Version tested: PlayStation 2
You are not unique. In a world of six and half billion, individuality is an increasingly rare commodity. You think you're the only person reading this review in your underpants, idly digging out earwax as the sun's rays harshly penetrate the gaps in your threadbare curtains? There's someone doing the exact the same thing twenty miles away. You think you're the first person to add tomato sauce to your ice cream? Well, someone's already written the recipe book. That idea you had for the movie where the grieving inventor downloads his dead wife's soul into a giant robot and embarks on a road trip with his sassy ex-prostitute lawyer and her pet grizzly bear? Even I've pitched that one. You've got an undercover agent hidden in their midst. Guess what? They've got one in yours!
All these synchronous events. Billions of people marching in parallel lines. A little bit unnerving when you think about it. More relevantly, it's also the reason why I'd like to question how two developers working for two different publishers, with presumably no cross-communication, can both produce such criminally poor Pirates of the Caribbean games at the exact same time. Now that's what I call spooky.
Actually, it's probably not that strange. Given that this is another lazy adaptation of another over-bloated summer blockbuster, I don't think we're going to have to search too hard to find an answer. Naturally, the recently reviewed PSP version checks another box on the too-long list of handheld movie licences that belong at the bottom of the ocean, and its bigger brother, too, doesn't last long on its maiden voyage in the disc tray before scraping its hull on the iceberg of criticism. Abandon ship before it's too late.
Poo-rates, more like
The first PotC game was something of a misnomer. An alright sequel to an unrelated piracy RPG with the good fortune to negotiate slapping a popular licence (to make money) on top, it had little to do with the characters or events of the cinematic release. The Legend of Jack Sparrow continues that trend in some way, eschewing any trace of the current movie sequel in order to retell events from the first. Allowing for the supposedly ample time they've had to work on it since that film came out hasn't made much difference to its quality. Maybe if they'd used the additional time it takes to sit through Dead Man's Chest to polish it to perfection, we'd be looking at a classic. As it stands, it doesn't look like they did.
As a meagre dribble of syrup to the watery porridge of the game that lies ahead, the story's conceit is marginally entertaining. Trying to clear his name while awaiting the hangman's noose, the events of the first movie are retold from the perspective of the flamboyant Jack Sparrow, ostensibly allowing it to veer off into absurd flights of fancy. Hey, it's as good an excuse as any to start fighting undead Vikings on a floating glacier or flee from dragons in Chinese temples anyway. Each tall tale is interjected by the humorous protestations of his compatriots, so it's such a shame that the end result is nothing more than an excuse to pad out the film's narrative with a few more generically designed levels.
Johnny Depp, at least, deigns to return to voice his inspired creation. Unfortunately, without the visually exuberant swagger that makes up most of the act, it falls a little flat. He seems bored to be perfectly honest; continually quoting one-liners from the first movie while sounding like he'd rather be taking part in the regular bare-knuckle rumble between drugged-up Scientologist divorcees and drunk-driving Kaballahists on the Sunset Strip. Or whatever it is these Hollywood types get up to in their spare time nowadays.
It's probably more fun than what the player gets to do anyway. Depp gets to go home to Vanessa Paradis. All we've got to look forward to is another generic hackandslasher with all the sub-level fun that the genre provides: an unresponsive camera that swings wildly around the action, a lock-on system that forgets what its actual job entails, and treacly combat that successfully combines lack of depth with minimal sophistication.
In single-player mode, you're joined by a secondary CPU-controlled character - protagonist Will Turner, or love interest Elizabeth Swann in a couple of levels - and in practice you can switch instantaneously between the two. Aside from their special attack, however, there's no real difference between them, rendering it more a matter of visual taste. Will can fling hatchets and Jack sets people alight by pitching flaming bottles of grog, and while some simplistic puzzles may require one or the other to cut or burn, the blatantly obvious barrels of refillable ammo placed beside said action hardly require much thought as to who to use next.
In a shocking turn of events, your computer-controlled colleague manages to intelligently keep itself busy, tackling the hordes as you plough away at substandard exploding barrel puzzles. In a better game that would merit praise; in reality the AI-player's inability to fell one peg-legged pirate in the time it takes you to hack down ten or more, never ever using their far superior special attack, makes it somewhat of a superfluous addition.
Slightly better news is that there's a co-op mode in which player two can take the place of the CPU. Because of the inclusion of two players on-screen at once, it mercifully locks off the camera during this mode, a move that minimises one type of frustration, only to turn up a different kind of hate for its restrictive viewpoint. Of course, Lego Star Wars did the same, but that retained its unmitigated joy purely because it tempered its camera limitations with the reckless playfulness of infinite lives. I'm not sure I'd entirely agree with the decision here to simply halve the number of lives between each player because the game is technically half as difficult - it's weekend short but nigglingly tough in the latter boss battles. But at least the feature is there, and, if anything, it's more of a pity that the undervalued premise of single-screen co-op makes an appearance in such a bland game.
Still, even a pinch of co-op fun doesn't detract from the sloppy amateurishness of the production. Another list for posterity, shall I? Cut-scenes that allow you to cut short dialogue but can't be skipped altogether, subtitles for in-engine animations but none in the awful-looking pre-rendered ones, a manual that details things that plainly don't appear in the game ('Time Attack', says the manual. Er, not in the game I'm playing), God of War-style treasure chests that refuse to open unless you stand on some arbitrary spot in front of them, you can't even jump (you can't even jump!)... I could go on.
There's plenty of opportunity for a suitably piratical action adventure game and the Pirates of the Caribbean universe certainly deserves one that lives up to its charming strengths. Unfortunately, while the movie's version of piracy is a picturesque mixture of high-adventuring, quick-witted, swashbuckling derring-do, The Legend of Jack Sparrow is a weak mixture of low-brow, quick cash-in, button-bashing doggy-do. If you will, a load of Yaaaar!-se.
3 / 10