Technology

PSP's Pirates: Scarcely Seaworthy


The game associated with Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean sequel founders on repetitive play and sloppy controls

Though it got mixed reviews from critics, Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest had the highest grossing opening weekend of all time. It was also quickest to the $300 million mark, reaching that milestone in 16 days, one day fewer than it took last year's Star Wars prequel.

Disney (DIS) is cashing in on the film in other ways too, notably with the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest game for Sony's (SNE) PlayStation Portable. Typically, games adapted from the silver screen are of poor quality, appealing only to diehard fans of the films, if anyone. An exception was last year's Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (see BusinessWeek.com, 11/22/05, "Which Games Make the Cut?"), but Dead Man's Chest on the PSP follows the rule.

For the most part, Dead Man's Chest is a fairly unoriginal hack 'n' slash game, where the hero fights a slew of enemies. As with many movie tie-in games, players follow along through the story of the film, learning some additional plot information in some cases.

YAWNING BATTLE.

Here, you play as everyone's favorite anti-hero, Captain Jack Sparrow, traveling among a half-dozen locations from the movie, such as the debauched Tortuga and the mystic Tia Dalma's swamp, before you finish the game. On the way you'll slay prison guards, pirates, cannibals, and other villains in a quest to save your soul from notorious undead pirate Davy Jones, captain of the ghostly Flying Dutchman.

The handful of hours I spent beating the title's single-player quest actually seemed like an eternity, thanks to the game's repetitive battle system. Whoever your enemy (a regular pirate, an undead pirate, or a member of Davy Jones' crew), you have only three basic fight tactics: speed attack, strength move, and stun maneuver.

And your fight combination is the same every time you battle a particular villain. On top of everything else, the game's frame-rate can be very inconsistent during battles, making consecutive images look more like a slide show than a smooth animation. It didn't happen every time, but it was noticeable and distracting when it did.

MEANINGLESS DEATH.

Between fights, you have to solve equally monotonous puzzles. Mainly requiring actions like lugging a conveniently placed barrel of gunpowder to a door and lighting it with a nearby torch, the puzzles might have served to break up the repetitive fighting if they weren't so tedious themselves.

Another complaint: The game has sloppy controls that are problematic in several areas requiring precise movements. You are expected to walk across bottomless pits on thin boards, but Jack just doesn't control well enough to do it. It's also incredibly easy to fall off platforms when fighting enemies. Jack moves around a lot just going through his attack motions. There's really no punishment for dying, but doing so repeatedly is annoying nonetheless.

Despite all the bad marks, there are a few things to recommend Dead Man's Chest. For one, the game is definitely playable. That can't be said for all games associated with movies. It also draws on the movie's stirring Hans Zimmer score. The developers didn't get the real actors to lend their voices to the characters in the game, but the voice actors actually do a pretty good job.

MULTI-PLAYER OPTION.

Unlike some games where characters endlessly repeat phrases during gameplay, Jack didn't overuse his sayings, which were often genuinely witty and true to his character. These features, combined with suitably realistic character models and appropriately designed environments, give Dead Man's Chest a look and feel that does really mirror the movie.

Dead Man's Chest includes a separate, well-executed multi-player option. With just one game disk, you can engage in ship battles against computer-controlled enemies or up to three of your PSP-toting friends. The makers add depth with multiple play modes (deathmatch, capture the flag, etc.), the ability to upgrade your ship, and the choice of several ships.

You can even captain the Black Pearl if you unlock it in single-player mode, or take control of Davy Jones' Flying Dutchman. The multi-player is a nice addition, but it definitely would have been better to see some ship missions incorporated in the single-player quest.

BETTER LUCK NEXT YEAR.

As fun as multiplayer mode may be, it's not enough to keep this short and boring game afloat. Only movie fans looking to augment their Pirates experience should try Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest on PSP. And even in their case, renting the game would be a better option.

Buena Vista Games is already planning a movie-based sequel for next summer's Pirates movie. Perhaps that will be worth mutinying for. But when it comes to Dead Man's Chest, it's definitely not a pirate's life for me.


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