The Pirates of the Caribbean movies raked in over a billion dollars worldwide. There’s no doubt that a big part of that success was down to the loveable sea dog Captain Jack Sparrow. So how will a licensed game without him fare? Batman: Arkham Asylum was a big influence on Armada of the Damned. That game took all the things that made the DC characters and the universe so awesome, and then did something fresh and unexpected with them. It wasn’t the usual tie-in.
“We were very clear that we didn’t want to be associated with being a movie game,” says game director Alex Peters. So developers Propaganda games went about creating a new hero, Captain James Sterling. They then devised a massive open world, containing loads of familiar locations from the films and introduced a bounty of action RPG elements.
What they wanted to capture most was the the swashbuckling heroes constantly getting into scrapes and somehow surviving by a cat’s whisker even when it seemed impossible. Propaganda also wanted to keep the humour and the supernatural elements that make the universe so unique.
Meanwhile, the combat and land exploration looks uncannily similar to Fable II. The swordfighting has been designed to be as accessible as possible, allowing you to mash at buttons, but also to create unique combos by adding flintlocks and magic attacks to the mix. The main story quest has an obvious path to follow, but there are also loads of side missions which introduce you to the likes of voodoo priestess Tia Dalma, long before she joined Jack Sparrow’s crew.
But what sets Armada of the Damned apart from other action RPGs is the ability to sail the high seas. There’s a huge area of the Caribbean to explore, and you directly control your ship the Nemesis, just like you would a boat in GTA. You’re free to travel almost anywhere in the world right from the beginning. We’ve seen the pirate city of Tortuga and it looks great. You’ll also be able to visit the merchant outpost Port Royal, and Peters also hints that no Pirates game would be complete without supernatural locations like Fiddler’s Green and Davy Jones’ locker. Let’s hope we don’t get stuck there for too long…
Captain Sterling certainly comes close to ending up there at the start of the adventure. On his maiden voyage to the Caribbean, the young pirate is sunk and all but drowned by the insane Spanish admiral Aldonado. However, he miraculously survives and vows to strike back. How you wreak your revenge is a matter of many important choices, and this will eventually decide the fate of Sterling’s soul.
Rather than going down the old route of making ‘good’ or ‘evil’ decisions, there are ‘Legendary’ or ‘Dreaded’ acts. Legendary acts involve stuff like swinging on a chandelier to escape a mob of guards while delivering one-liners and grinning through your sparkly gold teeth. Basically, anything that Jack Sparrow would do will also enhance your reputation as a pirate lord.
Dreaded acts are based on double-crossing, choosing not to help people and general acts of violence and cruelty that would make most people shiver their timbers. They’re also the kind of thing that could earn you a skeletal face like captain Barbossa. We’re still hoping for an extremely cool octopus-head Davy Jones.
Actions influence your character’s appearance as well as his fighting abilities. At his most ‘legendary’ Captain Sterling is decked out in gold finery and sports a dashing haircut. The most dreaded Captain Sterling is covered in barnacles, has a skeletal frame and uses the anchor that dragged him to his drowning place as a weapon.
Propaganda hopes that the choices you’re presented with will constantly prick at your conscience, making it difficult to stick to a particular path. You might set your sights on being the most dreaded pirate on the seven seas, but there may come a time when you can’t resist the chance to redeem yourself.
Pirates of the Caribbean has had a rocky history when it comes to game tie-ins. They’ve almost all been little more than cheap cash-ins on the films. It’s good to see that Armada of the Damned has a new set of characters and an extremely ambitious open world to explore. We’re certainly looking forward to splicing our mainbraces and setting sail later this year.
Feb 10, 2010