Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is Buena Vista's latest attempt to cash in on the highly successful movie franchise in videogame form. Having not seen the movie (yet), I can only assume that the single player campaign in Dead Man's Chest follows the plot line pretty closely. The game opens with the standard cut scenes and branding, tying it in with the film upon which it's based. For the most part the presentation has the level of polish one would expect with a game based on a successful movie franchise. After a brief introduction, players assume the role of Jack Sparrow as he slices he way through hoards of prison guards, cannibals and zombies. Players progress from level to level dispatching bad guys and collecting power ups. And for the most part, that's all there is to it. I suspect some readers may have the same opinion regarding games based on movies that I have; generally, the games feel rushed and aren't very good. This game doesn't do much to dispel that perception. The overall package feels as if the game play were an afterthought almost. It also suffers from a pretty blatant technical glitch, in the form of a spastic camera, which can consistently rear its ugly head in the heat of battle, which caused me to turn the game off in frustration quite frequently.
"Pirates" plays similarly to the Onimusha series. Players are armed with a sword and have light and strong attacks, the stronger attack taking longer to execute which can leave you vulnerable to counter attack. As players progress through the game, they earn new weapons and power moves, but nothing that deviates drastically from the core game play from what I can see. To be honest, the glitches (further described later) caused me to give up on this game before the later levels. Jack attacks in standard lunges of three, but you can string together light and strong attacks depending on the type of enemies you are facing at the time. For instance, certain enemies require you to start with a light attack to wear them down enough to give Jack enough time to finish them off with a strong attack, and other enemies require the opposite. Theoretically, players can become proficient at juggling multiple enemies with alternating attacks. What is unfortunate is that actual game play always degenerates into heated button mashing, mainly because absolutely every enemy in the game requires multiple blows, in succession, to push them back enough that one could even attempt to direct their efforts toward another pursuer. Inevitably the player ends up backed into a corner attempting to block multiple attacks from multiple directions, which is a loosing proposition on even the easiest level. Jack has a stun move at his disposal, which allows him to temporarily immobilize one enemy, so he can tend to the other. This is of limited benefit as it is only really helpful in the case of having to fend off two attackers. Any more than two attackers and be prepared to loose health...and lots of it. Of most effect is when Jack uses his alternate weapon, which is basically a one hit kill, handy for evening up the numbers early in battle when he's fully surrounded.
All attacks build notoriety that seems to amount to nothing more than a cooler title (Yay!), however doing special attacks like dropping a bundle of rocks on an enemy will earn Jack even more notoriety points. Finally, as Jack dispatches enemies he fills a meter that allows him to perform power moves, which can also help him when he's surrounded. Again, this all may have looked great on paper, but because of what feels like poor execution, the fighting mechanics end up falling far short of the gameplay experience BVG must have originally intended.
Looking beyond that, players won't really find a whole lot of variety to the battles, or the enemies themselves. It just feels like a series of identical battles with some platforming elements, and an occasional puzzle thrown in for a change of pace. There are some rope swinging sections, a couple of context sensitive elements like certain environmental actions that Jack will perform if he his standing over top of an icon. All things one might find in a standard action platformer. Your enemies fall into three categories: enemies that take a light attack to wear them down before you can finish them off, enemies that take a strong attack to break their guard before you can finish them off, and enemies that wield large weapons and must be softened up with a stun move to break their guard before you can finish them off. No matter where you progress to in this game, you'll have experienced the most difficult fighting very early on. If I had to try and put my finger on what separates Pirates from other very similar games is that the combat in the game really just ends up feeling tedious after a while, taking away any motivation one might have to see this game through to the end. It feels like work rather than fun.
Another annoying attribute to the game that severely hampers enjoyment and adds to that sense of dread every time multiple enemies engage Jack is its horribly damaged camera. A lot of PSP releases have poor camera controls, and this one is no different. I can live with manually adjusting the camera to gain a better vantage point on the action even though I shouldn't have to, but I can't forgive a camera that bugs out consistently when heated battles move into tight spaces. Almost every time a large battle moved into a tighter space the game engine would cause a fight for supremacy between the zoom and rotate functions of the camera that I had no control over. I would literally just hit the attack buttons hoping that I was still standing at the end of the spin. I simply didn't have the patience to keep playing the game after a while.
Audio for the game is adequate. The clashing of swords sounds good and the ambient noises in the environments do a good job of immersing the player in the experience. There is one particular cannibal jungle cry that is quite distinct and will repeat itself over and over until you wish you could eat your own ears. Jack Sparrow's voice sounds as if Johnny Depp had a bottle of Nyquil before recording the voiceovers, but I guess that's par for the course with movie based games.
At the end of the day, there simply aren't enough positive elements to the presentation of this game to compensate for the repetitive battle and wonky camera. The latter is an element that makes the game almost unplayable, which is a crucial oversight that will likely cause most players to simply give up on playing the game through to the end. I couldn't possible recommend that even hard-core fans of the Pirates franchise pick this one up for more than a weekend rental.