Pirates of the Caribbean

Sid Meyer’s Pirates, minus the appeal of being a pirate.

10Originally in development as Sea Dogs 2, Pirates of the Caribbean is basically a regurgitation of its predecessor with punchier graphics, more side-quests, and a movie license with little tying it to the movie. 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 will eventually take you on a wide-open buccaneering 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 — arguably 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.

18The 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. Playing the ship combat mode, thus, is probably the best reason to pick this game up. 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.

System Requirements: Pentium III 800 MHz, 256 MB RAM, 2 GB HDD, WinXP

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