STAFF REVIEW of Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End (Xbox 360)

Saturday, June 16, 2007.
by Jake Reardon

Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End Box art Ahoy Matteys! Ye be about to be enterin' the rough seas as ye be battlin' nefarious pirates and sea creatures in a quest to save yer' scurvy soul. Ye will face enemies such as "colossal slimy Squid face", "White wig wearing colonialist", and "generic barnacle encrusted sea pirate". Sharpen ye sword, and prepare to walk the plank. Enough Pirate talk though. While talking like a pirate sure can be fun for awhile, just like this game it tends to get old and repetitive after you've heard all of the "one liners". That is not to say "At World's End" (A.W.E.) is a bad game, but several mis-steps prevent it from being an all time pirate classic.

You play the role of most wanted and legendary movie pirate Captain Jack Sparrow played by Johnny Depp. You will also get your chance to play as several other characters from the film although the only real difference between them is visually as well as a few special moves. Your travels take you across land and sea, as well as several levels aboard the Black Pearl pirate ship. While the game claims 11 levels, several of them take place on levels youve already played but with a different set of enemies. The main method of dispatching said enemies is via your trusty pirate sword. Swashbuckling fans rejoice because A.W.E. has a lot of both Swash and buckling. So much in fact that the combat tends to get a bit repetitive after awhile (hope you like pressing the A button!). You have one main sword slash (A), a punch (X), and a grapple(Y). Combining these moves fills up a sword meter, after which a special move can be unleashed. Special moves are required to defeat one of the tougher to kill enemies who will appear in and amongst the myriad of generic and easy to dispatch peons youll face. The enemies you face keep spawning from magical enemy doors until you kill a certain number of them or defeat all the mini boss characters. While A.W.E. is teen rated, the finishing blows are visually violent and satisfying. You literally impale enemies on your sword or knock them down and stab right through their pirate physiques. Since there is no blood whatsoever, its all good cartoony pirate fun. There is also a simplistic boss battle mode used for one on one duels at the end of some levels that involves either pressing up, down or forward on your left stick in a back and forth battle of wits and piracy.

Its not all about sword fighting though. Sparrow and friends also have a wide variety of acrobatic moves at their disposal to navigate the environments. Moves such as shimmying along cliffs, climbing pirates masts, and balancing on beams offer a bit of variety and puzzle solving. It helps break up the several long and drawn out sword battles but make sure not to fall into the ocean or its back to the last checkpoint. Nothing ever became too challenging, except a few instances where you need to alternate between controlling 3 characters at once and the AI is pretty much brain dead and unable to defend iself.

A.W.E. follows the storyline of the last two films in the Pirates series, but unless you've seen both youll often find yourself confused. You will be working together with an ally, and next thing you know youll end up having to fight them. The cut scenes attempt to piece the levels together and while fun to watch, make little to no sense at conveying the story. Why are you in the scurvy pirate village? Why are you saving Black Bart and going to Shanghai to invade a bathhouse? Good questions.

Incentive to go back and replay levels is offered in the form of several cliché collect-a-thons. Each level has seven hidden items such as shells or bottles of rum. Additionally, there is a hidden piece of parchment in each level, and collecting them all unlocks a special bonus (150 gamerscore too!). If you pay attention, the hidden chests tend to be in obvious hiding spots such as on up on clearly visible ledges, and behind obviously waiting to be opened doors. Diligent gamers who pay attention should be able to get most of them on their first play through and score an easy 1000 gamer points.

One area where Pirates really shines is in the visual department. From the dead on look of Jack Sparrow, to stunning water effects, this game dresses to impress. They even managed to capture Sparrow's signature drunken walk and mannerisms. Captain Squid face (aka Davey Jones) and his crew look delectably slimy, as if they were pulled out from the bottom of a dark and dirty ocean. It really is nice to see such high production values in a movie licensed game, and you can tell the artists didnt just phone this one in. This visual quality helps suck you into the Pirates world, and at least for awhile helps you forget that you just dispatched your 1000th enemy using the same techniques learned from the very first level.

Audio is a mixed bag. While the soundtrack is fairly well done, the problem is that it tends to repeat a lot. The tunes are catchy though and if you find yourself humming along dont feel too bad. There is a lot of sword clanking and pirate talk too, but again, lots of repetition.

Multiplayer is also included but is limited to local console only. You can take part in one on one duels using the boss battle minigame, or play in a series of timed pirate battles. Team up cooperatively for a high score or be competitive and try to kill more pirates than the other guy. Its limited in nature but fun for awhile. Too bad the entire game cant be played through in this split screen mode, as co-op always tends to add a little fun to long and repetitive single player campaigns.

In this summer blockbuster movie season, we are going to be seeing a lot of licensed titles hitting the 360. Pirates offers some spattering of fun, but in the end might bore you. Fans of the Pirates films or those looking for something to keep them busy over a weekend should give this a look. Ultimately, there isnt enough meat here to keep you playing for weeks on end, but if you want something to show off your HDTV with not a lot of thinking involved, you are in for a treat. Not horrible at all, but also, nothing aside from the visuals is compelling enough to warrant a higher score. This is definitely the right direction to take a movie licensed game, lets just hope they can build on this and offer some gameplay innovations next time.

There needs to be more variety both in combat and the types of enemies you fight. The first few levels are really enjoyable but by then end you are left wanting something more. The game looks freaking amazing though, so bonus pirate booty for that.

Overall: 6.6 / 10
Gameplay: 5.4 / 10
Visuals: 8.6 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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