by Marcus Mulkins
reviewed on PC
A Case Of The Unexpected
Think "pirates". You can even think, Pirates! You can think of every piratey movie you've ever seen. You can think of "Treasure Island" or even "Muppets' Treasure Island." Think of "Cutthroat Island" or "Sea Hawk".
This game isn't any of those things.
With a very little stretch of the imagination, you can see "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." Whether or not that similarity was intentional on the part of developer Ascaron (of Patrician and Port Royale fame) is somewhat debatable. After all, just how many pirate sagas involve zombies, the Kraken, a Ghost Ship, and Voodoo curses? [I'm actually surprised that Disney hasn't tried to sue on the grounds of copyright infringement.]
Whatever image you conjure up about what you think this game is, I'm certain that the reality differs quite a bit.
Pretty boys and cover girls at sea
You start the game as one Captain Thomas "Hawk" Blythe, a sub-lieutenant of the notorious pirate, Blackbeard. In the skimpy manual, there's a page of his monologue expounding on the legend of Henry Morgan's hidden treasure. Reading the author's stylistic spellings and punctuation, you get the idea that Hawk has one hell of an English/Cockney/seadog accent. But then when you see him in a cutscene, he speaks in this nicely resonant baritone voice that is about as devoid of accent and colorful terminology as I could imagine. [Really, that voice actor should get his own radio talk show.] As to what he looks like, think Captain Jack Sparrow, but stretched taller, with a slightly gaunter face and you're there.
Hawk has a girlfriend, Sangua, who is supposed to be a Voodoo priestess, as well as being another of Blackbeard's subordinate captains. Except that you never actually see her captaining a ship. [At one point you see her ship at a distance, but you never actually she her as the "man in charge" of a shipful of salty seadogs.] As a Voodoo priestess, she doesn't exactly exude that Voodoo essence we've come to expect. She doesn't have the slightest trace of a Jamaican or Cajun accent, and when she's doing her Voodoo schtick, it feels like she's simply going through the motions instead of invoking True Belief. But she does look like one hot babe. A Caucasian hot babe to boot; you'd expect a Voodoo priestess to be somewhat more darkly complected. (Her mother, on the other hand, looks like a former black slave from a Louisiana plantation.)
As a couple, Hawk and Sangua look like they would be better suited for doing adult flicks together. Except that they are way too nice to be doing that kind of thing, much less being pirate captains under the command of the bloodthirsty Blackbeard. But what really hurts their cutscene performances most is that the programmers have the characters moving their mouths about as much as someone with Lockjaw. Nor do they blink; not ever. The net effect is that the characters look about as alive and lively as the old Animatronic exhibits at Disneyland. And that pretty soon they will need a lot of eye drops.
Linear storyline stretched to the extreme
The construction of the game is what I would call "a string of pearls". Unlike most other games where you have the freedom to explore the game world, in this game you are limited to a very immediate task at hand, followed by another, and another, and another, and another....In between the tasks, you are given a cutscene during which you can lean back and flex your fingers (exhausted by the most recent burst of button mashing) and hear another little bit of the unfolding story, and then be told what your next task is. At the start of the next action sequence, the game Saves - which is good because if you fail, you are given the immediate option to reload the most recent Save. Because of the short duration of each action sequence, if you do fail, you don't lose much when you go back to that Save.
As for the action sequences themselves, they fall into two categories: Land, where Hawk gets to slice and dice opponents by the score with his trusty cutlass, with the occasional pistol shot for good measure, and Sea, where you get to sail circles around one, two, three, four, however many ships you like, all the while blowing holes in them with a variety of ammunition, or luring them across shoals where they can sink themselves as they tear out the ships' bottoms. At Sea, you can also speed things along by tossing a barrel of Kraken bait (causing the Kraken to drag down the nearest enemy ship) or barrels of gunpowder to use as floating mines set on time delay to catch enemy ships following in your wake. [How do you keep a lit fuse burning in the water?] If the bad guys manage to actually inflict some damage as you bob and weave, you can repair your hull, guns, or sails instantly by employing repair kits. On Land, instead of instantaneous repair kits, you can use Healing Potions. (Just like Med Kits in Doom, or a score of other shooters.)
No Pros and Cons at this time