The low to mid 50s. Obviously, that’s not the temperature you’ll encounter on Jack Sparrow’s high seas. Unfortunately, that’s the average review score of the last couple Pirates of the Caribbean games. Ouch.
Above: NO, NOT LIKE THIS…
Judge not, people! I doubt you’re used to ignoring millions on the table, so let’s not go and blame anybody for cashing in on one of the most profitable film series in all of history. Likewise, you can’t ignore that the Pirates universe is unbelievably well suited for a kickass game. Super-powered sword fighting, reanimated corpses, mutant sea monsters, and hull-splintering pirate ship collisions coming together in an Action RPG? Yeah… who’d want to play that?
Above: LIKE THIS!
It’s understandable that we, the hardest of core, could look see that big, weird ass D in the logo and assume: Here Be Babies! But Disney Interactive Studios has its shit together. Reformed and rebranded in 2007, Mickey’s digital powerhouse gets that the kiddies want their Hanna Montanas and their Club Penguins, but they are also firmly aware that the average gamer demands something… different. (Or better, you could say “better.”) And judging by the upcoming hyper-destructive racer Split/Second, the make-your-own-adventure Toy Story 3, and the absolute renaissance that is Warren Spector’s Epic Mickey, you’re looking at company demanding its name mean as much to the gaming landscape as it does to the medium of film and TV.
So how does a movie studio subsidiary avoid the classic trappings that have made games based on movies suck for nearly all of eternity? It’s easier than you might think.
1. Get a pedigree
Mention the previous Pirates of the Caribbean games, Propaganda Games would probably like to stand at a distance and still loudly cry “Hey, that wasn’t us!” Because it wasn’t, after all. The Vancouver developer is responsible for the million-selling 2007 Turok resurrection, and the team is made up of the people who brought us bold new franchises like NBA Street, Def Jam, Battlefield, and Dragon Age. So, they know a thing two about creating successful properties.
Above: Chat with scoundrels at The Faithful Bride
2. Let the films be the films
The fact that games take longer to develop than movies is just a harsh reality for developers. So rather than string together a bunch of elongated crescendo moments from a 4th Pirates of the Caribbean film that hasn’t even begun principle photography, they’re abandoning the plot of the films altogether. Locations like Port Royal and Tortuga will be immediately familiar to fans, but while you might see some familiar faces along the way, Armada of the Damned will all take place before the events of the Pirates trilogy.
Above: Two sided hero
Enter Captain Sterling, a naive young man who is sucked in by the glitz of high seas camaraderie… only to find the profession filled with scurvy bilge rats who’d sooner cut yer throat than look at ya... Pardon the slip into Pirate speak, but hey, the attraction to the life of a pirate is undeniable. Anyhow, Sterling is nearly killed in his pursuit, but “revitalized” by other worldly forces in a quest to gain entrance to the fabled 8th Sea, and this were the player branch out in their own direction. Will you go the classic, heroic route with Legendary, or trade fame for fear by choosing the dark and powerful Dreaded side (Thar be multiple endings!) People will react to you differently depending on your actions, and that’s of increased importance when it comes to hiring your crew.
Above: Lovely day for a ransack
3. Open world, open sea
What, did you think you weren’t going to get a little high seas adventure? But if you think you’ve seen open-world nautical combat before, think again. There were several barriers Propaganda had to overcome so as not to look as lame as every other attempt at Pirate life previously seen in games. The balance between realism and fun was certainly a factor. So, whereas most games featuring sprawling oceans contain boring and flat water, Armada’s got dynamic waves and wake that make for an authentically jostling experience playing when cycling to the over-the-shoulder camera view.
But that is pretty much where the nautical-sim ends. Initially, the developers made the Seven Seas too big, and are streamlining the blue between land missions in order to make for a more fun experience (they should have plenty of time, the game’s not out until 2011.) This is the magic-infused PotC world after all, and the ship-to-ship combat should be gallantly over-the-top, too.
Slowly circling vessels and the direction of the wind takes a back seat to ramming ships, firing canons to obliterate masts, and even a dash maneuver to avoid enemy fire. If that’s not “action-oriented” enough for you, know that you’ll eventually be able open up the sea and sky and call down godlike abilities that should be expected in Disney’s Caribbean. Destroy a ship and you’ll salvage a bit of booty, but board them and eliminate the crew, you’ll find a much higher percentage of loot to pillage and sell to markets on land.
Above: Less strategy, more swashbuckle
Remember the crew we mentioned earlier? Well, you can also board ships and fight hand-to-hand. Your ship is customizable, but not in any superficial decal-and-parts sense. Your actions in the game dictate the crew you can hire, and your crew dictate the attributes of your ship. Oh! And just so you know, we asked Propaganda about the Kraken… and they just looked at each other and exchanged smiles.