Pirates of the Caribbean have a lot of things going against them in theory. First off, there has never been a truly great pirate game, so there is hardly any template of what to do to succeed in the genre. Additionally, all of the past games have been movie games, which automatically puts them on a deadline and hinders development. However, after taking a look at the latest title, Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned in the series, it looks like Disney interactive may have found the magic formula to make the first great pirate game.
In order to do so, Pirates breaks away from its predecessors in the series by not being a movie game. It is actually set before the events of the first film and will have an independent storyline, although there will be characters from the movies who make appearances. This not only frees it up from the movie tie-in deadline, but it also allows the developers to explore much more of the Pirates universe and craft a deeper story which revolves around your character, Captain Sterling gaining control of the legendary pirate ship: the Nemesis.
The first choice you'll make when you enter the game is a choice of style. Armada of The Damned presents you with two possible directions: legendary and dreaded. The choice is really one of your preference, legendary pirates or more daring and showy while dreaded are a little darker and more swarthy. Ultimately you'll play out the same story, although you'll do so in different ways depending on whether you decide to be dreaded or legendary.
Gameplay is divided up into two halves: sea-based and land based. Each has their own unique set of 2 in-depth skill trees which can be leveled up according to your liking (land has melee and ranged attack for example). The demo which we saw shows our protagonist, ascending an island in the quest to figure out why a group of villagers has apparently been afflicted with a curse. Islands such as this, which generally run about 2 hours in gameplay, will be one of the basic elements of the story of Armada of the Damned.
On this particular island we were confronted with the problem that the inhabitants had grown deformed on account of some problems with an idol that they had formerly worshipped. As we progressed up the island and discovered more about the problem we were confronted with a couple of different aspects of gameplay. The first was the dialog, which takes on the Mass Effect 2 style dialog wheel, allowing you to make good and bad decisions depending on which dialog option you chose.
The next was the combat system. We saw a couple of battles (including a boss one at the end) where you really needed to use all of your different combat skills to succeed. Your character is equipped with a sword as well as a pistol, with the former having a quick and heavy attack while the latter takes some time to reload. Balancing between the two during combat seemed fluid and added another level to combat outside of just button mashing away. You can also curse enemies, making them easier to kill and increasing the experience earned. If you want even more depth in your combat system it is also possible to chain together cursed enemies, making your fights all the easier.
Once we defeated a couple of sets of enemies and got a look at the aforementioned level up system, complete with attribute and skill increasing we got to the top of the island where we were exposed to one of the last major features of the game: the importance of decisions. Similar to the Fable series, many of the decisions you make in Armada of the Damned have substantial effects on the world around you. In this case we were confronted with the question of fixing the idol, thereby restoring the villagers to their proper form, or taking it, dooming them to a life of cursed wretchedness.
We chose to take it and were immediately faced with our first consequence: a tougher boss battle. However, after defeating the boss we found out that there were much more far reaching effects. Fast forward to much later in the game and the island had become a volcanic wasteland to which we returned to reclaim a powerful weapon. Had we replaced the idol and ended the curse on the villagers, we were told other side quests would have opened up, netting us more experience and gold. This is just one example of what we were told would be many opportunities to change the game's outcome based on your decision.
However, not everything was peaches and cream, as the voice acting was pretty bad in some parts, making it downright difficult to listen to some of the conversations. All in all though, Pirates looks like it could be a fun ride and maybe even a truly great pirate experience. Be on the lookout for Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned in 2011.