Lego Pirates Of The Caribbean came out last week. A bit. I'm most of the way through what's a very big game, and am ready to sit on the lounge floor amidst piles of plastic bricks, and tell you Wot I Think.
Lego Pirates Of The Caribbean is a brilliant game. Let down by an astonishingly poor PC port. Wounding. Gosh, the fun I have when a level eventually loads, the sheer pleasure that comes from taking part in each delightful level. Until one of the characters gets wedged into a platform and can never get out, forcing me to restart the level. Well, not restart the level, but quit to the main hub, which takes about two or three minutes, before then starting the level again – another two minute wait – skip past the cutscenes I’ve already seen, wait another minute, skip another cutscene, wait another minute, and then play the level again!
It’s impossible not to let this colour the experience of what is yet another expertly crafted Traveller’s Tale Lego third-person adventure.
As I mentioned last week, it’s a lazy eye sees a game as solid and entertaining as Lego Pirates as being poorer than its peers simply because there’s a lot of them. Yes, there’s criticism to be made of the lack of progress in the series, but it’s foolhardy to let that mar a brilliantly fun game.
Here you’ve got adventures based on all four of the POTC movies, each playable in any order once you’ve finished the first level. From a simple, central hub you choose from the maps to pick a movie, and then work your way through the chapters, or replay them with a mix of characters to explore for all the hidden treats you couldn’t find the first time.
And so clearly you’re following the events of the Johnny Depp movies, such as they are. What the Lego games offer, splendidly, is a rescue for even the worst films. It’s notable that their version of the more recent Star Wars trilogy was more entertaining than the plastic incarnation of the original three films. So whatever your feelings toward Bruckheimer’s films, that isn’t really a deciding factor on whether the game is fun.
Which is interesting, really. At a certain point these games become much more about the mechanics and immediate situation, than the larger context in which you’re playing them. If you’d held a knifegun to my head I’d not have been able to tell you a single thing that happened in any of the first three films, all of which I’ve seen. “Um, something about a waterwheel in the second film? And McKensie Crook was a less entertaining feature than the light in the cinema ceiling glaring in my eyes. Can I live now?”
And having played through all of the first three films’ levels, I really am none the wiser. Lots of lovely, laugh-packed cutscenes show plastic pirates pratting about, and then I’m smashing stuff up again and collecting tokens.
The one section that really stands out, as you might suspect, is the sequence near the start of the third film, At World’s End, with Captain Jack Sparrow beyond the boundaries of reality, multiply existing, trying to get his boat out of the sand. Here the game’s best features shine – you’re always in control of at least two characters, and in this game often as many as six, tasked with using their unique skills to unearth all the hidden bonuses, key puzzle elements, and kleptomania-inducing tokens. Here you’re controlling, eventually, five Jack Sparrows, each armed differently with guns, swords, spades and so on. And a goat to ride, obviously.
It exemplifies the game’s best ways. To get the boat moving you need to rebuild it – it’s broken off into Lego sections at either end. To do this you have to use Sparrow’s compass (an odd feature, allowing more hidden extras to search for, but delivered in a strangely slow way - you have to walk everywhere when using it, which is heftily dull), rescue or discover other versions of himself, use smashed piles of Lego to build wheels, ride a goat (clearly), smash up everything you can see, figure out routes to climb around the boat, and eventually watch a brilliant cutscene featuring hundreds of creepy white Lego crabs swarming everywhere.
Sparrow is just amazingly captured. The rest of the cast are quite generically presented (mercifully TT chose to massively play down the monstrously unfunny roles of Ragetti and Pintel (Crook and Arenberg)) meaning it can often be hard to remember who’s who, but Depp’s swagger is uncannily delivered. Running him around is an endless pleasure.
It’s hard to consider a TT Lego game without wanting to plot it on a graph, which is obviously of limited use to those who haven’t played them all. But quickly, the hub isn’t as good as Star Wars III’s, the level design not as exquisite as Harry Potter, and the humour as spot on as Lego Star Wars I or Batman. However, it’s still utterly compelling, especially with those bits and pieces you realise you can’t reach this time through tantalising you to return in Free mode.
What puts me off, and it does it quite significantly, are those load times.
The first time I sat watching the (cute) paper puppet loading screen I thought the game had crashed. Jack Sparrow endlessly bobbed around a boat, on a looped pattern, music playing in the background, for so long. Because TT seem to have bitter contempt for PC players, there’s of course no way to play it in a window (let alone apply any anti-aliasing to a game that so desperately deserves it), so I task-switched out, killed it, and started again. The same.
Leaving the room I came back later to find the game loaded. And so it goes. I’ve missed a few of the cutscenes because I’ve gone to make coffee, fed the cat, checked the post. It generously freezes loading if you task-switch, so it’s sit and stare for ridiculous amounts of time, or go find some other entertainment. And this is made far worse by a load delivering a cutscene, that’s then followed by MORE LOADING OH ARGH. This time there’s a compass spinning in the bottom right of the screen, and while they tend to be faster than the puppet sequences, they’re still uncomically long. When that delivers you to another cutscene it’s hard to maintain control.
Sadly the same is true mid-levels too. A lot of the larger areas have a load point midway, but there’s no warning that it’s going to happen. And when you’ve gone through one, it’s hideously easy to accidentally stumble back through it, and then have to go through the tortuous process two more times. This is not the case on the 360 at all, and certainly all other Lego games work like a dream on my PC, so goodness knows what’s happened here.
It’s glitchy too, and as I mentioned at the start, that can be game-breaking. It’s easy to kill a Lego counterpart so it respawns, but in that particular predicament the piratey buddy insisted on reincarnating with his stomach wedged through a plank. It seems the sort of thing that shouldn’t be allowed to happen by the code.
And all this is only an issue if you can find it. For reasons unknown to us, Disney have chosen not to go down the route of normal publishers and make the game available in a spectrum of online stores (all of the previous Lego games are on at least one of Steam, Gamers Gate, Direct2Drive, etc). Pirates? It's not on Steam at all. Nor GamersGate. Not Impulse. It does appear on Direct2Drive, but only in North America. If you want to get it outside of NA you're going to have to go to Games Planet, and there alone (to the best of my knowledge).
But what about the PC version in a shop? Not in any shop I can find. Certainly not Game. Although they have the weirdest offer:
"Order LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean on Playstation 3, Xbox 360, 3DS, DS, Wii or PSP and you will receive a code for 50% off selected Disney PC downloads!"
Are they just taking the piss?
I'm not really sure what the strategy is here. However, Games Planet have it for £25, which is a great price for a huge game. If only they'd patch it so it loads properly. Which feels incredibly unlikely, since Disney don't appear to be trying to sell it.