Cap'n Jack Sparrow is back with At World's End, but dun be makin' like pirate's gold and turn a fool, as it's far from parallel to t'movie. Disney decided not to go ahead with Dead Man's Chest aside from a couple of handhelds, and now they've attempted to squash the last two parts together in this latest release, leaving us with a mess of a story. But nonetheless, AWE looks great and sounds great, and that's enough to keep someone entertained for awhile. I'd even go out on a limb that it's probably one of the best movie to game renditions I've ever played (although that's not saying a whole lot), and it would be perfect for the youngsters.
The first half of the game pans out to be Dead Man's Chest, or in other words, the recovery of the heart of Davy Jones. Ending with the encounter with the Kraken, the second part begins and ends the story that should have been the sole focus from the get go. Even if you have watched the second film, you'll be confused as to where exactly you're at in the story, as the cutscenes only grab the very core parts of the film, and everything in between unfolds differently. Of course you will recognize certain scenarios, dialogue, and locations straight from the movies, but the majority of the game is in itself original.
AWE's world is still extremely representative of the movie, even if a little on the broad side of things. Character models are spot on in comparison to their actor/actress counterparts. Quality visuals don't come to such a title often, but it does happen. All in all it's disappointing to see such graphics go to waste on such a mediocre game. AWE continues to surprise in the fact that none of the actors lent their voices to the game, yet I was tricked into believing they all had until researching the game after; all are sound-a-likes. Too bad the dialogue is written terribly, as these voice actors really have some talent. In-game cries and yelps, grunts and moans are kept to a minimum, which is good as it's probably AWE's weakest side in the sound department.
Although you get the opportunity to play as Jack Sparrow, Elizabeth Swann, and Will Turner, Cap'n Jack will obviously be your main role throughout. You'll even get to fight for all three at the same time, switching from character to character by pressing the D pad. There's a trick to these sections of the game, mostly dependent on speed and driving it to the tougher enemy, but overall it's still not much of a challenge. Dying doesn't mean anything except a little backtracking to the last checkpoint, which are abundant throughout the game, so there's really no worry.
You'll end up in Tortuga and Singapore among others, sword wrangling until your thumbs turn black. These fierce pirate face-offs are fun if you're in the third grade, but may be too shallow for older gamers. The trick to defeating them is simple; spot the enemy, get within attacking range of the enemy, sword slash the enemy followed by a punch followed by a slash, enemy will spin to expose back, slash enemy in back to kill enemy. If you are still excited, go get AWE right now. The levels are linear, making your magic compass pretty useless. Enemies re-spawn in 'tougher enemy' fights and most other times just come out of nowhere, especially in Davy Jones locker with its open desert like layout. As aforementioned they will put up little resistance, hitting the floor soon after engaging you in battle. With the tougher enemies you'll have to wear them down and then finish them off with a special finishing move, earned by completing parts of the game. Certain sections will have you fighting without your sword, simply just hands and feet. Your sword is still usually handy, strapped to your belt, but you're not allowed to use it. You can also collect flintlock ammo, allowing you to shoot up to three shots. Consistently funny is a combination of grabbing and then tossing an enemy over a cliff or into water. You can also whip them into a bunch of oncoming enemies, resulting in a pile up of awkwardly fallen gents. Along the way you can collect knives, grenades, and metal poles (which I believe are candlesticks) to use as weapons or to open doors. All are simple enough to use, just remember my third grade comment.
The only time AWE does mix up the fighting is during the boss battles, which are set-up by side view, head-to-head duels. These always start with a brief cutscene, allowing the character to show a little about their personality. To defend yourself, you'll simply be watching the three circles to your right. When the top circle lights up, the enemy is attacking high and you have to block him by pressing the analog stick up. If you succeed in blocking the rush of attacks, you'll be able to counter and then go on the offensive. You can then attack high, low, and straight, all in succession until he/she counters you. Blocking attacks also fills up a meter for special attacks like countering when you want and also getting the attack in when you want (via a nifty spin 'n slash move). These fights simply get faster paced as the game progresses, but all are far from difficult.
On the Xbox 360, you'll end up with about 300 achievement points unless you really scour for those collectables along the way. Split-screen co-op and competitive play pins you against swarms of enemies in timed matches, and you can duel against a friend too (not online though). These additions are nice, but come to a quick end. The only other addition is a point system called "notoriety." The game really pushes this idea and makes it seem important, but ultimately it means nothing except a higher rank on the single leaderboard to the game. Collecting gold and doing finishing moves will get you higher notoriety, but again, it's all for not.
When you're not fighting, you'll spend most of your time running, climbing, and jumping through levels, looking for people to talk to or finding lost items. Most of the levels have puzzle-type elements scattered throughout, like figuring out how to get across a set of docks, wherein you need to slash down a rope to release a platform, then scale around the bow of a ship, and alongside a building, climbing and dropping to different ledges. Although you've got a wide variety of moves at your disposal, the controls are single button actions, however, they are a bit dodgy at times. There are occasions where the icon for action areas will appear and re-appear, even if you're exactly on the spot you should be. AWE sports plenty of collectable items throughout, which really are the only replay value the game has. Among these are Calypso Pieces which are in chests only opened by performing a full "Jackanism". This is done by collecting three shrunken heads and then pressing LT+RT+A (which can be done accidentally in battle so it's not a great combination). The "Jackanism" also produces a green wave of smoke that kills everything in your general vicinity. Your sword then emits green gas and is illuminated, giving you the ability to kill anyone (even tougher enemies) with one swipe. The only time you must have three is when you are opening a chess, otherwise you only need one. There is one hidden Calypso chest per stage, but there are also seven other collectables scattered in other chests, like seven gold bars, seven skulls, or seven run bottles. Finding all of these simply earns you achievements and semi-interesting unlockable content.
Ultimately, if I were looking for a game for my ten year old cousin, and he or she is into Pirates, or more importantly Pirates of the Caribbean, I would definitely pick this up for them. It will make a great rental and it certainly does look and sound great. For anyone not in grade school it certainly isn't one to go and grab and play from start to finish, and it doesn't boast any great online play. For fans of the series like myself, if you can't get enough of the movies, go ahead and pick it up, it's got enough to it to at least entertain the idea of being a good game. Apart from the spot-on voices and character models, decent effects and addictive collectables, AWE is a dry and confusing title.