It's almost hard to believe in this day and age of movie and game tie-ins, but other than a couple of handheld games, the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie didn't have a companion game on consoles. Disney Interactive Studios is making up for lost time with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which features plotlines from both the second and third Pirates movies. While the game does a solid job of capturing the look and humor of the movies, it fails to emulate the films' action sequences very well. The combat is extremely simple, and you'll grow tired of mashing on the attack button well before you reach the end of the game.
The first half of the game follows the events of Dead Man's Chest, specifically Captain Jack Sparrow's attempt to recover the heart of Davy Jones to avoid becoming a member of his crew, and it culminates with Jack's encounter with the Kraken. The second portion of the game sees Sparrow and his not-so-merry band of misfits joining together to take on Lord Beckett and retrieve the heart of Davy Jones once and for all. Even if you've seen the second film, the story is quite difficult to follow since it's told by way of a mishmash of well produced, yet disjointed, cutscenes. You'll recognize several scenarios and locations from the movies, but there are many things you'll do that aren't in the movies.
During the course of At World's End, you'll sword fight your way from Tortuga to Singapore, which may sound exciting, but it's really not. There's only one button used to swing your sword, so all you do is run up to enemies and mash that button until they turn their back and you finish them with a final slash. Enemies literally appear out of thin air and put up little resistance as you pound the attack button. Occasionally, you'll come across a tougher character that can only be killed with a special move. As you kill a bunch of lower-level baddies, your attack meter fills, and eventually you'll be able to perform a cool-looking finishing move. You can punch enemies, and when you don't have a sword handy, you can kick them, though you're rarely forced to result to fisticuffs. The only move in your basic arsenal that's consistently fun is the sometimes useful ability to grab and then toss enemies. You can sling them into each other, or toss them off the sides of buildings and docks, which is great fun. There are a handful of weapons, such as guns, knives, and grenades, which are scattered throughout for you to use. Unfortunately, they're not very useful. The guns work OK, but knives and grenades are particularly difficult to aim. If you mix up your attacks (or pick up bags scattered throughout the levels), you can raise your notoriety, and on the Xbox 360 your notoriety score will be uploaded to an online leaderboard. The game makes a big deal about notoriety, but it's utterly pointless, especially on the PS3, which doesn't have leaderboards.
Most of your time in At World's End is spent as Jack Sparrow, though you'll also get to play as Elizabeth, Will, and a few other characters. Sometimes you'll even get to fight as all three at the same time, switching from character to character by pressing the D pad. These are the worst parts of the game because characters you aren't controlling don't do much in the way of defending themselves. This means you're constantly switching characters trying (often futilely) to keep them alive. There are plenty of checkpoints in the game, but for some reason when these three-person battles come up, you're forced to start with the same amount of health every time, which is a big problem if you came limping into battle with a limited amount of life left. The rest of the game is quite easy, so dying shouldn't be much of a problem.
The only time At World's End mixes up the fighting is during the boss battles, which are one-on-one duels similar to those seen in the movies. These start with a brief cutscene, and then the game switches to a side view with three circle icons on the side of the screen. When your foe is about to attack, a circle will appear around the icon, and you must move the analog stick in the appropriate direction before the bigger circle shrinks to the size of the icon. If you block all of your opponent's attacks, you'll be able to press a button to counter his attack and also attack by moving the analog stick up, down, or toward your opponent. None of these fights are very hard, but they do manage to be rather intense and they always end with a humorous cutscene.
When you're not fighting, you'll spend most of your time running, climbing, and jumping through levels, looking for people to talk to or finding lost items. Though you've got a wide variety of moves at your disposal, the controls are relatively simple, even if they are a bit touchy sometimes. Once again the PS3 version of a game gets tacked-on Sixaxis controls. You can tilt the controller left or right to keep your balance while walking across narrow beams. There are also occasions where the icon for context-sensitive areas doesn't appear, even if you're standing where you should be. The levels are strictly linear, and a handy compass points you in the right direction should you ever get lost. None of your objectives are particularly interesting, a fact made worse by the copious amount of backtracking you'll be doing. For example, you'll visit Davy Jones' organ not once, not twice, but three times. There are lots of collectible items on each level, and if you find everything, you'll be rewarded with unlockables and achievement points. You'll end up with less than 300 points for beating the game, so if you're looking to get points, you'll want to keep an eye out for chests and hidden items. Split-screen co-op and competitive play let you take on swarms of enemies in timed challenges, and you can even duel against a friend. Their inclusion is a nice gesture, but the results are underwhelming.
At World's End's best aspect is its graphics, though the PS3 version isn't nearly as attractive as the Xbox 360, thanks to an extremely choppy frame rate that really brings down the whole experience. The characters all look like their movie counterparts. Jack's drunken stupor is a bit overdone, and he's not as flamboyant as he is in the films, but that's just nit-picking because the likeness is uncanny. The animation is quite good, particularly when you're just running around and jumping, but there isn't enough variety to the fighting moves. Each character plays and attacks the same way, so you'll see the same few attacks over and over. The sword fighting is surprisingly violent, especially when you consider there's no blood. It's anyone's guess as to why it's OK for a T-rated game to show someone getting stabbed in the chest and the blade going all the way through the person's body, but it's not OK to show any blood around the wound. The locations in the game look very nice as well, and the camera will zoom in to make sure you notice, often at the expense of the gameplay. The Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman look just as you'd expect--you'll notice detailed rigging, rusty metal bars in holding cells, and detailed timber on the decks. Since nearly the entire game takes place on or near water, it's important that the water looks good, and it does.
The game's audio is solid, albeit unspectacular. You won't be hearing Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, or Orlando Bloom, but the soundalikes do an admirable job of filling their shoes. It's just too bad there isn't more dialogue to flesh out the story. The game uses the movies' soundtracks to punctuate the action, fading in and out depending on the situation. It's not the best score you've ever heard, but it fits the game well. The sound effects are good, but there's not enough variety to them. Granted, there's only so much that can be done with clanging swords, but there could have been more variety to the catchphrases that your foes yell when they attack.
When it's all said and done, At World's End is a very by-the-books approach to a movie-based game. It has, and lets you play as, all the characters you'd want to play; it doesn't deviate from the movies' plots too much; and it takes you to many of the locations you see in the films. While those are good things, the game really would have benefited by taking some risks. The biggest problem is that you're playing as a cool character in an exotic location, but you're not doing anything interesting, just running around picking up items and hitting the attack button endlessly. Unless you're a huge fan of the Pirates trilogy, you'll want to rent this one or pass on it altogether. If you're trying to pick between the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, go with the 360; it has a better frame rate and achievement points.