Pirates of the Caribbean
System: X-Box
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks   
Developer: Akella/1C
Released: June 2003
Genre: RPG
Capabilities: Memory Unit

Review Written: August 2, 2003

Bethesda’s Pirates of the Caribbean has barely anything that connects it with the recently released blockbuster movie from Disney. It shares none of the cast of characters in the film, nor do any of the likenesses of the actors appear in the game. It’s a damn shame too since Johnny Depp is flawless in his hilarious portrayal of Captain Jack Sparro in the film. This adventure-RPG is really a sequel to developer Akella’s older PC hit, Sea Dogs, but near the end of the development cycle Bethesda struck a deal with Disney and added in a slew of elements to connect it with the movie. Now if it wasn’t for the string of bugs that made their way into the final product (probably due to the developers rushing the game out to meet with the film debut) we could have had one of the premier titles on the Xbox, but this is still a solid game all around.

PotC focuses on one Captain Nathaniel Hawk. He’s stuck in a chain of Caribbean islands owned by various European powers like England, France and Spain, among others. The story picks up right away as the French capture one of England’s territories. After barely surviving the capture, Nathan reports this to the English governor on a nearby colony and finds himself now working for the English. There are plenty of plot twists and turns that keeps the chain of events fresh. There are also a couple of tiny elements that are tied to the movie such as the appearance of undead pirates and their godly-powerful ship “The Black Pearl.” But other than those small factors, PotC plays out like its own original game.

There are a few components that make up the gameplay of PotC. When on foot in the islands, each one usually consists of a town and a small jungle to traverse through to shores and other locations on certain islands like caves and canyons. In towns you can walk up to practically any NPC and start conversing with them. Usually the game will hint at which people for you to talk to next so you know where to continue your quest. You can enter and exit to any building in the towns as you desire because the game is completely open-ended, leaving us free to do whatever we want. This ranged from me looting chests of citizen’s households to downing a few brews in the tavern. Each town shares many of the same commercial buildings such as town halls, taverns, stores, and shipyards. Thankfully, the developers included a handy “fast travel” option to instantaneously take us to that location which saves us from wasting all that tedious time aimlessly walking around towns. For land battles your weapon repertoire is limited to just a pistol, and a sword (both of which can be upgraded later through the game).

There will be just as much time spent at sea than on land. There is third-person persective of your ship whenever you sail off from the ports. The ship moves extremely slow, but there’s a quick-time feature to speed up things just a hair. For navigating the sea, there is an overhead 2D map perspective where fleet of ships is represented by a tiny boat. As it maneuvers across the map other ships will also be noticeable, most will just sail by but usually Pirates will battle whenever they come across you. Whenever ship battles occurred the game switches back into the third-person view. Handling ship battles isn’t as easy to learn as the land battles, but I got the hang of things eventually. As you maneuver your ship with the left thumb-stick you click in the right thumb-stick to get a first person perspective of you running on the deck of your ship with a targeting reticule. Accuracy is of the essence as you have to place the reticule near the enemy ship and when it switches to red is when your cannons have the best chance of hitting the enemy. Whenever the ship is close enough to the enemy, boarding is possible where you go onto the foe’s ship and take out their crew and win yourself a new ship in your fleet!

Besides from being a straight up action/adventure title, PotC has several RPG elements within it. Nathaniel Hawk gains experience just like any other character does in your average RPG. Whenever he gains an experience level, he’ll get two attribute points to add on to one of twelve abilities such as melee combat, sailing, and leadership to name a few. He also gets an ability point where he gets to choose from a wide selection of abilities to gain like faster gun/cannon reloading, character/ship defense, and the like. Officers can be hired by finding them at taverns or certain others will join up with you as the storyline progresses. When they join your crew it is like gaining an extra party member because they always stick around with you, you can have up to three of them tagging along with you at all times. However, their AI tends to be as smart as a box of rocks in combat. They tend to loose duels in confrontations and end up dying rather often and it only gets all too annoying way too fast.

You can assign officers as captains of other ships that you purchase from shipyards or commandeer after successful sea battles. Unfortunately, your allied ship’s AI in naval duels is just as dumbfounding as party members because they’ll take a bulk of hits and do very little damage to your enemies in return. You can give them orders from the quick commands menu, but maneuvering your ship and giving orders for up to your other three ships in your fleet can make matters get very complicated.

There are a few extra things to do in PotC instead of focusing on the main quest ahead of you. There is a trading system where each colony specializes in certain imports and exports like chocolate, rum, cotton, and whatnot. A trade book keeps tabs on what the buying and selling prices are of each colony. So if gaining a bunch of loot fits your fancy, than you can buy goods for dirt cheap on certain colonies, and then sell them high in others and net a big profit for yourself. I wouldn’t bother wasting your entire time trading because I find the whole trading system useless since you get quite a bit of money from the main quests instead, and I never found myself running short on money once in the game. However, if you still insist on being a no good greedy scoundrel than go right ahead!

By now I’m sure you have heard this game is glitch heaven, and you have heard of all the stories of the bad game saves, white screen of death, and the mysteriously disappearing game data. I have ran into quite a few of these, the bad saves happened to me a couple of times, but I always made sure to keep an extra save on my memory unit just in case the game decided to delete all my saves off the hard drive like I heard it did to others. Thankfully, it didn’t happen just yet(--knock on wood--). There were also weird moments in gameplay where I had to redo entire quests twice because I made the mistake of talking to a main character a couple of times. Once, before the quest who told me to go and rescue somebody, and when I talked to him again expecting a thank you I got the same story again and the guy I rescued disappeared and I had to redo the entire quest. Grrrrr.

There are also numerous spelling and grammar errors in the story text throughout the game. I was running across them in practically every conversation I had, and I’m just pondering the fact if Bethesda’s main editor quit on them or something. Either ways all these bugs are evident that the developers rushed the development and decreased the polish cycle to get this game out before the theatrical release of PotC. I can only hope that Bethesda’s quality assurance department gets a flood of emails to one day fix the unacceptable amount of glitches. I was wishing for Xbox Live compatibility for downloadable patches, but none is to be found.

If there is something that was done remarkably well in this game, then it is the beautiful graphics. Lately with gamers, whenever I mention Bethesda, they think of the stunning water effects in Morrowind. Just like that game, PotC has just as impeccable visuals. You can look to the bottom of the sea floor in the sunlight, and gaze at underwater creatures like sharks and notice the ships stay under the sea once you defeat them. The character and building models on land look just as good. They all sport lots of detail, and have that convincing Renaissance-age look to them. My only problem with the character models is that I run across the same damn ones in each town! There is also one other problem with the graphics, and that is clipping, and my oh my is there lots of it. I would walk up to a rock or a wall and slash my sword at it expecting my sword to just bounce off the rocks, but not only did the sword go through the wall, but so did nearly the whole character model. But other than the abundant clipping, the graphics are superb!

The audio is another well-rounded area in PotC. The background music fits the tone of gameplay perfectly as it changes tunes from thunderous tunes that roar during naval and land battles, to those friendly upbeat melodies that play as you traverse around town. The dialogue isn’t in full blown voice acting as I was hoping for, instead whenever I struck up a conversation with a character they said a one line greeting (usually having nothing to do with the conversation anyways) and then it was all text based from there. The sound effects are all right on the mark with all the sword slashes and cannon blasts sounding like they came right out of the film itself.

PotC took me around 25 hours to complete. I only did a couple of the side-quests though, but there are plenty of others to be found to take your mind off the main one such as rescuing kidnapped citizens from the Pirates, escorting merchant ships, and going on assassin missions. There aren’t any extras to be found or unlocked, which is quite unusual considering this is a movie licensed game where you think there would at least be some trailers for the movie or cast interviews like most of the other entries on Xbox (Enter the Matrix, LotR: Two Towers, Blade 2) have. So after beating all the side quests, there is little to be desired to warrant a second play through.


Graphics: 8.8
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 7.1
Replay Value: 5.5

Overall: 7.4

Pirates of the Caribbean fills in a noticeable void of RPG’s on the Xbox, and while it isn’t a fully traditional RPG, it has enough elements thrown in to be considered one. The time I spent with it was pretty enjoyable for the most part and I wholeheartedly enjoy all the new elements of play Bethesda thrown in the package. If you can get by the glitches and this type of game content is your cup of tea then go ahead and add this one to your Xbox library today.

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