Pirates of the Caribbean Review

I really enjoy pirate games.  Sailing the island-rich waters of the Caribbean in search of plunder and buried treasure, taking your share of the riches of the New World with cutlass and cannonball, and profiting from the wars between the colonial powers of the day.  Now that's good stuff.  I also really liked the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, a clever and enjoyable adventure that captured the magical quality that has made pirates so fascinating to people over the past 400 years since they sailed the Caribbean.  A pirate game that draws its inspiration from the Disney movie of the same name sounds like a can't miss formula for gaming excitement, right?  Wrong.  Akella has managed to take all of the magic and adventure out of the mix, leaving an awkward game that is an exercise in tedium.

Hawk goes for a stroll.

You'd expect a game called "Pirates of the Caribbean" to be based on its namesake or even to take place in, say, the Caribbean, but that's not the case here.  First off, you don't get to play as Captain Jack Sparrow or any other character from the film.  You are Nathaniel Hawk, a privateer swept up in a series of events that begins with a French invasion of an English port and culminates in a battle with the skeletal pirates of the Black Pearl.  The Black Pearl's appearance seems to have been tacked on in an attempt to make some sort of connection between the game and the movie since it doesn't seem to fit in otherwise.  Should you decide to skip the storyline missions for a little bit and go exploring the Caribbean, you'll be disappointed.  The Caribbean has been reduced to a handful of generic islands each with a single fictional town.

Even if there were a lot to explore you'd more than likely quit in frustration long before you'd see it all. To begin with, the game has all the earmarks of a console game that was ported to the PC too quickly. When you're on land control is slow, awkward, and frustrating. The control scheme is completely counterintuitive, so be prepared to spend some time trying to remap the keys to a layout that you can work with. Even after you do so though, you'll still struggle to guide Hawk around the towns and islands. The designers must have realized what a pain it was to get around because they added a "Fast Walk" option that will teleport you straight to each of the key locations in the area. The only real motivation to walk anywhere would be to talk to the locals, if they had anything interesting or useful to say that is. After the first few repetitive conversations which are conveyed in a giant font that can only display four lines on the screen at a time you'll give up on speaking to anyone unless you absolutely have to do so.

If you are forced to walk around at night you will be completely out of luck. The screen will be so dark that you'll barely be able to make out your character, let alone anything around him. There are no brightness or gamma correction options (you even have to run a separate program before starting the game to change the screen resolution) and no way to speed time, so you're just stuck fumbling in the dark. At one point I landed on an island and found myself swimming in completely darkness. After going around in circles for a little while, it looked like I was walking so I must have hit land. Once on land I still couldn't see a thing and couldn't tell if I was walking forward or was stuck on a wall. I couldn't find any way to return to my ship, so I was forced to load my last saved game, do little donuts at sea waiting for daylight, and then land on the island again.