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Pirates of the Caribbean PC CD-ROM

Published by Bethseda Softworks
Developed by Akella
Distributed by Ubi Soft Entertainment
Released - Out Now
Price : £29.99

I'd be the first to admit that games based on films are usually not that great. Couple this with the fact that I wasn't keen on the film of the same name and you would probably think that I wasn't the ideal reviewer for this game. However I'm delighted to say that this game's only connection with the film is its title. Some of you will have heard of the game Sea Dogs and what we have here is effectively a sequel to Sea Dogs.

It's difficult to pigeon hole Pirates of the Caribbean into a particular genre. The game contains elements of a RPG, trading strategy and an action/adventure genre. Not long ago we reviewed Port Royale, a strategy game, in which you had to sail across the Caribbean. In Port Royale you traded, encountered pirates and had to establish good relations with the various nations whilst also taking on any mission that took your fancy. You could argue that Pirates of the Caribbean is very similar to Port Royale, at least in spirit if not in it's implementation.

The events of the game are centred around a group of fictious islands. You control Nathaniel Hawk and begin with little cash and a ship that needs repairing. You are docked on the island of Oxbay. If you choose to, you can receive some basic tutorial advice at this stage and you are shown how to buy and sell merchandise, recruit extra crew, or sea dogs as they are called, and repair your ship. Whilst on land you'll have a third person perspective and you can walk around the town and even acquire the odd mission from certain people. Making money is a central focus of the game though so you'll have to be prepared to buy low and sell high as you hop from island to island. You can either attempt to get a good reputation with the various European nations in the game or you can be a blackheart and be the scourge of the seas.

Whilst you go about your missions and other money making activities, sooner or later you'll come across pirates. When you board your ship you'll be taken to a simple overhead view, where you navigate your ship to your chosen destination. It's a wise move to save your game before you depart as you never know what game ending scenario you are going to encounter on the high seas. In fact it's a good idea to save often, particularly at the beginning of the game, as it can be a bit difficult dealing with enemies as Hawk only has basic attributes to begin with. It can be really aggravating to have carried out your business on an island only for your ship to be sunk by pirates as you set sail and then realise you hadn't saved the game for a while. There is not only pirates to contend with either. Storms can break out whilst you're at sea and you can even get caught up in a twister and both of these phenomenon can sink your ship and cause the game to end.

Assuming you come across human enemies as opposed to forces of nature you'll be pleased to find the battles are rather satisfying. You can fire cannonballs, grapeshot (which are small lead balls), bombs and knippel, which are two cast-iron balls that are connected with a chain, assuming you have these onboard of course. You can even switch to a first person view to manually aim your cannons. The efficiency of your crew in participating in the battle is influenced by the level of certain attributes. If you have a high rating for cannons, for instance, your men will be able to reload more quickly. The battles look impressive and it's nice to see that you can out manoeuvre your enemies and win battles that aren't always in your favour. You can even board a defeated enemy and ransack their ship if you want to.

The achilles heel of Pirates of the Caribbean is the control system. There are 3 control schemes for when you are on land, first person sailing mode and third person sailing mode. Of course this is a lot to take onboard when you're new to the game but it's not the multitude of controls that's the problem, rather the default control configuration. The default controls feel awkward and completely unnatural. Whilst on land the left mouse button moves you forward and the right mouse button moves you backward. The natural instinct for a gamer would be to use the cursor keys or the WASD combination that works for FPS games. The mouse control of movement means that combat has to be carried out with the keys which is uncomfortable. Thankfully you can edit the controls and it's something I would recommend you do as it makes the game feel so much better.

Visually Pirates of the Caribbean is spectacular. Everything looks simply stunning. The first time I was caught in a thunderstorm I was gobsmacked with how beautiful it looked. The water effects and the sea battles look outstanding and I find it hard to believe that Akella have crammed in so much detail without sacrificing anything. The character models are just as impressive too. Seeing your ship caught in a twister with its sails being ravaged is strangely satisfying, unless you end up sinking of course. Obviously with this being published by Bethseda there are those that will think that this is the same game engine as the one used in Morrowind but I can honestly say that the graphics knock spots off Morrowind. Amazingly the framerate is more stable than I have even known in Morrowind. When faced with a vast, open landscape you have a small amount of distance fogging but it's nothing when compared to the distance fogging that appeared in Morrowind.

It wouldn't be right to say that Pirates of the Caribbean is perfect for deaf gamers but for the most part there aren't any major problems. All conversations are delivered via text so there's no problem there. All information on the relevant screens, such as the Trade Book and Quest Book are shown in text too so again there are no problems. Occasionally you'll get a cutscene that moves the story along and unfortunately there are no subtitles for these cutscenes. It's no disaster by any means but it does mean that you'll miss out on background detail that these cutscenes provide. If the result of the cutscene is that you have another objective you can always look in your Quest Book to see what you have to do. Occasionally information is relayed via icons but again this is fine for deaf gamers.

There are a couple of problems, the primary one being that the default control system is simply not natural, at least for me, but these can be easily overlooked (and thankfully changed in the case of the controls) because of the very enjoyable gameplay. The game isn't as open ended as some gamers might want but there is still a certain amount of freedom in the game to be able to shape Nathaniel Hawk as you see fit which also makes for plenty of replay value too. Anybody who enjoys games based around pirates and engaging naval battles will be pleased with what's on offer in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Overall Game Rating: 8.0/10
Pirates of the Caribbean is an enjoyable pirate filled RPG. There are one or two niggles here but overall it's very enjoyable.

Deaf Gamers comment:
The cutscenes are not subtitled but otherwise it's fine for deaf gamers.