First Look at Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned
A new legend is born in this promising action RPG.
Last week, I found myself in the bustling city of Vancouver for the first time. Although there are plenty of sights to see, I was on a very specific mission: to visit Propaganda Games and have a look at the upcoming action RPG titled Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned. Yes, Armada of the Damned is based on the famous Disney franchise, which means one thing: another sub-par movie game, right?
Wrong. Armada of the Damned is one of the most promising licensed games I've seen in a while, and I think gamers should be very excited about it.
The reason Armada of the Damned has so much potential is thanks to the efforts of the fine folks at Propaganda Games -- a few of whom I met personally on my tour of the studio. These guys and gals want to be known as the action RPG studio working with Disney and they've made sure to leave themselves plenty of breathing room for ensuring this project is the best game it could possibly be. Their current plan is to finish the game as a whole in a few months time, which gives them more than half a year to polish, tweak and balance their creation for its early 2011 launch.
So why does Armada of the Damned have so much promise? First and foremost, this game isn't forcefully based on one of the movies. Although the game is set in the Pirates of the Caribbean universe (and can subsequently tap into the franchise's massive back story and lore), the events of the game transpire well before the first film and revolve around a new hero: Sterling. This young adventurer had dreams of fame and fortune -- having been raised by a poor father -- but Sterling is, surprisingly, killed on his first voyage through the Caribbean. Through the intervention of certain supernatural forces, Sterling is brought back to the world of the living and is given a second chance to fulfill his fate.
The idea of "choosing your fate" takes center stage in Armada of the Damned. Early on in the game, players will decide if they will play as a legendary hero, or a dreaded one. Although this choice is rigid (you can't play both sides at once), the gameplay will remain flexible. In other words, players can still make the occasional "good" or "evil" decision, even if that decision opposes their original selection. But Sterling will ultimately end his journey as a legendary captain or a dreaded one. You can't be the Neutral Captain Sterling, after all. That'd be just silly.
This defining choice extends into several aspects of the game -- it doesn't just influence the story. Sterling's appearance, personality, weapons, attacks, quests, and even the game's endings are all affected by the player's choice. The legendary Sterling is a showboating, handsome adventurer, while the dreaded Sterling is haunted, dark, and uses supernatural power to decimate those that stand before him.
The dynamic between these two paths was demonstrated perfectly in a set of two trailers, where Sterling narrates his experiences after he wakes up on a beach. In the first legendary trailer, Sterling's voice grows richer over the course of the video, building up confidence and momentum until he announces himself as the legendary Captain Sterling. The second trailer starts the same way, but the moment that Sterling regains consciousness after his fatal accident, his voice sounds unsettled. Vengeful. You can slowly detect a haunting echo in his voice, which becomes more guttural and menacing over time. The vast difference between the character's voice alone was enough to show me that Armada of the Damned could very likely be played twice and would feel fresh on both play throughs.
Seeing trailers is good fun, but seeing the game in action is what it's all about. The first part of my extended demo covered the land battle portion of Armada of the Damned, which looks a little bit like Fable. Sterling has a light and heavy attack, and he can string a series of four strikes together to form a basic combo. Timing the button presses accurately will cause Sterling to end the combo with a powerful bonus strike, which plays out in slow-motion (for the win). This adds a bit of a timing game to the combat, which is a welcome feature. Sterling can also grab his opponents and infect them with a curse, which is basically a weakening spell. This curse can then be transferred to all the other enemies in the area if Sterling performs a finishing move on a cursed opponent.