Hot on the heels of Bethesda's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow, which filled us in on some of the past exploits of cinema's most flamboyant buccaneer, comes Buena Vista Games' Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, which aims to bring us up to speed on Captain Jack's most recent voyage concerning a certain seafaring spirit named Davy Jones. Unlike the film, though, which bristles with danger and a grand sense of the fantastic, Dead Man's Chest has nothing particularly exciting to offer, as it focuses on uninspired swordplay and a handful of unremarkable minigames. The whole game feels pervasively dull.
The story in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is fairly faithful to its cinematic counterpart. You'll play as all three main characters from the film--Elizabeth Swann, Will Turner, and of course, Captain Jack Sparrow--over the course of the game. The game starts with a little explanation for what Jack was doing in that coffin at the start of the film, and on the whole the story is mostly faithful, though it tweaks a few minor exchanges for the sake of streamlining the game's storytelling and stuffing more fights into the narrative. The game seems to use stills taken from the film and its relatively simple 3D engine in equal measure for the story sequences, and though neither is particularly cinematic in nature, both suffer from the fact that the game features no real voice acting beyond a handful of in-game battle cries, and all of the game's attempts at storytelling end up feeling really dry.
You'll spend the majority of your time hacking and slashing your way through filthy pirates, the bloody British, hungry cannibals, and more. The game gradually grants you new combos and special moves as you progress, but pounding on the Y button seems to do the job pretty well most of the time. Though all three characters play pretty much identically, each has a unique power move that's activated by pressing both shoulder buttons at once. Will throws a flurry of hand axes, Elizabeth breaks out with two swords, and most amusingly, Jack fires a single bullet from his gun, which then ricochets around the room for several seconds. The power moves are generally good for giving you some breathing room when you're surrounded by enemies, but the game limits how often you can use them.
In addition to your standard cutlass, you'll find other weapons dropped by downed enemies or hidden inside crates, and these range from a human femur to a pirate's blunderbuss. While your cutlass apparently stays razor sharp forever, the other weapons you pick up wear out rather quickly, and the game provides you with a wear indicator, as well as a gauge indicating how powerful the weapon you're holding is. You'll also find piles of skulls and rocks and such that you can chuck at enemies from afar, as well as torches to burn down flammable obstacles and buckets of water to douse flaming obstacles. Surmounting such obstacles is really the only thing to take your mind off all the monotonous sword fighting, though the game's penchant for repeated backtracking within a level makes this about as tedious as the sword fighting.
Dead Man's Chest tries to mix things up a little with a few stylus-controlled minigames in between the regular levels, but they're all so simple that the novelty wears out before you finish your first game. For example, Walk the Plank is a simple four-color pattern-memorization game that pits Captain Jack against a potentially mutinous crew member as they both balance precariously on the mast of the Black Pearl, while Shoot the Monkey treats the Black Pearl as a shooting gallery of sorts, where you aim to shoot the undead monkey Jack and avoid wounding one of the crew. Perhaps the simplicity of the minigames would be forgivable if there were a greater variety, but what's actually here gets old immediately. Through all of your trials and tribulations, you'll pick up plenty of what a pirate treasures most: gold! Your plunder can be used between levels to buy concept art and additional characters, as well as alternate costumes and weapons. There's a decent amount of stuff to unlock this way, but most of it is just for show.
The game's sound can feel anemic, but the overall presentation of Dead Man's Chest is rather evocative of the movie, if a little bit sunnier. The environments are small, with some touches that are minor but significant in setting the tone. It sets a pretty good mood for adventure, but technically it's really underwhelming, and a lot of the environments, as well as the characters, look chunky and crude. Textures are highly pixelated throughout, and we also saw some really unsightly texture stretching and seaming.
Despite the fact that the PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS versions are completely different games, both suffer from core gameplay that is dull and repetitive. If you're a big fan of Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man's Chest is a decent companion to the film, and you'll probably be more willing to overlook the repetitive swordplay and meager offering of simple minigames than most. Without some affection for the source material, though, Dead Man's Chest will seem like a pretty unremarkable action adventure.