Games 5/30: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (multiple versions)

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
For: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
From: Eurocom/Disney Interactive
ESRB Rating: Teen (use of alcohol, violence)

There’s no worse time to be a game reviewer than the summertime, which annually finds gamers besieged by a crush of movie-based titles that owe their release dates more to their source material than whether or not they’re actually ready for release. Witness “Spider-Man 3” and “Shrek the Third,” two examples of decent games that could have used more baking time but were pushed out the door for maximum cash-in effect.

Also, witness this.

In terms of vanity, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” deserves major kudos. Outside of some issues with contrast in darkened areas, it looks awfully good, particularly when it comes to character design. It also sounds good, thanks to a great cast of sound-alike voice actors. And as long as you continually hold down the sprint button and avoid the slow-mo jog animation, “End” also animates nicely, capturing the film’s essence both in combat and in terms of showmanship.

Elsewhere, though, “End” clearly is the product of unreasonable deadlines left unmet. Corner-cutting yields everything from A.I.-controlled characters running through doors (and each other) to ledges that may or may not be interactive to environments littered with indestructible, immovable objects that clearly should be both. The rushed development cycle also gives rise to a number of uninspired design choices, including way too many collect and fetch missions seemingly employed to fill time.

Sadly, the one thing that could salvage it all – swordplay – turns out to be the sorest point.

Combat in “End” takes on many forms, with fists, pistols, daggers, explosives, plunder and your sword thrown into the mix. But while the game offers several tools of mayhem, it trots out the same stock enemy ad nauseam. This might be fine if the swordfighting had some “God of War”-like oomph. But outside of some canned finishing move animations, there’s no such sensation. Punching enemies feels more powerful than unleashing your inner Zorro, and that just isn’t right.

It’s no fun to pick apart a game whose potential is so clearly there. “End” is plenty competent enough to appease “POTC” fanatics, and between the storytelling and wealth of “Ico”-like climbing challenges, there is plenty to like. Here’s hoping Eurocom can work on a sequel that isn’t hog-tied to a film’s release date, because it’d be nice to see what could happen if the game’s potential is fully realized.


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
For: Nintendo Wii, PS2, PC and PSP
From: Eurocom/Disney Interactive
ESRB Rating: Teen (use of alcohol, violence)

That “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” landed with a thud on the Xbox 360 and PS3 isn’t terribly surprising in its own right. But when you consider that the same developer has assembled a significantly better game for less powerful hardware, some head scratching is understandable.

You wouldn’t know it to look at the game cases, but “End” plays out quite differently on the PS2, PSP, Wii and PC. Those obnoxious fetch and collection missions? Gone. The pokey pace and flimsy sword combat? Also gone. In their place: a high-energy, bell-to-bell action game that’s 90 percent combat and 10 percent getting ready for combat. Talk about a pleasant surprise.

The most intriguing of these versions is on the Wii, where the Wiimote doubles as a sword in your hand. “End’s” single-minded gameplay is a perfect fit for the Wii’s control setup, and the virtual swordplay is fun (and a good workout) once you come to grips with the game’s occasional tendency to misread your motions. (Tip: Grip the Wiimote at the very bottom instead of like normal for best results.)

That said, “End” is a good fit for every system. It mostly does one thing, but it does it well. It also compliments its strengths with a lot of good content, including quick-timer events, dice/poker mini-games and an insanely large cast of unlockable, playable characters (both good and evil). The graphics are sharp enough, the animation often outdoes what the 360/PS3 versions put out, and the voice acting is spot on and often very funny. If there’s a sore point, it’s that Eurocom didn’t release a graphically-enhanced port of this on the 360 and PS3 instead of the game they did release.


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
For: Nintendo DS
From: Amaze Entertainment/Disney Interactive
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (violence)

Almost without exception, the Nintendo DS gets the shaft when it comes to games that appear on every system at once.


Given this truism and the rash of problems “At World’s End” has on more advanced systems, it’s rather shocking that the DS incarnation is as fun and proficient as it is. It’s nowhere near as flashy as the console versions, with blocky 3D graphics and text boxes telling the story instead of a cast of voice actors. But it doesn’t need to be.

What “End” is, though, is one of the better 3D games to hit the DS – a semi-fixed-camera action game that shares fundamental traits with games like “Devil May Cry” and “Ninja Gaiden.” The combat isn’t as sophisticated, nor is the enemy A.I. as sharp. But the action’s fast and fun, thanks to a no-nonsense mix of fights and platforming challenges that aren’t hampered by bad controls or other technical burdens.

“End” makes savvy use of the DS’ touch screen, both in terms of brief diversions (lock-picking, a little engineering) and a timing-based dueling mini-game that’s far more fun than the one you’ll find on the bigger-budget games. But the bulk of the action is traditional, and it serves as proof that touch capabilities can enhance a game without hijacking it.