Release Date: 13th May 2011
Price Comparisons: All Platforms
The Gadget Show Live, which started on Wednesday, has not only been showing off the latest technologies and innovations, but has provided previews for some of the latest and upcoming games in its aptly named Game Zone. Being in attendance Brendan and I managed to experience a world first hands-on for the next entry in the hugely popular LEGO franchise that was recently announced; LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean. You would be forgiven for thinking that this instalment would be similar to previous outings, the same song and dance with a new lick of paint over the top, but thankfully it appears to be more than that. In fact from the play-through Brendan and I experienced, I would dare to say this may well be the most polished title of the series so far from developer Traveller's Tales.
As you would expect, the levels loosely follow the storylines of the films with the usual level of charm and humour. Upon starting up the game you gain control of Will Turner at the blacksmiths where he first meets Jack Sparrow, acting out the scene from the film. While the developers have done good jobs in the past of recreating sets from the films into their games, the level of detail in this first scene was impressive. There was not time to waste gawping at the background however as the quirky nature of the LEGO games come into full swing almost immediately. In an effort to forge a sword, you feed a donkey so you can ride upon its back, and then use your new mount to move some nearby machinery. It’s at this point Captain Sparrow made his grand entrance, and showed off the swashbuckling combat.
Like in the film, the duel with Sparrow starts off on the ground and ends up in the rafters, but what caught my eye was how the swordplay looked incredibly fluid and cinematic, with parries and jumps galore. This doesn’t mean the controls have been evolved though; I was still spamming a single button much like in previous releases, and overall my previous experience with the series meant I knew the fundamental controls from the get-go, but because the visual payoff was satisfying I found myself not caring. Shortly afterwards Jack was forced to jump to the floor, initiating a cutscene of his capture and moved the gameplay to its next section; springing the pirate captain from jail. Here the demo showed off the puzzle element of the game back in full force, thanks to the ability to control the dog with the key to get the pirate Captain out of his cell. That’s right folks
I’ve spoken about how the detail seemed impressive up until this point, but it was after escaping the prison and the action moved outside in the streets of Port Royale that level of detail TT have inserted into the game became clear. The well rendered trees in the background added to the atmosphere of the game, and the littered debris from the stone walls made the stylized effect of the Lego series look stunning. It’s a continued graphical evolution that began with, especially with how fluid the animations are now looking.
It was at this point in the playthrough that I decided to try out the two player mechanics of the game to see if anything had changed, so with Brendan as Will Turner and me as Jack Sparrow, we took to the streets of Port Royale. Immediately we were faced with our first puzzle of moving barrels into some holes, which would in turn open the gates that blocked our path. Of course, the only way to move them was by getting on top of them and rolling them with our feet, and led to the discovery that you can run over friend and foe alike. Easily completing the first puzzle, we moved onto the second area of Port Royale where we got a first look at the special abilities for the characters, specifically Jack’s compass.
Holding down the ability button brought up a radial menu for the compass, allowing the selection of various items that were hidden around the area. These range from items that count towards your completion total to puzzle-specific items, such as some planks that were needed to get some barrels across a broken ledge. Of course, Brendan and I weren’t initially aware of this and spent a good five minutes navigating a boulder through a house and rolling it down some stairs in an impressive tag team effort (that was ultimately, and sadly, pointless.) However, once we knew what our course of action was, we used the compass by following the path of blue squares it slowly revealed; all the while Jack Sparrow did his infamous swagger.
It was at this point we found a rather glaring problem with the split screen ability. Brendan decided to jump off ahead, activating the individual views, but in doing so it started to slow down the game, causing stutters as we played. While this is probably down to the high level of detail being displayed on screen, hopefully this issue will be tweaked before the release, because some players may find it distracting and ultimately off-putting.
After solving a few more puzzles and fighting some pesky soldiers we made our way to the end of the first section, showing us a cutscene of Jack and Will acquiring the HMS Interceptor and gleefully informing us of all the items we had missed. It also informed us that we had unlocked access to all of the films, including the upcoming On Stranger Tides. We got a quick look at the hub, which uses several wall-bound maps to access the various levels in which the swashbuckling adventure takes place. We managed a brief sample of the start of a couple of levels from the other films, all managing to keep the authenticity of such scenes as Jack’s escape in Dead Man’s Chest, and the infiltration at the start of At World’s End, while looking equally as fun and visually impressive as our extended playthrough of the beginning section.
With a reported 70 characters to unlock and copious amounts of items to collect, it looks to be one of the biggest, if not best looking, LEGO games to date. While it doesn’t change the fundamental mechanics of the series, it looks to have added and tweaked enough to keep it engaging and, more importantly, fun.
And now, here to unleash his second opinion like the cannon fire of a Ship Of The Line, it’s Brendan Griffiths.
Brendan Griffiths: I make no secret of my general distaste for the Lego titles but this seems to be making more of an effort than past games in the series. Most noticeable is the leap in the quality of the visuals, out in the Caribbean sun this game looks gorgeous with the jungle, buildings and cliffs all looking amazing. Gameplay styles varied from typical combat (still way too simple), exploration and addictive collectibles. The section with us trapped in giant wicker balls, trying to get to the top of the cliffs using ramps and cog-like structures was a welcome departure, as was using Jack's compass to root out hidden goodies.
There were a few gripes causes by the camera when we played co-op, mainly when Carl and I went our separate ways. The diagonal split is a sound idea, but it couldn't cope when one of us was in a building while the other was on the roof. Also, the slowdown during combat while the screen was split was all too apparent. As with most Lego games, it can be a bit of a ball-ache trying to work out what the hell you're supposed to be doing, which is why playing co-op is essential to keeping your sanity. At least the new film is going to be included too, which I thought would only be included in a typical re-release six months down the line. Better than I expected then, but if you made me play it on my own I'd probably leave it tied to the ship's mast and let the Kraken eat it.