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Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales

Score: 65%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Akella
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 -16
Genre: Action/ RPG/ Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

Age of Pirates: Carribbean Tales is another take on the pirate genre, one made infamous by Sid Meier and his classic game Pirates!. However, besides the eye patches, tropical islands, and parrots, that’s about the only similarity between the two games. Produced by Playlogic International and developed by the Russian company Akella, we shall see how this title fairs in the rough waters of the game industry.

Visually, this might be its strongest area. The various ships you will command and travel about in are absolutely gorgeous, with majestic sails billowing over the sparkling, crystal clear waters, dotted by exotic emerald isles. Occasionally, you will happen across stormy oceans, and be embroiled in fierce weather, showing off some amazing water particles, wind shifts and more. The lighting effects are really brilliant as well. Character models are also well done and remind me of the recent Oblivion title, although not quite as polished. Sadly, the animations were a little stiff and clipping became a bit of an issue in hectic onboard ship fighting.

You will spend a good portion on dry land, and luckily, these locales are pretty snazzy looking as well. The decor reminds you of the sets right out of Pirates of the Caribbean (sans Johnny Depp, of course), and hold a wide array of sordid characters, from cheap whores to scrupulous bounty hunters. Houses and other edifices exhibit the wear and tear of a port town, with blasted wall sections and cannon holes. It goes without saying, palm trees are not in short supply either.

Sound wise, the general ambiance of the towns and oceans is well done. You get that gentle creaking sound of the ships, coupled with your crewmates shouting as they go about their daily chores. The music fits the period nicely as well, although it doesn’t make a huge impact. Effects are handled equally well, but they too are lackluster and generic. Lastly, the voice acting is rather stilted and unremarkable, so overall, not a great score in the sound department.


You start the game as either Blaze Shark or Beatrice Shark (cute names!) and are caught in a mystery to reclaim your past, learning about your mysterious pirate father, and the life he once led. Or, with the wonderful open-ended mechanics, you can set off for pillage and plunder at your discretion. You can explore the towns, passing from NPC to NPC on various RPG-esque missions to uncover the main storyline, or just do simple side-missions (such as escorting merchant vessels). The towns will also act as your main focus for gathering supplies and new shipmates, getting more missions from the Governor, and even forming an alliance with various countries of your choosing. Be wary about the latter, as if you ally with France, for instance, and they are at war with Britain, you may be in (literally) hot water. You will also gain skill points to spend on such things as Leadership, Navigating and Trading, honing your areas of expertise as you see fit.

It becomes quite tedious meandering around the confusing towns, looking for certain places and persons on a seemingly endless task of chores. Worse yet, some NPC's leave out some critical information, like their allegiance or mission ending info, making you have to backtrack or go on basic memory. Also, the in-game map doesn’t list many details like town names and other locales, so you have to manually search out each location to be then added to your map. Nor is there a map given to you in the box, a la GTA or City of Heroes. Some pretty sloppy stuff. However, the action on the high seas is where the game really shines.

Once you set sail, you can focus on navigating, combat and other orders of the day. You can command a variety of ships, 16 in all. Managing your inventory is pretty critical because you can’t always pop back into port whenever you feel like it. You'll have a certain amount of cannon balls, from chains for masts, grape shot for anti-personnel and sails, and explosive rounds to wreak further havoc. The targeting system is rather clunky and unresponsive, resulting in a lot of finger-crossing and tense moments. Once you get past battering each other with cannons, you can attempt to board, or defend your ship from an invasion. Sadly, this combat is also very stilted and sluggish, resulting in many awkward deaths and restarts. The A.I. is also rather moronic, with enemies and friends alike just standing around on deck, bashing each other senseless until they lifelessly fall to the bloody wood flooring. In the grand finale, you face off against the enemy captain, with a variety of sword fighting maneuvers, all of which are lame and boring. If you’re lucky enough to survive this madness, you can take some serious loot, as well as slaves, to sell about the islands. You can even add the ships to your growing armada.

The ultimate action takes place in taking over forts and port cities. Once you build up a sizable force, you can launch an attack on a formidable town, and hope your swashbucklers prevail over various guards and militias protecting the town. From there, you get a little bit into the realm of a strategy title, being able to reap economic benefits for town ownership, as well as various defenses in the inevitable event of attacks by other pirates.

Last by not least, there is also a multiplayer portion to Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales. It was a little difficult finding a lot of matches, but those that did work, seemed all right. Tactics don’t seem well thought out, with no doubt some pre-pubescent kid screaming obscenities and a series of “yar avast yee scoundrel!” as he tried to board my fleet. This department is just another lackluster feature to be tacked onto an already mediocre game.


A handy tutorial walks the player through most of the intricacies of gameplay, but that doesn’t mean this game is a cakewalk by any means. Because of its open-ended format, some players may be a little lost on exactly where to go, or what to do. Do you try to uncover the path of your mysterious father, or go on several side missions? Does it really matter in the long run? There are some interesting tweaks available to make the game harder or easier, such as how the people of the Caribbean view you, or different damage ratios versus land or ship combat. Kind of reminds me of the many options in games like Madden so you can customize your gaming experience, without it feeling cheap or just plain impossible.

Game Mechanics:

The ingame camera is set in 3rd-person, and allows for some basic movements to view the world around you. No real issues here. On the seas, things can get a little crazy with the cinematic pull away shots, that can often leave your ships in the lurch during mid-action, or lose your orientation for the next set of commands. Aside from this, the general interface for many town interactions like trading and shopping are a little obtuse, and require more buttons than usual to access. Lastly, the controls across the board are pretty sluggish, something frustrating in peacetime, but downright maddening in combat.

Overall, Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales is a decent attempt by developer Akella to carve a niche into the re-emerging pirate genre (must be all the ninja vs. pirate stuff…). The game sports gorgeous visuals and a general ambience that sucks you into the era of the skull and bones. However, with many interface issues, clunky controls and dysfunctional combat, this game may be doomed to depths of the clearance aisles (or would that be isles...).

But in the meantime, if you want to simply deck out your very own pirate ship from your PC, check out the Pimp My Ship website here for more info on the game.

-Tybo, GameVortex Communications
AKA Tyler Whitney

Minimum System Requirements:

Windows XP, Pentium 4 1.8 GHZ or AMD 1.8 GHZ, 256MB Ram, 4GB HD space, 128 MB Video Card T&L card, Direct X 9.0c compatible sound card

Test System:

Windows XP, Intel P4 3.2 Ghz, 1GB of RAM, ATI Radeon X800 XL 256MB

Windows Penguins Windows DEFCON

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated