by Dan Lenois
reviewed on PC
Always trust a dishonest man or woman to be dishonest. It's the honest ones you want to watch out for...
Of all the historical faction vs faction storytelling combos you could opt for, pitting pirates against effectively the Spanish inquisition definitely is one way to make a statement and have your game stand out from the crowd. Similar to most ensemble narratives, the player has to unite a team of skilled individuals, and turn them into a cohesive fighting force. The plot here is fairly straightforward from the start. It does just enough to introduce pivotal characters and their place in the world, but otherwise lets the player control how much storytelling they want to become immersed in.
Much of the character development is delivered through optional one-on-one character conversation cutscenes on the ship in-between missions, as well as through banter and exposition during story missions. While the game clearly prioritizes gameplay first, there's still just enough lore and character development to keep the more narrative-driven players happy throughout.
Not all treasure is silver and gold...
One of the central objectives throughout most of the game, setting aside the main objective of revenge and plunder, is to scour certain levels for black pearls, these enchanted circular gems can be used to revive (aka unlock) new additional playable teammates, whose souls cannot yet retake possession of their bodies until you free them. Their continued existence is dependent on the enchanted pearls. Almost sounds like a curse of the black pearl, some might say...
Each mission grants its own rewards, of which black pearls are only one. So unless your next specific mission needs to be complete in a linear order, it might be a good idea to prioritize completing whatever mission might grant you the specific reward you're most in need of, and then get to the others later. There is no right or wrong choice, and as long as all the missions get done eventually, the main campaign requirements will still be satisfied.
But where has the rum gone?
Enemy AI is deliberately predictable, albeit punishing. That said, the game's time manipulation mechanics allow for players to easily rewind time, aka load up a recent save, and proceed with new knowledge and reinforced certainty. This isn't a game all about tryharding your way to the end of the level on a single attempt. The game tonally goes the complete opposite direction, and encourages players to experiment with different approaches to find what suits them best for the situation they're in.
Everything feels wonderfully organic. At the end of each mission, the player will be greeted with a post-match screen that shows them a time-lapsed linear feed of where they started, what paths they followed through the map, where they eliminated one or more enemies, mission markers, and a multitude of other useful information, all represented in real-time through a top-down minimalistic map UI.
Many levels contain Easter eggs and references to other pirate-related media and pop culture, such as in one particular mission, when undergoing certain side quests to entertain a pair of sibling ghosts that watch over a pair of conjoined islands, they ask you to burn a hidden stash of rum on the island, creating a fire that can be seen from quite some distance away. Because of course, in the words of one Elizabeth Swann: "Rum is a vile drink that turns even the most respectable of men into complete scoundrels."
You had best start believing in ghost stories. You're in one...
Playing as a group of undead pirates is quite the selling pitch for any game, and Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is no exception. While some of its foundations, like a more fleshed-out combat system, and more character variety would've been nice, as it is a bit annoying that many of the selectable player characters have significant playstyle overlap, and the few puzzles the game offers, like the mystery of how to unlock the secret door hidden away in the bowels of the ship, is solved without player input during a cutscene, those moments where the game actually allows the player to play the game, rather than insisting on playing it out for them like a Telltale game, are quite enjoyable.
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew doesn't necessarily excel at either its narrative or character-related RPG beats, but it does enough to get by, while its gameplay carries it to safe harbour.
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Engaging level navigation, decent stealth mechanics, varied objectives
Character ability overlap, unplayable puzzles, limited narrative RPG elements