets used to it however, since the game speeds up from there on out.

As for the sea, I felt that it was very realistic and overall pretty enjoyable. Initially I found the controls to be very confusing, but eventually I got the hang of it. There are many things you can do at sea, probably most importantly is sail to another island. The game has something called the “map mode”. It provides a view of the islands of the Caribbean and represents your ship with a small ship icon. From there you can begin to move your ship wherever you would like to go. From time to time, other ships will be visible as they pass you or in some cases attack you. If a ship attacks you, the game goes into third person mode and you must battle the opposing ship before you can return to map mode. In addition to these attacks, storms and twisters can also create a challenge. If you are caught in a storm or twister, you will be sent to third person mode and will have to survive the storm before you can return to map mode. Besides attacking ships, another option is boarding them. If you manage to sail close enough to an enemy ship, you can you use the “board” option, which hooks the two ships up and sends you into “fight mode”. There you must fight your way through the enemy ship to their captain. Once you have killed their captain, you can commandeer the ship or just take all of their goods and sink it. I really enjoyed this option, and thought it was very unique.

However, all games have their faults, and Pirates of the Caribbean is no different. As a matter of fact, the game contains quite a few. The game not only forces you to be a certain person, but actually forces you to follow the main quest. Yes you can choose to do what you want, so in a sense it is “open-ended”, but there are really not that many side-quests to keep you busy for long. This is one part that I wish was more like Morrowind. If Pirates of the Caribbean had as many side quests as Morrowind, this game would have been great. That’s what I meant when I said that the game had enormous potential. This game could have been an awesome open-ended RPG set in the Pirates of the Caribbean setting. If only you could fully customize your character and embark on one of many different sets of quests, I think this game would have risen to the top. Instead, there are only a few different paths available. Also, there is basically no replay value since once you beat the game it just restarts, not even allowing you to continue to explore the Caribbean! For those who use only one save file, you’re out of luck. In addition, this game has one of the worst endings I have ever seen in a game. It is very obvious that the Bethesda team was under pressure to finish and was unable to create a satisfying ending.

Also, I would have really liked to have been able to steal objects such as in Morrowind. You can’t even search dead bodies to take their weapons, uniforms, etc. But the thing that really brings this game down is the bugs. Yes, I thought the days of the “dirty disc” bug from Morrowind were long gone. Oh how I was wrong. Somehow, Bethesda has managed to bring the same bug over to Pirates of the Caribbean. Now, in random spots in the game, a message will appear stating that “the disc you are using is dirty or damaged”, then the game will automatically restart itself. In addition to this annoying bug, there are even more serious ones present in this game. For instance, save files can become corrupted and will suddenly no longer work! This happened to me after I had been playing for a few hours, and I had to start the whole game over again. In addition to those bugs, there is also the infamous “white screen” which can show up after certain quests which freezes the game, then restarts it. Just getting this game to run smoothly can be a chore. I don’t understand why Bethesda couldn’t have worked a little longer on getting rid of these bugs, though they were probably under pressure to release the title.

The graphics are pretty good. This game has some of the best weather effects I’ve seen in a game. The sunsets, storms, and twilights all look very real and make you think you’re actually there, experiencing the world of Pirates of the Caribbean. The towns are also well done, complementing the intricate weather design. There is the one annoying fact that the face models are reused, so you will see some of the same people over and over again on different islands, even though you have never talked to this particular person before. But besides that, the graphics look next to real.

I really liked the sound as well. This game has a very good soundtrack, ranging from slow songs on the ocean to faster songs during combat. I think the various songs really add to the atmosphere of the game. They help to bring you back in time, and put yourself in this unique setting. Also, there are many background noises that add to the atmosphere as well. Everything from a dog barking to a drunken man yelling nonsense. Overall I think the sound was well done.

This game could have been great, but instead fell a little short. It is still a fun game to play, and if you don’t mind a few freezes or corrupted files here and there, then you shouldn’t have very many problems with the game. Like I said before, this is not Morrowind with ships (though I wish it was). Many elements from Morrowind are missing in Pirates of the Caribbean that I feel would have greatly strengthened it. The main quest is still very interesting and enjoyable to play, but I wished there were more side quests to discover. I would recommend renting this game, just to enjoy the Pirates of the Caribbean setting. If you are really into the movie, you may want to buy this game, but other than that I would not shell out 50 big ones for this game. You should be able to easily finish the game with one or two rentals and will probably not have an interest in buying it afterwards. As I said in the beginning, this game did not meet either of my expectations. It was neither terrible nor excellent. But if you want to travel to a mystical place where pirates roam the waters, and treasure waits around every corner, then you will want to pay a visit to the Pirates of the Caribbean.

Score : 7.5/10

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