Saturday, June 02, 2007

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean at World's End (the Game)

So you've seen the movie, and think you might like to try the game. But you're nervous. Movie tie-in games almost always suck. And not just a little, but a lot. Most often, they are just yet another merchandising attempt to squeeze just a little more cash out of John Q. Moviegoer. So what's the story here, trash or treasure? Read on...

Well, I'll mostly be dealing from the perspective of the PC version here, so my opinions will sometimes be tinged by the fact that this game was clearly designed with consoles in mind, and ported to the PC toward the end of the development cycle.

The game runs in 3 resolutions for the PC - 640x480, 800x600, and 1024x768. I'm assuming this is because these three resolutions are the ones that conform to the standard, enhanced, and high definition scan codes of televisions. Additionally, there's a toggle for "widescreen." This toggle doesn't actually change the resolution of the screen, but rather makes the renderer alter the way it draws things to that they *appear* to be at the correct aspect ratio on a widescreen monitor, but in fact the actual resolution is still at a 4:3 ratio. This is of course a design decision that makes me go "bhuwhuah?" until I remember that it isn't really a PC game, but a PC port of a console game.

The game doesn't look as pretty on the PC as it does in the commercials. I'm assuming this is because the commercials are showing the 1080p scan version for consoles, which is of course more conducive to being pretty on television. The PC version's textures are a little on the blurry and simplistic side, and the models are a little low on the polygon count. This is most apparent in the game's cutscenes, where the problem is then exacerbated by the stiff and unnatural movements of the characters as they converse and move around. However, in the actual gameplay portions, this is less of a problem.

It's less of a problem because first of all, the camera isn't so zoomed in, second of all, there's always so much going on, and third of all, the motion suddenly becomes fluid and believable in the combat sequences of the game.

The movies' soundtracks are reproduced rather faithfully, and serves its purpose well in accentuating whatever is happening on screen at the time. Either the movie actors reprised their roles for the video game, or they found some voice actors who really sound like Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom. The Keira Knightly character I'm not so sure about, but the other two are dead on.

That said, the dialogue is eyeroll worthy at best. There's lots of standard "shiver me timbers" and "where's the rum?" sound bites that are all well and good, but when two main characters actually have lines to deliver to each other, more often then not I cringe as I tap madly at the action buttons hoping to skip the dialogue and get back to the action.

This is a hack and slash platformer that will feel very familiar to anyone who's played Power Stone, Kung Fu Chaos, Devil May Cry or any other number of melee-oriented 3rd person 3D-beatemups. You have buttons for movement, block, fast hit, powerful hit, grapple, inventory management, use inventory item and interact with world item/person.

Between sessions of hacking and slashing and minor puzzle-solving, there are also what they call "Jackanisms," which is a lot quicker and easier to say then "action-oriented cutscenes the idea for which we lifted directly out of Tomb Raider: Legend." In these "Jackanisms," you must hit the correct button or direction in a timely manner when prompted in order to bring the sequence to a succesful conclusion. Some of the sequences are manditory (and you have to start over if you fail) and others are elective (but you only get 1 try at the elective ones, and if you blow it you lose out on the reward). There's a bit of a learning curve to it, too, because the prompts are given in the symbols that the game uses rather than for the actual corresponding key or button.. as in, the "icon" for "quick attack" (a cutlass with a silver flash below it) rather than just a button with an "X" on it. It can get a little irritating, but within a couple sequences you start to get the hang of it.

The action loosely (and I use that in the strongest possible meaning of the word) follows the events depicted in both the second and third POTC movies. The plot is often a laughable thing, but the action is light and quick and easy to get into. All the major arcade-game type chestnuts are here - eat whatever food you find lying on the ground and it will immediately heal all lacerations and contusions you might have sustained, weaponry and vehicles are easy to operate and require no training, you know the charade. But the game is not meant to be a great intellectual stimulus, it's a cotton-candy game for a cotton-candy movie. You'll play through it in a day, enjoy it, and then probably put it away forever.

Unless you're one of those poor bastards that has to "unlock" every last little thing available in a game. See, POTCaWE uses that hated replayability crutch, "unlockables." Tantalizing you with optional content or characters, they want you to replay through each level looking to complete their little subobjectives. Now, unlockable reward content is all well and good if it's a truly, spectacularly epic game such as Final Fantasy VII, but too often these days it's just the fastest, lowest developer-brainpower-using option to inject an arguable element of replayability into a game that you would otherwise play straight through once and then put back on the shelf.

Technical Merit-
The game gets a bonus in my book, because installation is fast and easy and doesn't copy the entire contents of the DVD to your hard drive. True, it still takes up a gig, but it COULD have taken 4, and probably would have if it had been developed by certain other developers.

The Final Word-
The good - decent fighting, engaging play, not overly complex, ergonomic and intuitive controls, easy to chain combo attacks, tied-in to a fun movie.
The bad - standard sub-par PC port job, groanworthy dialogue, confusing iconography, minimal replayability.

The verdict? C+ to B-. A worthwhile renter, but no real reason to own. Or, conversely, you could get it for somebody's kid. The violence in the game is bloodless and largely cartoony or centered around flamboyant swashbuckling.

And that's the word from Bandit Camp...

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