Monday, 19 September 2011

Review - LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game

LEGO video games are something that I approach with great anticipation, and it was no exception when I ordered my copy of LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game. What follows is my reaction to one of Traveller’s Tales two big Summer releases, and includes the code for a bonus character, if anyone is still looking for it.

I purchased LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game back when it was released, however rather than rush out a review I decided to play it at my leisure. I have now played the entire game through in co-op mode, and completed it to 100%. It is the Playstation 3 format version that I am discussing in this article.

My initial reaction when I put the game in was one of joy and excitement. Just like when playing the video games based on LEGO Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Batman, I was bowled over with how well Traveller’s Tales had made the LEGO game style gel with Pirates of the Caribbean. The hub world is wonderful fun, and gives great preparation for the game when having to do LEGO-tastic things such as stun crabs to ride on them.

The cut scenes in the game really struck me, I was extremely impressed with how far these have moved on since the LEGO licensed property games began. The water, the expressiveness of the mini-figs, the amount going on in each shot… I was surprised at the quality. Seeing these cut scenes made me hope that at some point Traveller’s Tales will go back and re-visit the Star Wars movies with the new experience and technology that they have available.

Concept art for LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game
As with previous LEGO games, the writers injected some brilliant humour into these cut scenes – some cleverer than any that has gone before. An example of this is in the game’s opening sequence, when Elizabeth is removing various items from young pirate Will to disguise his origins, which perfectly captures the spirit of the scene but injects it with LEGO mischief. The use of animals works well in this game in a brilliant running joke.

Within the actual game play, Jack Sparrow features in almost every level. Due to this, a huge amount of thought clearly went into his character design. He has a silly run as in the film, he stumbles into fights and when left standing checks out his compass. His compass is well used as a device in the game, as in each level it locates special items that can’t always be found otherwise.
Making the dog a playable character was also a nice choice. The dog was a nod in the films to the theme park ride that inspired them, making its inclusion here a nice acknowledgement of the game’s legacy.

Concept art for LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game
This brings us to the various abilities and items in the game. Certain characters always carry a spade for digging, others have pistols to shoot or axes to throw, and women can jump higher than male characters. In this sense the game is most similar to LEGO Indiana Jones: The Video Game, as characters can also pick up spades or cutlasses if they don’t usually use them.

There is a certain bias towards the new film in this area, even though it only makes up 25% of the film series (a shame since it seems to be universally considered the poorest). The bias is in the special ability of Blackbeard to affect voodoo magic objects, an ability exclusive to his character, so free play can only be properly completed once the player has unlocked him.

The whole dual mode aspect works nicely as usual, ensuring a new experience in free play and then giving a good excuse to go back through levels for a third or fourth time to locate the last few pesky mini-kit pieces (now ships in bottles) or compass items. There are some good free play areas, a dancing moment is included (although it less disco-ish than in the previous games). A particularly good choice here is having characters, such as Davy Jones’ crew of “fish people”, who can walk on the sea bed. This allows for huge hidden areas to explore in free play and find additions such as fish swimming past or clams on the sea floor.
Concept art for LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game
Some of the things I personally enjoyed discovering the most were the different animals that can be built and ridden, including snails, spiders and of course sea turtles. The eccentric humour of these games comes across nicely here. That studs are called treasure is also nice, theming the game beautifully in the world of Pirates of the Caribbean. I also enjoyed the size of the hub area, once all unlocked, and that as the player you can change the time from day to night (changing the atmosphere significantly).

It may be too obvious to point out, but I also loved spotting bricks that existed in classic LEGO Pirates. Be they barrels, parrots, palm trees, there are a lot of LEGO elements here that I played with as a child and seeing them pop up on screen never gets old.

I am less fond of the new method of finding the elusive red bricks (now red hats), which are located around the hub area and often too easy to get to. The range of extras they provide is also disappointing, and for some reason includes “Always double treasure” as well as “Treasure x2”. Here, the game provides little new to the LEGO video game legacy. On a more positive note, being able to create up to eight custom mini-figures is very welcome.

Concept art for LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game
What works against the game is that none of what you are unlocking is appealing enough. The minikits, all ships from the films, are more instantly usable than in other LEGO games - so score one. But unlocking every last character from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise isn’t the same as doing it for Star Wars. I imagine there are extremely few die hard fans who know their Jimmy Legs from their Grapple, whereas through years of products and pop culture fans know their Aayla Secura from their Zutton.

This wouldn’t be such a negative if the extras weren’t so bleh, with the final unlockable piece of content not being much better. We have been collecting gold bricks for all of those hours to build a final door. When I approached it, I felt a tingle down my spine… “THE RIDE”. The Ride. THE Ride!!?? The childish glee that filled me as I was about to visit a LEGO version of my favourite childhood attraction from Walt Disney World…

…but no. It was cool to see the characters ride into the first area on a water slide in a boat. It was immensely cool to hear the classic theme park music. But it’s simply three sections of smashing stuff up from scenes vaguely based on the films. After we’ve just spent hours playing through levels that are much more richly based on the films in great detail. So essentially, this final bonus level doesn’t feel like an adequate reward for the work that the player has put in to unlocking it. I would rather have watched a cut scene of a LEGO version of the ride, that didn’t involve my input at all. It feels like a missed opportunity.

Concept art for LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game
There is also one final character that remained locked, even when the game told me I had finished to 100%. I scoured the internet to find out how to unlock this last mystery character, and the only way is to insert a code. Pause the game, hit Extras and type in 'VDJSPW' [source: GameSpot UK]. This will unlock the final character, and it’s another nice nod to the classic theme park attraction. Suffice to say, when I revisit the game I will be playing as that final character.

A final bit of negativity that I have to add is that this game is ridiculously glitchy. Personally when playing I have experienced characters disappearing, levels freezing (multiple times), levers/doors not working correctly, the compass not working and other problems that have had me wanting to go and play with some actual LEGO bricks instead. This is a real shame, as in my past experience I have not encountered these problems with LEGO games and therefore do not expect them. Perhaps in this case it was to do with meeting the film’s release date, but I sincerely hope LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars is not this error prone.

So overall, a worthy addition to Traveller’s Tale’s LEGO games series. There is not as much newness as in other LEGO games, but it is fit so well to the Pirates of the Caribbean theme that the elasticity of the concept surprises and delights yet again. Despite not breaking new ground, fans of LEGO video games will enjoy it and it bodes well for whatever TT Games puts our way next.

"a Pirate's life for me"

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