Focus on what’s important (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Xbox 360)

The Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End demo was surprising in many aspects. To begin with, it is not bad – I know, seems a sad thing to say, but what did everyone expect from a videogame adaptation of the third part of a blockbuster movie? Indeed, it’s actually pretty good.

At least with the tutorial level, the visuals are very polished indeed, with excellent animation. But fundamental gameplay seems to be a little hit and miss… most of what you’re doing is fun, but some of it makes you wonder “why”? The collection of money seems pointless. Also, most of the time I don’t mind some aspects of games looking like, well, games, but here the very videogamey collectibles stick out – floating, heavily outlined moneybags, hearts and flintlock pistols all conspire against the very successful feel generated by the rest of the execution.

Another thing they’ve stumbled on is controls. I liked the variety, but it was a lot to take in, and something I think most of the game’s intended audience will feel is overdone. There are also cases where clearly they should’ve just gone with context-sensitive actions and forgone separate keys for the actions.

I was surprised by the fighting, which is the reason I’m writing this post. The game features a lot of third person swordfighting, which is just fun. It’s not at all what I expected. Fighting does not involve button-mashing. Instead, the combatants switch to slow, cautious movement and eye each other, waiting for an opening. There’s no separate blocking command. A red circle flashes under one of your enemies, signalling that he’s about to attack. You have a moment to consider your response – essentially pushing the stick in his direction and pushing a button. You do not need to time this, really – it’s enough that you react before he lunges. Then depending on your choice, your character foils the enemy’s effort, looking very swell all the time. Of course matters are complicated by multiple enemies, the necessity to sometimes attack first, and epxloiting the openings you create.

Things are spiced by notoriety (score), which you gain by being a bastard – shooting your enemies, throwing them off bridges and so on. All of this comes together feeling very pirate-y! Overall the fighting leaves you room to breathe and just enjoy the show, pondering what you’d like to do with the next enemy. Then there’s the dueling, which is a minigame of sorts, bringing the camera up close and showcasing the graphics. It also feels very pirate-like.

By the end of it, I was surprised to feel like wanting more. I actually might buy this, but only from the bargain bin – it just screams throwaway entertainment, something you’ll never return to once you’re through it.

Update: Okay, demos have been known to be misleading and I have been known to disagree with Eurogamer, but this review so totally disagrees with my initial assessment that I’d better bring it up. I don’t at all agree with the verdict, but can see that yes, it might become repetitive in the long run, and there’s no telling how the storytelling hangs together. I am a little surprised by how they tore the combat apart, especially. Based on the review’s comments though, it’s getting differing opinions.






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