Feb 24 2008
Disney isn't just about movies and theme parks anymore, they've become a serious contender in the online games market, with a variety of titles aimed at youngsters. Pirates of the Caribbean Online (PotCO) is their latest effort, based on the famous movie series, and it lets you skirmish with scurvy dogs and plunder ships on the high seas.
Graphics and Interface
While the films, for the most part, strived for a realistic appearance, PotCO has been given the look of an animated cartoon. The art direction is commendable, with cute ships and highly customizable characters. The graphics fit the game nicely, and they've managed to keep the system requirements quite low. PotCO downloads and installs smoothly from the official Web site while you create your character, which is impressive.
A lot has changed since I played the beta, including some big adjustments to the interface. The radial menu is gone and your shortcut bar is now mapped to your number keys, which is much more familiar. There are still some awkward things about the controls, such as the way you can zoom the camera at sea but not on land. At times it feels like their effort to keep it simple has actually made it more complicated.
You're provided with a world map, a compass, and other navigational aids, but they could be considerably more helpful. Although an arrow is meant to guide you to some quest locations, restricted movement in land environments usually makes it impossible to travel as the crow flys, so you can easily end up running around in circles. The world map shows you little more than where the islands are. If you need to find a certain town or person, there's no way to tell what island to look on, and the quest text often neglects this information. Zone entrances lack signage, so you regularly don't know where you're going until you get there.
PotCO has a free option that lets you play the game without spending a penny, but be warned, they give you plenty of reasons to start paying. I tried a free account to see what it's like, and there are so many limitations "free trial" might be a better description. Perhaps foremost is that you need a subscription to avoid login queues and play in full screen mode. Evidently they intend to run ads around the game window for free accounts. If that's not enough to get you to open your wallet, they give you plenty of other reasons, which include limiting you to a basic ship, introductory skills, no access to team PvP, and only 2 character slots. It certainly ensures that you won't want to play the free version for long, but a subscription is quite affordable and there is no charge for the game client.
Swords and Pistols
As a pirate, you naturally want to demonstrate your superior swordsmanship, and PotCO has a full compliment of land-based activities for you to pursue. Each weapon in the game has different feel to it, with swords requiring well-timed left mouse clicks and pistols that demand aim, albiet with sticky targetting. As you progress you learn several new weapon abilities, including how to use a voodoo doll for healing purposes.
While you have an overall notoriety level that unlocks quests, each of your weapons skills advances according to your use of it; spend time firing a cannon and you earn cannon skill points, weild your sword and gain swordsmanship points. It's a fun, straightforward system which gives players a chance to make their characters a bit more distinct.
Battles at Sea
Ship combat in PotCO is cleverly divided between sailing skills and cannon skills. You can sail solo or with a crew of other players, who can man your cannons while you steer and fire "broadsides." By giving you access to weapons even when you're at the wheel, they've managed to make sea battles engaging for both the driver and the gunners. There are no crosshairs to help you in these shootouts, which makes it quite different from fighting on land. Getting the right arc when aiming a cannon is a purely manual procedure, which makes it one of the most enjoyable parts of combat in the game. Broadsides fired by the ship's navigator also require a small amount of guesswork, but once you're in a good position statistics take over.
When an enemy ship is disabled, you have the option to fire a grappling hook from a cannon, board it, and fight the scallywags hand-to-hand. This comes complete with an animation of your crew swinging over on the rigging, which is a nice touch.
Interestingly, there is no wind to account for at sea. While your ship rocks noticeably from the waves, it drives like a car with only one speed. Islands are placed close together so you don't have spend a ton of time traveling around, and you can also earn access to a teleport system that takes you between islands instantly, powered by voodoo magic, naturally. It works well, although it won't satisfy simulation fans.
In keeping with the movies, your primary quest is to help Jack Sparrow find the Black Pearl. Of course, there are plenty of more mundane tasks that must be attended to as well. You'll soon find yourself running your share of typical delivery and collection quests, but you do get to meet the central characters from the films, including Jack, Will Turner, and Elizabeth Swann.
When you die you are sent back to jail, where you simply kick open the door and go back to your business with a temporary stats penalty. Dying at sea is a little more traumatic, as your ship takes damage you must pay to repair and any cargo you had onboard is lost.