04 August 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean/Sea Dogs II PC game

I thought I would keep a pirate theme for the remainder of this week, so naturally I have to review a couple more pirate games. "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "Sea dogs II" as it is sometimes called, is an old game from 2003 which was released on both XBOX and PC, the PC version being a console port.

This game has almost nothing to do with the movie franchise Pirates of the Caribbean. The only link between this game and the movies are that there is a ghost ship called the Black Pearl, Ghost pirates and cursed gold in this world. The rest is a pretty open ended Caribbean world where you can roam as a merchant, smuggler or pirate. It is also an RPG light, and with "light" I mean that the dialogue choices and NPC interactions are quite limited. On the other hand the entire game is about completing a long series of quests for the main storyline which will take you to each and every one of the 6 "friendly" islands and the 7th pirate island, you will also be able to talk to random people and get a couple of sidequests.

You start out as a green captain, there is no character creation like in most RPG games, but you have a lot of stuff to tinker with nonetheless. You have experience points awarded to you for riding through storms, hitting enemy ships with your cannons, destroying enemy ships, completing main quests, completing side quest, escorting merchant ships from one Island to the next.

When you level up you are awarded 1 ability point and 2 skill points to distribute among special skills that range from being good at riding out storms, being a better merchant, gunfighter, swordfighter, taking less damage to your ship in combat, inflict more damage to enemy ships in combat etc.  The skill points are distributed among a number of categories, such as accuracy with cannons, luck, merchant skill, leadership among others.

As the game progresses you will have a captain with a great number of abilities and skills that will make any ship and crew that he commands a lot better.

On each island you have a few locations that you can either walk to or use a quick "fast travel" button to instantly transport to and from these city locations. The locations are most often a Tavern where you recruit ship officers that will boost your captain abilities with their own and it is also here where you hire additional crew or replenish losses. In the tavern you will also find a smuggler agent who will hook you up with the local smugglers if you have contraband aboard your ship.

Ech island also has a store where you buy and sell merchandise and ammunition for your ship. A shipyard where you can repair your ship, upgrade cannons and buy/sell ships. You start out with a puny ship and will be able to work your way through a select few ships ranging from Sloops to the mighty Battleship. In between you will have slower merchant ships with huge cargo hulls or fast ships for raiding.

Ship combat can be toggled between arcade and a bit more realistic playstyle. The difference is mainly that you can't sail against the wind unless you play arcade. During naval engagements you steer the ship, control the sails and fire the cannons all by yourself. The layout of the keyboard works rather well for this task and you won't be overwhelmed doing this alone. You can however buy up to 3 additional ships and have your officers captain each ship thus having a small fleet which makes for great battles against your selected enemy nation or pirate raiders.

Your ship has several types of ammunition, starting with regular cannon balls you also have chainshots for destroying enemy sails, grapeshot to kill enemy crewmen and explosive ammunition that inflict lots of damage and sets enemy ships on fire. If you feel lucky you can always try to board the enemy ship in which case combat if fought with sword and pistol on the ship decks until you clear out the enemy ship. This is very difficult and dangerous, but if you succeed you can capture the ship and make it your own by transferring one of your officers and some crew to it.

The story itself is OK, it won’t blow your mind. The main reason to play this game is to have an open world of pirate adventure first and foremost. You are seldom forced to complete main quests on a time limit so you can pretty much do as you please for most of the game.

Not to say this game does not have shortcomings, the main flaw are the controls which are awful when controlling your captain on land or during boarding actions. This game was clearly made for playing using a gamepad. So unless you have one you will need to get used to the rather clunky controls. Sword fighting is hard as hell if you are up against 2 or more opponents at the same time - especially in cramped situations. You will die a lot trying to fight with your sword.

Another thing is that you cannot save the game while out at sea. You can only save when you are on land. This makes it difficult as you might be caught by a storm or a mighty pirate raiding group halfway to a destination - especially early in the  game - which will almost certainly kill you. So you have to save often and always before going out to sea.

In the end, I cannot think of any better game that is pretty open ended, 1st/3rd person and blends RPG elements with a pirate theme. You can crank the graphics up higher than I have on the pictures, but the game becomes instable doing so in Windows Vista and Windows 7.

If you can find this game in a bargain bin for a few dollars I really recommend despite it being from 2003 it if you are a fan of all things "Pirate".

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