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Pirates of the Caribbean
Worse than a Hollywood movie based on an amusement-park ride — what were the odds?

Nothing like the hit movie, the Disney amusement-park ride, or a great game, Pirates of the Caribbean is instead a mediocre roleplaying experience plagued by drab island environments, a boring story, and land combat awful enough to make you shiver your timbers.

Originally in development as Sea Dogs 2 (next in line to the three-year-old Sea Dogs — PCG rating: 81%), Pirates is basically a regurgitation of its predecessor with punchier graphics, more side-quests, a jot of the supernatural, and a license. Set in the early 17th century against the backdrop of the hotly contested Caribbean archipelago, Pirates starts you off as freelance swashbuckler Captain Nathanial Hawk. Your ship and crew are the sole survivors of a French attack on the English colony of Oxbow. The resulting quest is yours to accept or ignore — in either event, you’ve embarked on a wide-open buccaneer career.

Gameplay is divided between land and sea modes. On land, the camera hovers behind your shoulders as you use the left mouse button to go forward and the right to back up, while moving the mouse pans the camera. Unfortunately, this scheme never works quite right (what a surprise) and leads to frustrating close-quarters snarls.

Land combat — inarguably the lamest aspect of Pirates — lets you swing a sword, parry, or fire a pistol. It makes whack-a-mole look like chess.

Your character is rated for skills and abilities that affect everything from your reputation to seaworthiness, but while the game world is filled with objects such as carts and barrels, all you can interact with are people and doors. Most conversations are bland variations of “How’s the weather?” and have little bearing on the plot. You’ll find yourself switching to the game’s “quick travel” mode to zip directly to the shipyards, stores, and taverns, where the side-quests are doled out and trade takes place.

The game excels at sea, whether you’re firing grapeshot off the bow or bobbing like a cork on 16-foot swells during a storm. You control your ship in either third- or first-person mode. (The latter is used to manually aim and reload.) Ship-to-ship combat rewards careful attention to wind speed, ammunition selection, and ship facing relative to the enemy. You can control up to three ships at a time, and it’s immensely satisfying to board or ransack an enemy galleon and add it to your convoy.

But for a game that boasts “many fanciful islands” and “lush, exotic environments,” there’s not a lot to see. Most of the towns look the same (several taverns have identical interiors), and clopping around in the wilderness is done “on rails” — venturing off the beaten path is not an option. Thankfully, the game looks great at sea, and you’ll probably score at least half a jawdrop out of your first moonlit excursion.

We’ve been waiting a long time for the ultimate land-and-sea pirate simulation, and Akella’s Pirates of the Caribbean gets us closer, but we’re still waiting. And ladies — there’s no Johnny Depp. Yeah, I know, it’s a shame.    
— Matthew Peckham

 FINAL VERDICT
HIGHS: Looks great at sea; ship combat is great fun; skills and abilities affect gameplay.

LOWS: Pitiful land combat; dull environment, without much to interact with; thin dialogue.

BOTTOM LINE: For pirate lovers and diehard roleplaying fans only — a pass for everyone else.
PC Gamer 65%

   

100% - 90%
EDITORS' CHOICE - We're battening down the hatches and limiting our coveted Editors' Choice award to games that score a 90% or higher. It's not easy to get here, and darn near impossible to get near 100%. Games in this range come with our unqualified recommendation, an unreserved must-buy score.

89% - 80%
EXCELLENT - These are excellent games. Anything that scores in this range is well worth your purchase, and is likely a great example of its genre. This is also a scoring range where we might reward specialist/niche games that are a real breakthrough in their own way.

79% - 70%
GOOD - These are pretty good games that we recommend to fans of the particular genre, though it's a safe bet you can probably find better options.

69% - 60%
ABOVE AVERAGE - Reasonable, above-average games. They might be worth buying, but they probably have a few significant flaws that limit their appeal.

59% - 50%
MERELY OKAY - Very ordinary games. They're not completely worthless, but there are likely numerous better places to spend your gaming dollar.

49% - 40%
TOLERABLE - Poor quality. Only a few slightly redeeming features keep these games from falling into the abyss of the next category.

39% - 0%
DON'T BOTHER - Just terrible. And the lower you go, the more worthless you get. Avoid these titles like the plague, and don't say we didn't warn you!


Rainbow Six 3: Athena Sword 80%
Battlefield: Vietnam 90%
CSI: Dark Motives 62%
Saturday Night Speedway 59%
Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps 74%
Far Cry 95%
Gangland 68%
IL-2: Forgotten Battles Ace Expansion Pack 90%
MVP Baseball 2004 78%
Nemesis of the Roman Empire 68%
North German Plain ’85 87%
Naval Campaigns 3: Guadalcanal 75%
Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow 90%
Sacred 82%
Unreal Tournament 2004 92%
Dark Age of Camelot: Trials of Atlantis 80%
Baseball Mogul 2004 67%
Crusader Kings 69%
Dead Man’s Hand 75%