Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End Review (PS3)

You can tell it's the summer drought can't you? The long months of May through to September are often categorised for gamers not by the superb weather and serotonin-high that the rest of the country seemingly operates on, but rather by the lack of decent new releases and the sackful of inevitable summer blockbuster movie tie-ins. 'Pirates of the Caribbean : At Worlds End' marks the second such expensively developed cash cow to be released in quick succession, following on from the passable Spiderman 3 a few weeks ago. However whereas the Treyarch-developed superhero game had some previously-established play mechanics to work with, Pirates is developed from the ground up as a brand new 3rd person action-adventure with movie-goers squarely in mind.

Cap'n Jack is back. But without the proper voicing of course The game is interspersed with moments from the movie

Indeed fans of the film will undoubtedly be delighted with the package as a whole. As is often the case with games of this type, Disney has tasked the development team with simply recreating as much of the atmosphere from the big screen as possible (the game takes place straddling events from the 2nd and 3rd films), and it shows. The character models and environments are nothing short of fantastic, with Captain Jack Sparrow swaying drunkenly and convincingly, and Will Turner.. well, acting rather woodenly just like his real-life counterpart.

The in-game engine is actually fairly proficient at handling all of the content that needs to be thrown at the screen, and even more surprisingly runs at a full 1080p if you have a set that can support it. Lighting and texturing is all solidly handled, and although there are a few major frame rate issues on the PS3 version (not present on the 360 version I might add), in general the visual fidelity throughout is simply excellent. Each of the major locations has been lavished with detail, with enough variation to avoid the identikit, recycled look of so many modern titles.

With that in mind, it seems a rather baffling choice to not include any of the original cast to do voiceovers. It would have seemed a logical decision to tie the actors in to the game when signing them up for the movie instalments, but that doesn't seem to have happened, and we end up in the same situation that plagues so many games of this type. The voice acting ranges from the sublime to the completely ridiculous, with the Johnny Depp-alike at least making an effort to be creditable, but the rest of the cast barely recognisable. With the amount of money that Disney threw at the franchise for the cinema, this sort of oversight is fairly jarring from the overall experience.

Unfortunately that isn't the last of the issues that plagues Pirates of the Caribbean, with an entirely lacklustre and predictable hack-and-slash gameplay mentality included as standard throughout, and with virtually no variation in design to break the monotony of the campaign.

Swordfighting is repetitive and extremely dull Character models are generally excellent

Chief amongst the list of gripes has to be the combat system. Tapping X results in a slash from your sword, with a second and third enough to dispatch pretty much every enemy in the game. There are a few other combinations of attacks that can be triggered, but they all take longer than simply whacking X three times in a row, and as such any incentive to vary up combinations of moves is instantly dispelled. The combat animation is also particularly laughable, with enemies signalling their readiness to be dispatched by turning around and simply standing on the spot, waiting for somebody to deliver the final blow.

Of course this could be forgivable if it happened only with certain grunt enemies or just for a few stages of play, but to watch the same animation thousands of times in a row is nothing short of mind-numbingly dull. Some boss characters will require a special attack to dispatch, but this basically means performing the same set of moves as previously described, then following it up with a press of one of the shoulder buttons at the end. Balletic grace this most definitely is not.

Since Pirates largely consists of getting from one place to another utilising the tactics above, it lends the game an incredibly monotonous and repetitive tone that isn't helped by the poorly attempted variations of play in between. The main protagonist will sometimes be called upon to perform a sword duel with key characters, with the camera switching to a side-view and attacks performed by simply holding the analogue stick in one of three positions. Whilst the game is undoubtedly designed with a casual and young audience in mind, as a play mechanic this is fine, but the rather jarring nature of the violence in the more everyday combat runs completely contrary to this, and belies a consistent approach.

Outside of this, there are a few short puzzling sections and some fairly generic Prince of Persia style balancing and running up walls, but unfortunately all handled very chunkily and without much thought as to what actually makes a good game, rather than what simply looks good on-screen. On a plus note, the whole experience is mercifully short, with the main campaign taking a paltry 5-6 hours to complete in total. There are a whole raft of collectable incentives hidden away to unlock the usual additional content, but I can't see many people wanting to return and scour through any of the levels for too long, if at all.

You can fight as Elizabeth at points throughout the game Various duels occur throughout the campaign

And that really sums up Pirates of the Caribbean as a videogame; Short, shallow and repetitive, with not a whole lot to tie you in to the experience. Just like the movie itself, some might say. Whilst it might not have enough qualities to make your preconceptions about blockbuster tie-ins walk the plank for good, there may well be enough fan-service here to warrant a purchase if you already have the poster and the bed sheets waiting for you at home. Just be prepared to hit the X button... a lot.

Top Game Moment:
Listening to some of the laughably bad voice acting from the fake main cast.

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