Even with its problems, Pirates of the Caribbean is an enjoyable game that's recommendable to those intrigued by the subject matter.
Pirates of the Caribbean from Bethesda Softworks and Russian developer Akella actually has little to do with either the upcoming feature film or the popular Disney amusement park ride of the same name. But considering the spotty track record of both movie-licensed and Disney-licensed games, maybe that's a good thing. Pirates is actually very similar to Akella's previous effort, Sea Dogs, a 3-year-old PC game that featured open-ended role-playing elements, ship-to-ship combat, swashbuckling, trading, and more. Pirates has all these same elements, giving it a free-form sort of feel that's reminiscent in some ways of Bethesda's own The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Some technical issues and a somewhat steep learning curve may unfortunately get in the way of your enjoyment of either the Xbox or PC version of the game, and despite the generally impressive visuals, you'll need to use your imagination to fill in a few blanks as you play. But if that's OK with you, you'll find that Pirates of the Caribbean offers a refreshing and entertaining experience that successfully evokes a sense of what it might have been like to live a life of danger and adventure on the high seas.
In Pirates of the Caribbean, it's the 17th century, and you're Nathaniel Hawk, a sharp-witted captain of his own modest ship. He's trying to make ends meet in the Caribbean, a collection of small islands ruled over by European nations including the English, the French, the Spanish, the Dutch, and more. The Caribbean archipelago is home to some good weather and plenty of lucrative natural resources, which have made it an obvious draw for the world's powers--as well as the perfect place for pirates and privateers to set up shop. The game's story begins when the French make a play for an English colony, and Hawk barely escapes with his life. He ends up helping put the French back in their place and then becomes embroiled in a greater plot, which even has some supernatural overtones. The presence of some undead pirates is apparently what ties this game in with its namesakes, but other than the occasional encounters with the living dead, you'll find that Pirates of the Caribbean pretty much plays it straight.
Pirates consists of a number of different gameplay elements. You navigate between islands by controlling a tiny little ship as it crawls across a map of the Caribbean. You'll see numerous other vessels materialize as you sail across the waters, some of which may attack you, and any of which you may choose to attack yourself. Sometimes you'll see ships already engaged in battle and may crash the party if it pleases you. You might also run headlong into a storm. Whenever these types of events occur, the game switches to a third-person perspective of your ship, which you can then manually control by raising and furling the sails, trying to catch a good tailwind, arming and firing your cannons, and even boarding nearby enemy vessels. An optional first-person view lets you manually aim your weapons, though the third-person view is usually preferable. You can also moor at the numerous island ports or other dry-land locations of interest.
Once you've docked or boarded an enemy vessel (or been boarded yourself), Pirates of the Caribbean becomes a third-person action adventure game of sorts, as you'll be controlling Hawk directly and can engage in some basic combat using your saber and slow-loading pistol. Boarding is roughly the same every time--in larger ships you'll go through several stages of combat, but Hawk can always take a cheap shot against his foes when the action first begins. When in town, Hawk can mill about and speak with the locals, and visit key locations including the tavern, the shop, the shipyard, and the town hall. A first-person perspective is optionally available here as well, and though the on-foot regions are relatively small, they're carefully detailed and make a good contrast to the boundless stretches of ocean that you'll see while sailing.
The main storyline has Hawk scurrying from island to island for various reasons, which is a great opportunity to engage in the game's trade system. You have access to a trade book that shows you which goods are imported from and which goods are exported to each island, and you can proceed to buy low and sell high. The bigger the ship you have (or the more ships you have in your fleet), the more stuff you can lug and the more profit you can earn. The commerce model in Pirates of the Caribbean is simple and static--there's constant demand for the same goods at each location, and you can easily and instantly dump off all your goods at the general store of each island, making the trade portion of the game seem pretty shallow.
Fortunately, commerce is just one of several ways to earn money in the game. You're rewarded well for solving the main story quests as well as for taking on occasional random missions, which usually take the form of offers from wealthy merchants for you to escort them to certain remote islands. The quests are pretty simple in general and usually just require you to reach a certain destination or eliminate a certain target. The scripted sequences that are supposed to come off like surprising twists (such as if a bunch of authorities break in on your covert meeting with a spy) end up looking rather hokey, and there tend to be noticeable pauses and interruptions before you begin conversing with characters, so Pirates of the Caribbean really isn't very good at storytelling. But it isn't bad, either, mostly since some of the dialogue is pretty amusing. In addition to questing, you can also attack other sea vessels, including pirates and the European nations' fleets. If you have officers among your crew (you can meet and hire these individuals in taverns) you may put one at the helm of a vessel that you've successfully captured after you've boarded and seized it. Selling off extra ships to the nearest shipyard is a great way to make cash, though having a fleet at your side rather than just your own ship can be desirable, too.
As suggested by all this, Pirates of the Caribbean is indeed an open-ended game. As you solve quests and sink enemy ships, you'll gain experience points and level up, and with each level gained, Hawk can improve his core attributes and learn a new special ability. The attributes include things like leadership, melee combat, defense, grappling (your ability to board enemy ships), commerce, and luck, which affect either your skills as a swashbuckler, as a captain, or as a tradesman. The abilities have a more apparent and immediate effect and let you significantly improve your character with each level gained, such as by giving you significant bonuses to your cannons' range or damage or by allowing you to board enemy vessels from greater distances. So as any good role-playing game ought to, Pirates of the Caribbean does a fine job of making you feel rewarded for gaining an experience level. Since there are numerous viable paths for developing your character--you may initially focus on improving Hawk's fighting abilities instead of improving his abilities as a ship captain, for instance--the game also has some solid replay value to it.
- Player Reviews: 20
- Game Universe:
- Pirates of the Caribbean (PS2, XBOX, PC, GBA),
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (PSP, DS, GBA, MOBILE),
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow (PC, XBOX, PS2),
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (X360, PS3, DS, PSP, WII, PS2, PC),
- Pirates of the Caribbean Online (PC, MAC),
- LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game (PS3, X360, WII, PSP, DS, PC, 3DS, MAC),
- Pirates of the Caribbean (MOBILE)
- Number of Players: