Reviewed: July 14, 2006
Released: June 27, 2006
Iíll confess right up front that I am probably one of the few people who didnít enjoy this summerís sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean. It had its moments to be sure, but the movie was painfully long and drug in several spots, and the cliffhanger endingÖwell, letís just say I havenít been that speechless since the end of Back to the Future 2.
At E3 I got a chance to see the new PS2 and PC versions of the videogame tie-in for this movie and was surprised that they had managed to come up with a decent pirate adventure game, but unfortunately, the PSP version of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Manís Chest is a far cry from those other versions, both in style, content, and even gameplay.
The PSP version of Dead Manís Chest makes the fatal flaw of sticking to the movie script, so if youíve seen the movie then the game is spoiled and if you play the game first the movie is ruined. There is a certain credibility to the title with the inclusion of Johnny Deppís voice as Jack Sparrow, but even that isnít enough to wipe the bland taste of endless button-mashing combat from your mouth after less than an hour of gameplay.
Despite some impressive 3D level design Dead Manís Chest is primarily a fighting game and not a very good one at that. You have two attacks, speed and strength, so you can pound away slowly doing lots of damage but take some hits in-between, or you can pummel your foes with rapid attacks for lesser damage. You can mix up the buttons or try various sequences to create plenty of inventive combos and watch for button icons to appear over the enemy to finish them off.
The biggest problem with the combat is that Jack is almost always heavily outnumbered four, five, or even six to one and the fighting engine just doesnít support those odds. Jack might be able to defend himself against two or three at a time, but that isnít the case. So you end up running away and trying to group the enemies into smaller clusters and keep them from surrounding you. Itís a painful process resulting in plenty of death and replaying of large sections of the game.
You do have a stun attack that can temporarily disable groups of enemies but it doesnít always work and it doesnít help when you are being attacked by both close-ranged and pistol-wielding enemies who are taking pot shots at you from the distance. While you can block incoming blade attacks, Jack is apparently unable to block bullets with his sword.
The game tries to mix in some adventure and puzzle-solving elements, but the annoying combat overwhelms these brief moments of adventure gaming bliss. Puzzles are cool and rather inventive, almost always utilizing the environment and real-world objects in sensible combinations. I did have some frequent problems interacting with my environment. Everything in the game responds to context-sensitive buttons based on your location to the object, so while you are trying to position yourself into the exact pixel to make the icon appear, you might be taking a lot of unnecessary damage.
Dead Manís Chest also offers multiplayer support for up to four pirate captains, as you take to the high seas in some naval maneuvers in ten special maps. Just choose from one of five different class ships and three different modes, including plunder the Flag, Last Man Standing and Deathmatch. Each ship has different speed and power attributes, and you can upgrade them in a variety of different ways with power-ups that upgrade your guns, repair your sails, etc. Itís actually a pretty polished idea and I had more fun playing this than I did the main game.
There are some wonderful touches in Dead Manís Chest starting with the excellent animation of Jack Sparrow, at least when he is fighting. His combat moves and especially his final strikes are outstanding. I did find his drunken stagger to be a bit odd and over-emphasized.
The rest of the characters are interesting with plenty of skeletons, pirates, natives, and other people to fight and kill. They too have good animation and various detailed textures. Things can start to pile-up on the screen in the larger battles and the framerate does take a few hits from time to time.
Some of the indoor levels are overly dark and hard to play if you find yourself in any type of lit environment. There are some nice lighting effects as well as some flashy particle effects like explosions to keep things exciting.
Johnny Depp is the key element to the sound package and it was a real coup that they actually got him to do the voice. He has plenty of great one-liners and some longer bits of dialogue that paraphrase the movie script. The rest of the cast is fairly forgettable compared to Depp, but they all do a fine job.
The sound effects are pretty standard fare for a fighting game. There are swords on swords and bones crunching and people groaning and crying out when they die. Fire crackles, powder kegs go BOOM, rocks crumble, wood splintersÖyou get the idea. Itís a solid sound design.
The music is lifted right from the movie theme with plenty of other ambient action tunes of the swashbuckling type. It all fits with the theme and mood of a pirate movie. Good stuff.
The main game is short, not much longer than the movie. Seriously, you can finish Dead Manís Chest in 5-8 hours and there is no reason to revisit the adventure that I can tell. The multiplayer ship battles will likely keep you entertained far longer than the solo game, and even though there is no Internet support, you can do game sharing with anyone who has a PSP and an eyepatch.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Manís Chest has all the components of a great game and a movie tie-in, but with such a heavy focus on combat, the designers really needed to polish the combat engine and balance things out for the overwhelming odds they throw at you. I certainly donít mind a challenge provided the game allows me a fair chance to meet that challenge head-on.
Regrettably, if you want to relive your favorite moments from this summerís pirate sequel, you had better set sail for the PC or PS2. The PSP version is a treasure that is best left forgotten.