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Pirates of the Caribbean
Review by: Jared Black
Developer: Akella
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
# of Players: 1
Genre: Role Playing
ESRB: Teen
Online: No
Date Posted: 8-14-03

System Requirements:

800 MHz Pentium III, Celeron, or AMD Athlon
128MB RAM
8x CD/DVD-ROM Drive
GeForce2 MX or better
Keyboard
Mouse
Windows XP/2000/ME/98

OK, Iíll admit it. When Bethesda announced that Sea Dogs II had essentially been replaced by Pirates of the Caribbean, I was a little worried. After all, Disney Interactive titles have had a sporadic history quality-wise (going from generally good on the Genesis/SNES to awful during the 32-bit years), and games based on movies in general havenít fared all that well down through the years. Iím happy to report that Pirates of the Caribbean has indeed turned out to be a good pirate-themed RPG, although it still has itís share of problems that prevent it from being the next Morrowind.

Aside from the name, Pirates of the Caribbean actually shares little with the movie of the same name. Players take on the role of Nathaniel Hawk, Captain of the Victory during ďthe golden age of piracyĒ (mid-1600ís) on the Caribbean Sea. As Nathaniel, the player starts out in the town of Oxbay where they go through a tutorial to get acclimated to the various game mechanics. Oxbay is much like any other town, with a tavern, several shops, a shipyard, and other locales expected in a game of this nature. After buying and selling some goods and following one of your henchmen around for a bit, the player is cut loose and essentially on their own.

I donít want to get into the storyline too much due to the nature of the game, but suffice it to say that the storyline is robust enough to keep the game moving at a decent pace. Like Morrowind though, the players can largely ignore this storyline as he/she sees fit and forge their own path through the game. The game features plenty of opportunities to do just that, including numerous quests the player can undertake, several warring nations to side with, and many different opportunities for battling both on land and on sea.

Early on, the player will have two main goals to accomplish regardless of how closely the storyline is followed: ďacquireĒ as much gold as possible and build up Nathanielís stats. Nathaniel starts out horribly weak and destitute, and early attempts at battle (land and sea) are generally frustrating experiences with quick deaths.

Speaking of battle, this gameís primary flaw lies in the activities Nathaniel undertakes on land. On foot Nathaniel moves very slowly without the ability to run, and this combined with the simplistic battling leads to some boring and flawed landlubbing. The quick travel options to each cityís main points of interest helps a lot, but Iíd rather just have the ability to run there myself. And of course, the quick travel option doesnít allow the player to move quicker during actual combat. Land combat is a mix of swordplay and gun battle, neither of which is that interesting. The block button actually works too well, and can be used to block ad nauseum while Nathaniel recovers health in-between slow gunfire and weak sword slashes. Interaction between NPCs and the player are handled pretty well, but this game suffers from the same problem Morrowind does. With so many NPCs to speak with, text and voice is often repeatedÖand in many instances doesnít match up with the current context itís being presented in.

On the high seas is where this game really shines though, in particular the excellent ship-to-ship combat. Traveling between islands is represented via an overhead map, with various ships and storms passing by from time to time. No map was included with the game, so make sure to get one from Bethesdaís official site. If an enemy ship gets too close itíll automatically engage the player in combat, and itís then that the view shifts to show the action up close. Players can use a variety of weapons during combat, including cannon fire, bombs, and knippels. These weapons affect different parts of the opposing ship, including the sails, crew, and hull structure. The playerís spyglass can be used in first-person view to direct the weapons fire, or the player can simply choose to direct the action in third-person. Essentially, combat plays out much like the action in Pirates: The Legend of Black KatÖonly itís deeper and more strategic. Once a ship has been beaten down enough, it can be boarded or simply sunk and looted.

Given that this is a CRPG, naturally these actions are all governed by a fairly deep skill system. Points are earned through advancement, and can be applied to several piratey skills depending on player preference. These include things like Leadership, Sailing, Commerce, Repair, etc. Ship abilities are determined by the ship currently being piloted, with smaller ones generally being easier to maneuver and larger ones being harder to sink due to extra fortification. The size and substance of the shipís crew also plays a part as well, as the player will begin to run into various issues once a crew has been depleted.

Whether on land or out at sea, Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the most gorgeous games Iíve ever played. Towns are full of life, with consistent and interesting architecture and extremely sharp textures everywhere. The water effect on the sea is gorgeous, even besting Bethesdaís own Morrowind (which itself had some gorgeous water effects). Characters are animated well, and they reflect well the seedy types one would want in a pirate-based game. Itís clear that Akella has done itís homework on the period and area as well, as the ship designs are very meticulous and local wildlife reflects what one would expect to find in the Caribbean. I canít think of anything to complain about graphically, and itís been quite a while since Iíve been able to say that in a review.

Sound wise, Pirates is solid but not outstanding. The music repeats a bit too much, although all of it fits the theme well and sounds great coming out of my simple three-speaker setup. Sound effects are spot-on for the most part, although they seem a little too sparse and muted in some places. Thereís nothing to really complain about on the whole though.

-- Jared Black still hasn't been able to see the movie.

Highs:

  • Gorgeous graphics featuring some of the best texture work Iíve ever seen.
  • Character development is deep, and the variety of ships and weaponry is nice.
  • Plenty of RPG gaming here, including a good storyline and some challenging quests.
Lows:
  • At times the controls are a bit too complex, even with the complex nature of this game.
  • Fans of the movie that buy this game probably wonít know what theyíre getting themselves into, as this is a hardcore CRPG through and through.
  • Land-based combat and action in general is uninspiring.
Final Verdict:

Although the land-based stuff is rather ho-hum, the excellent ship battles and deep gameplay more than make up for it in the end. Pirates of the Caribbean is a solid RPG that should satisfy pirate and CRPG fans alike, even if it really isnít that well suited for the actual movieís intended audience.

Overall Score: 7.6

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