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Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PC, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Amaze
Release Date: May 22, 2007 (US), May 25, 2007 (EU)


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NDS Review - 'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End'

by Tom Baker on July 27, 2007 @ 1:59 a.m. PDT

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End invites players to "live and die by the sword" as they venture to the worlds of the films and beyond while playing as Captain Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann.

Working from the phenomenally successful film of the same title, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End for the NDS puts you in control of the film's three protagonists (Jack Sparrow, Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner) as you work your way through an adapted story in this side-scrolling adventure.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past four years, you've undoubtedly witnessed the rise to cinematic legend of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" trilogy. For the most part, past games which have accompanied films have served as a testament to how poor movie/game tie-ins can be. At World's End for the DS is a welcome surprise.

Any fans of the film will find something in this game that will keep them hooked, whether it's the alternate storylines or the chance to get in Captain Jack's boots. Even though At World's End incorporates more of the story into the game than previous incarnations such as Dead Man's Chest, it still feels empty and rushed when it comes to the actual telling of the plot. Unless you've seen the movie, much of what's occurring in the game will be unintelligible. Those who have seen the film will see new locations, events and plotlines, which are a rewarding addition to the swashbuckling silver-screen escapades.

The basic story is true to that of the film, with Swann, Turner and the infamous captain Barbossa of the original "Pirates" movie searching for a way to rescue the comically mad rogue, Captain Jack Sparrow from Davy Jones' locker. Quests have you searching for the maps to get to the ends of the earth and even reuniting members of the Brotherhood of Pirates in order to stand against the growing might of the East India Trading Company. Although all of these factors are mentioned in the game, it is only through brief reference; few specific details or plot developments are revealed through the gameplay, instead leaving this task to cut scenes and prolonged bouts of dialogue.

The unfortunate truth of using a side-scrolling brawler to tell an intricate and epic story is that information cannot be imparted in this format. Button-mashing through waves of enemies and performing feats of acrobatic skill to progress along a linear path offer little in the way of telling an adequate story. This can leave the game feeling bland and repetitive, with no real sense of progression through a deep and rewarding narrative.

The gameplay itself offers little in the way of innovation to the genre. You'll jump from revolving platforms, swing from ropes, scale rigging and dispatch many similar-looking (and -fighting) enemy AI with a single button combo. You'll also love every second of it. Playing At World's End reminded me of how addictive and absorbing side-scrollers can be. There is very little in the game which has not been totally done to death, with the exception of the enjoyable change of pace that the dueling system has to offer. You will soon find that collecting gold and parts of secret treasure maps becomes an obsession to which you'll lose hours of your life.

At World's End is not strictly a generic rehash, however, with the introduction of specific items which will aid your character through various traps or toward treasure. This gives the whole game more of a Tomb Raider feel, which is a welcome addition to the adventure aspect and prevents it from becoming a purely single-minded brawler. The possibility of backtracking to visited locations and collecting previously unattainable secrets with future items also adds to the title's longevity and replayability.

As repetitive as the main portion of At World's End may be, the dueling system is a nice reprieve and acts as a kind of boss battle that marks significant moments in the plot. You take on a side view of the action between your character and various enemies, and you use the stylus to draw an attack pattern in a sequence of lines which corresponds to an attack type. These are simple enough to execute effectively and varied enough to keep an opponent guessing, which is especially useful in the multiplayer games.

Progression in defeating these enemies in the single-player missions will unlock them for multiplayer duels. The real trick of dueling lies in the proper timing of attacks and defensive maneuvers (controlled by the d-pad or buttons) in order to throw your enemy off guard. These conflicts are entertaining and well animated but are fairly repetitive within themselves, with all of your attacks feeling similar and no real need to switch attack patterns within the single-player adventure. The enemy AI is indeed challenging but will often resort to using the same attack pattern over and over again, and the frustratingly extended time needed to execute an attack move of your own leaves the stylus control system feeling a little detached. This is a shame because the stylus could be used for much more responsive and intense fighting scenarios, but the delay between drawing the line and the fighting animation makes this segment feel proportionately slower than the rest.

The stylus is incorporated rarely in the game as a whole, and is mainly used as a tool for organizing your inventory, opening chests and opening doors by inserting gears into the right places and picking the locks. With the various items that you can use to progress through levels, it seems like a wasted opportunity to not incorporate the stylus more into the actual playing of the game.

Many games on the DS shy away from using 3D rich environments and opt for a less graphically strenuous solution. This must have been especially tempting, considering that side-scrolling brawlers are 2D and not the most impressive-looking games. In this respect, the team at Amaze has done an impressive job in bringing Captain Jack and his fellow pirates into a detailed and colorful environment, without any lapse in the frame rates.

The level of detail of the arenas, especially the surreal setting of the upside-down Black Pearl and the gritty depths of the Flying Dutchman, is enough to give a real sense of location which was somewhat absent in brief narrative of the story. Unfortunately, the 3D depth of some levels creates camera issues, with platforms and ropes appearing to be closer or further away from the screen than they actually are. This leads to many a frustrating moment as you watch your character fall helplessly into the water below. The incorporation of decent 3D graphics is marred slightly by this lack of depth perception and total inability to look around, making some of the more ambitious jumps "leaps of faith," which usually end in your character's demise.

This can be made even more frustrating when checkpoints become more scarce as the title progresses. The only disappointment with the appearance of At World's End comes from the slightly blocky and expressionless character models. They seem well animated, and over-working the detail of their appearance could lead to unnecessary sluggishness in the game, but with a story and setting that require large amounts of characterization, it leaves the title feeling a little bland and prevents real immersion.

Controlling the characters is rather like controlling a faceless mannequin. Even the famously comical strut of Captain Jack isn't represented here, so all three playable characters feel the same. A multiple character system is a good idea and certainly adds a new dimension to the gameplay, but due to the lack of variation in fighting style, speed or special skills, it seems like more of a cosmetic addition than a necessary feature.

The soundtrack of At World's End is comprised mainly of looping tracks resembling elevator music. Occasionally, there will be a blast of the film's theme song, which is guaranteed to send a shiver up any fan's timbers. Aside from this, the music of At World's End remains uninspiring. The taunts and voicing given by the film actors can be a little irritating at times, especially when the same phrase is quoted repeatedly, but they prove essential in adding variety to the combat and a shred of characterization to the characters.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is an enjoyable, if slightly simple, way to spend a few hours. It's as addictive as side-scrollers come but is overly reliant on its film inspiration to fill in the gaps of the story and create a pre-existing bond with characters. If it didn't have the huge success of the film to build on, At World's End probably wouldn't fare well as a standalone title. However, fans of the movie will definitely enjoy the cinematic references and the chance to play as their favorite characters. For newcomers, this title will also offer a great introduction to side-scrolling adventure titles.

Score: 6.7/10

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