The Pirates of the Caribbean movies are a strange collection of brilliantly unique characters, fantastic set pieces and some of the most convoluted script writing seen in modern day blockbuster entertainment. Basically, they’re the perfect match for Traveller’s Tales outrageously popular series of Lego-based videogames. By taking out the long winded dialogue and streamlining the bloated series down to a collection of playable action scenes, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean takes everything great about the series and turns the rest into a light hearted but surprisingly entertaining parody.
After the epic scale of The Clone Wars and the interesting hub-based mechanics of Lego Harry Potter, some gamers may be initially disappointed by Pirates’ return to the more rudimentary design of early Lego games (this is very much the mission-based storytelling seen in the Star Wars saga), but the fact of the matter is, given the vast array of locations and the complete departure of On Stranger Tides from the first three movies in the series, this return to a relatively basic mission set up proves a perfect fit for the franchise.
If anything, by returning to the more simplified set up of the original games, Pirates has subsequently been imbued with a sense of confidence and polish that has sometimes been lacking from previous Lego games. From the outstanding visuals and improved technical proficiency to the sprawling level design and slick combat, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is arguably Traveller’s Tales most successful game to date. Sure, it delivers very little in the way of surprises and certainly won’t win back those who have grown weary of the well worn Lego formula, but for those still keen on the series’ extremely successful mix of rudimentary puzzles, simplistic but satisfying combat and collect-centric design, Pirates will likely deliver in spades.
While Pirates does continue the trend for multi-character gameplay found in all Lego games, there’s little doubt that, like in the case of the movies upon which this game is based, Jack Sparrow is very much the star of the show. With his famous swagger captured in all of its Keith Richard-like glory, Jack trips his way around each level before jumping seamlessly into one of the impressively choreographed attacks that can be unleashed with the push of a single button. The other major characters have all been re-created with the kind of charm that the Lego series is famous for, but there is little doubt that the lion’s share of character development time was committed to capturing Pirates’ much loved anti-hero in all of his inebriated glory.
There’s nothing too taxing about making your way through the collection of beautifully realised levels that make up the Story Mode. Playing on your own, accompanied by your surprisingly adept AI buddy or taking on the game with a friend (which is still the best way to go), the wealth of health pick-ups and simplistic AI means that death will be an extremely rare occurrence. There are puzzles along the way but these rarely prove taxing and are unlikely to stop you in your tracks – put it this way, there are certainly none of the strange and poorly explained success parameters that so often made progression in The Clone Wars a bit of a chore. The platforming will once again prove the largest taker of life, but even that has seen some considerable work and now proves far less infuriating thanks to sharper level design and superior camera work. Leaps of faith are still a rare occurrence, but for the most part, success is pleasingly dependent upon skill rather than luck.
From the simplistic combat and puzzles to the minor collection of vehicular based challenges, Pirates’ main story, while entertaining from beginning to end, won’t keep you playing for all that long. What will keep you playing however is the returning Free Play mode. The Lego games have always been famous for their collectible items and multitude of hidden areas, but Pirates is arguably in a league of its own. Not just happy with the usual hidden items and building blocks, Pirates offers up entire secret sections that can only be accessed via careful exploration. Jack’s trusty compass will lead you to quite a few of the game’s hidden tidbits, but you’ll still need to return with the correct character and skill to gain access to many of Pirates’ hidden treats.
While revisiting each of the game’s missions after completion has always been part of the make up of the series, it’s the size and variation of these previously unlocked areas that really sets Pirates apart. Many of the secret areas are vast and offer up wholly new challenges and gameplay styles. There’s nothing wildly imaginative to be found, but the larger levels and promise of additional adventure do give players an additional reason to go back through the game outside of the usual mini-kit and coin collections.
Beyond being yet another entertaining, perfectly toned romp through an extremely popular movie franchise, the one thing that really stands out while playing Pirates is the game’s impressive level of polish. The visuals are easily the finest that Traveller’s Tales have delivered with the fantastic lighting system really making the most of the beautifully re-created Caribbean locations. Be it a sun drenched beach or a shadow-laden ship interior, Pirates’ impressive lighting really does a great job of bringing this world of plastic to life. Technically too, this game rises above its forbearers with none of the slowdown or screen tearing that has often marred previous releases in the series. It’s not going to push your 360 the same way Gears 3 might, but this really is a sharp looking game and is certainly a step up from those horrid Pirates of the Caribbean movie tie-ins released a few years back.
After the epic battles of The Clone Wars, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean represents a return to a more traditional Lego design. Some may consider it a step backwards but thanks to the level of care and attention lavished upon every aspect of its design, it’s hard to be too mad at Traveller’s Tales’ decision to return to their roots for this latest Lego outing. It won’t be winning the series any new fans, and certainly won’t convert the haters, but Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is a polished, feature full and often very funny take on the hugely popular Pirates of the Caribbean universe.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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