With the internet continuing to provide us with a plethora of options for everything nowadays, and our collective attention spans dwindling in a whole, sometimes there's a shining beam of light there to capture our short attention spans with the same thing over and over again in a different tightly bundled package. Cats always fall for and chase a laser pointer no matter how many times you do the exact same thing. We're cats, and the Lego game series has been our laser pointer. Time and again I get excited to see really neat franchises Lego-fied. Batman. Indiana Jones. Harry Potter. Yet time and again, I'd be playing with the same thing. I'm sure cats figure out eventually that it's the same uncatchable object they're chasing, but they give in. I in turn have also given in, and resigned myself to the fact that Lego Pirates of the Caribbean could very well be the same thing I saw come out of any number of packages over the last couple years. Needless to say, my expectations weren't that high when I popped the game into my 360, though I knew I'd probably have fun in the end.
I can sum up the basic plot of this game in 4 lines if I so may...
This is the tale of Captain Jack Sparrow.
Pirate so brave on the Seven Seas.
A mystical quest to the isle of Tortuga.
Raven locks sway on the Ocean's Breeze.
The game starts similar to Harry Potter, where it thrusts you into the gameplay after a lengthy cinematic (similar to past Lego games, you cannot skip cinematics when watching them in story mode for the first time) and starts you off as Will Turner in Port Royal before you have a short swordfight with Jack Sparrow, followed by a short cinematic and then teaming up. This was the first time the game crashed on me and I was only about 10 minutes into it. Good start. Then it happened again. Then again. Finally, on attempt #4, I was able to get a decent ways through it. I'll put some of the blame on my system and possibly the hard drive, but considering I've only ever had this problem with Harry Potter, and now Pirates which both run on the latest build of the Lego engine, I'm sure I'm not the only one that's had this problem.
Anyway, as you progress, you will land back in Port Royal, which serves as your landing hub for the game. I was impressed to see that all 4 movies are included, so if you're not big into spoilers, you may want to catch On Stranger Tides before you play, though the Lego series does so well to jumble the actual storyline (but keep you informed of it) that it may not even matter.
As previously mentioned, this game mirrors closer to Harry Potter than its predecessors or Clone Wars. You're given a greater variety of commands specialized to each character in a wheel format much like the Potter game spell wheel. Many of the characters have fairly diverse move sets and fairly diverse tricks.
Graphics have never been a problem in the Lego series, and this game is no exception. If anything, the graphics are cleaner and crisper than almost any other game in franchise history, rivaling Clone Wars every step of the way. I don't know how they manage to do it, but some of the characters (Jack Sparrow aside obviously) really look like their movie equivalents without blatantly pasting the face on the body. Will Turner, for example, really does look like Orlando Bloom.
The control scheme is this game has been tweaked too by the looks of it, though I couldn't initially place my finger on what it was. I guess perhaps the developers of the last few games through the controls were a bit loose, as things have been pretty tightened up. If you've had success with measuring distances in previous games, accustom yourself to having to change those previous conceptions. You may find yourself having to stand closer to objects to build them, or farther from objects to hit them. The small character door controls are a huge improvement though since the game finally recognizes with a great deal of confidence what you're trying to do, and doesn't dawdle around in getting you through that door. However, I found that the characters weren't aiming as well for things (or the game wasn't steering them toward things with any success) which was a huge step back in my opinion because the controls had started to round pretty well into form. It's always a bit mind boggling what little details developers think should change from sequel to sequel, and this is one of those confusing things that just can't be explained. The world was right in Lego Harry Potter. Why do away with a good thing?
Then there are the bugs. This game is rife with them. Whether it's characters getting stuck in corners you can't get out of, the game crashing at inopportune times (something I hadn't seen since the Harry Potter game,) one-time events that unintentionally never happen again (come on, this is a children's game, not EQ: Scars of Velious,) and the possible inability to get 100% naturally because of glitchy happenings, this game does well to mess with the heads of completionists, even if un the game through isn't really as exciting as these games were before because you just know what you're getting this time. A few little mini-games and cute little additions are always on tap which they are here (characters playing barrel roll is one of the neatest little things in any of the group's games,) but there's nothing much else that will shock and surprise you. I swear they even used some of the exact same kit builds for things from the Star Wars franchise.
For those of you who read my Clone Wars III review, you may remember that I posted the Lego game formula for success, which (I quote verbatim) was:
-Play Story Mode
-Unlock Gold Bricks
-Find Gold Bricks
-Build Minikits (or that game's equivalent)
-Try to Obtain True Jedi/-Complete Story Mode
-Play Free Play
-Find the Last Gold Bricks
-Find the Last Red Bricks
-Finish Building Leftover Minikits (or that game's equivalent)
-Finish Obtaining True Jedi/Indy/Batman/Wizard
-Get 100% after obtaining everything
-Play a bonus level for an a achievements along the way for beating each level, getting all bonuses and 100%, and a couple cutesy role reversals.
-Enjoy the same basic engine with a different plot and different characters with the same abilities.
Not surprisingly, this is the exact same formula. I guess if you only play these games based on the representing franchise, you may not notice as much. However, given that this is game number what...8? 9? following this basic formula in the last few years, it is definitely wearing thin on me. With little variety in what offerings this franchise has left, the Lego series is quickly going to see itself fall down toward the point where it becomes nothing more but franchise boosters and games for children only who won't know the difference. One can argue this is exactly what the Lego games franchise seeks, and is doing well to get there since they do continue to pop out million sellers on the same formula. I just can't see this flagshipping next gen software, however, and I'm worried that this is exactly what it's going to be like 5 years from now, as it was 5 years previous to this.
Graphics: 9/10. This is possibly the most tantalizing of tropical paradises you can hope to obtain from Lego. The graphics make you wish you were little Lego Jack cruising the aqua colored Lego stud seas dancing amongst the plastic Dolphins and single stud Starfish. At every corner, every foreground is accompanied by a stunning background. No stone was left unturned, and no detail spared. Something Traveller's Tales always does well is never forget what this is - A Lego game. If you pay attention to some of the little details, you'll always have a smile on your face. Elizabeth Swann doesn't have legs - She has a lego connector to round her dress into form. Little tiny Lego cannonballs crash with reckless abandon. Ships disintegrate into the Lego pieces they were built from. This is perhaps the best graphic effort in the Lego series, and that's saying a lot considering I thought it couldn't possibly get better than Harry Potter. The only thing keeping this one from perfection is that texture mapping on some of the more difficult processes (like explosions and waving flags) aren't quite there yet. There's continued improvement, but it needs a bit more work before capping what the graphics are capable of.
Sound: 7/10. The sound has drastic cleanup compared to Clone Wars. Sounds are crisper, cleaner and better sounding, however, default audio levels still seem to be a bit off, where I don't hear enough emphasis on the important foreground events and even on quieter levels, within the background, you don't get the feeling you're on a tropical haven. Too much emphasis is placed on the musical arrangements, and while it doesn't take away from the game in the end, a little boost of sound effects and less love for the soundtrack will give the sound mixing a push in the right direction.
Controls: 7/10. While the standard melee combat works fine, I had a lot of problems with the action commands (the B Button.) My mind had accustomed itself to the distances in which you could successfully hammer, build and throw, and it seems like you have to readjust yourself to it again because this game throws old logic out the window. I found myself having to focus on items more to do these commands, whether it was standing closer, standing farther away or continuing to flick my cursor about trying to get a lock on an object. The guide arrows are helpful initially, but it's that much more difficult to focus your throwing weapons and objects. With Harry Potter, you were able to multi-focus your spells and could walk in a line with relative ease ala the Stuart Townsend swordfight in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but this one feels as bumpy as biking down a cobblestone path.
Gameplay: 5/10. In the eternal debate of Pirates vs. Ninjas, I've always sided with Pirates. I was excited to see what TT was capable of doing with this game, and though I have a visual winner on my hands, I'm less hesitant to agree when it comes to gameplay. Sure you've got a couple cool new mini-features, and the engine is much better served now that they've tweaked some of the camera issues, but this is still the same basic game I've been playing for the last 5 years! It really didn't help that the game kept crashing until I hard drive installed, which is probably a symptom of the fact that the game is running so many additional features that the system has a hard time processing it all. Once I got past the fact that my game crashed as often as Danica Patrick, it was moderately entertaining, if not predictable every step of the way. The biggest pleasure I got out of the game was seeing how TT transformed Pirates into the Lego world. This is one of my favorite movie franchises of all time, and watching it get Lego-fied was neat at first, but the finished game itself not so much. Still, I will remain interested in how they spin popular franchises into Lego. But I'm out if there's a Lego Twilight. That'll be too much to even try making sense of.
I will continue to sound like a broken record, but it's true. At a day and age where you can hold 60 bucks in your hand and have dozens of suitable unique gaming options in-hand, the Lego franchise is very quickly falling behind in my mind's eye for where my gaming money should go. If not for the prevalent lack of younger audience games for the 360, this franchise is dead in the water (no pun intended) because it ceases to bring anything new to the table outside of famous franchise character builds. It's such a weird conundrum to be stuck in if you're Travelers' Tales and Lucasarts: Your ideas work, your franchising works and your product sells. Why fix what's working? Lego in general is lucky to have the same beloved purchaser philosophy that Pokemon has: Nothing ever needs to be changed, yet people will continue to trust and enjoy because of the fact that it's such a trusted brand. You probably played with Lego as a child. I know I did. My future children will one day play with Lego, and my grandchildren will too. I have a feeling, however, when I sit down in 2044 with my grandkids to play Lego Sesame Street: Oscar's Revenge for my XBox 27000, I may be playing the same basic engine with little Chuckie Paligaru that I am now.
I ended my last Lego review with "An exhausted gamer can dream." I'm still dreaming, but at least this one wasn't a nightmare. All Lego games should be released with this new build engine going forward. Anything less is a step back into the primitive camera hell of 2006 where you will rubber band your buddies off cliffs or to their untimely demise.