Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is actually awful enough to inspire appreciation for the games that get its flaws right.
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Multimedia: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Platforms: Wii (reviewed); PlayStation 3; Xbox 360; PlayStation 2; Nintendo DS; PlayStation Portable; PC; Mobile
Number of players: 1-2
ESRB rating: Teen
US release date: 2007-05-22
If you're one of those people who thinks that movie tie-in video games are always terrible, then Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End will do absolutely nothing to change that view. It is such a terrible game that it has inspired me to change my entire perception of what makes a game bad. In that regard I recommend the title heartily to anyone who wishes to experience a fascinating encounter with the truly awful.
Where to begin? You play as Jack Sparrow for the majority of the game along with a few others but it doesn't particularly matter who you play as, because they all have the same combos, which are equally irrelevant because you will rarely use them. One of the strengths of Zelda on the Wii is that the direction you wave the remote does not particularly matter, there is no need to accuracy or any coordination beyond just waving your arm. In this game, however, up and down become "heavy hit" and left and right become "light hit". What this translates to is the need to make large and obnoxiously tiring gestures for the game to know what you're doing. There are only four game functions that have worked so far with the revolutionary properties of the Wii remote: waving it to replace a button, aiming with the pointer, steering using the tilt functionality, or gesture linking it. Pirates' attempt at utilizing the last fails because gesture linking only really works in slow-paced games. If someone is ever going to successfully create a Wii one-to-one swordfighting game, it will inevitably have to be paced more like a round of golf than a frantic action game because you actually have to pay attention to how you're playing. The trigger uses inventory items and the C-button on the nunchuck is the universal "Do Stuff" command. You block with the nunchuck's trigger and can execute a grab maneuver by waving it. Fortunately, you won't ever need to do any of this to beat most of the game's simple-minded opponents.
Throughout each level, shattered boxes and various opponents will drop weapons, gold, or turkeys. Only the third of these is important because it restores your health while all the weapons fall into the tragic category of being impossible to aim. Gold, outside of points towards your prestige, does absolutely nothing. The absence of any function for this commodity is inexcusable because it gives me no incentive to ever explore or deviate off the game's path. If I'm not going to buy anything with the money, whether it be the traditional Mario Brothers 100-coin extra life or via a Resident Evil 4-style weapon-laden shopkeeper, then what's the point? Bragging rights to my friends about how awesome my score is? I might as well add the precise measurements of my privates and which girl will be the next to confirm them while I'm at it. The same goes for the lack of any reward for killing enemies besides the occasional dropped turkey. Long after doing the same combo over and over in God of War becomes old, the strange satisfaction of collecting just a few more red spheres can keep the game entertaining. It makes the already tedious combat in this game blazingly apparent before the end of even the first level. Finally, these problems are exacerbated by the curious dilemma of "Why should I bother with sidequests if there is no reward?" After a while, you just start skipping them.
The animation is cringingly terrible. The characters run as if they need desperately to find a bathroom, arms puffed to their chest and legs hobbling. I never liked the second film in the series and have yet to see the third because I couldn't take the fish pirates seriously, and the same held true here. The combatants appear out of thin air and look like walking sharks and shrimp. You will, at points, begin to wonder what exactly you'd done to enrage the spokespeople for Red Lobster. The backgrounds are unremarkable and generic while invisible walls block your progress until you kill whatever group of enemies stands in your way. If you thought the statement "The lock is broken" was a weak excuse for impeded progress in Silent Hill, then hunting around a wide open space for the one lobster man who wandered off will set a new standard for you. The most glaring lapse of all was the reliance on sound cues to indicate your weapon striking someone. It's incredibly annoying to have no flash of sparks to indicate my sword being blocked and no visual cue for when it connects. Whether these manifest as a geyser of blood, my opponent flinching, or magic happy sparks isn't a big deal, just so long as something besides grunting and clanking occurs.
The game also features sequences called 'Jackanisms', which are the usual Dragon's Lair ripoffs. An animated sequence of Jack darting around enemies or beating back opponents will commence while you patiently stare at the bottom of the screen waiting for the next button cue. I enjoy these sequences when I play them in any game because my character is doing something really cool and I'm somewhat involved with it. But…it just gets annoying when you're trying to see what your character is doing while watching for the button cue on the bottom of the screen. They're popular now, and if Heavenly Sword is any indication, there will only be more of this style. Eventually someone will have the brains to make these more interesting by turning them into a 'Choose your own Adventure' format with multiple buttons leading down multiple animation paths but such innovations are obviously not present here.
The oddest lapse of all is how bad the plot is for the game. You re-enact the last two films of the series, but do so in such a disjointed manner that without the movie you wouldn't even be able to follow what was going on. How do you screw up the plot when you already have a film and script available? At the very least you could just steal some fan fiction and expand the scenarios with that. A bizarre sequence voiced by decent imitators of the main cast will play before the level starts and contain several jokes recognizable from the films, but it's barely enough to qualify as a story.
On a more positive note, the soundtrack is pretty good and I did think about downloading a few things from the film's score, but then, y'know, didn't.
There was a strange pleasure in this game for me, because by observing the things it so sorely lacked I was able to recognize the quality of many other titles as a result. Despite the shortcomings of the plot of God of War 2, I have a newfound respect for what an incredible visual experience the animators created. The combat system of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a testament that the Wii can still put a virtual sword in your hand with the right design. And the plot of something as threadbare as Shadow of the Colossus can achieve moments of incredible emotion that a full voice cast, recognizable characters, and film backdrop do not even come close to. If you wanted a reason to play this game, play it because you'll gain a better appreciation of the games that do provide you with the quality experiences you've come to love.