By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
In tandem with the movies come the games, and this time, Bethesda with its PS2 title swashbuckles against Disney's Buena Vista game with its PSP title. Who has the cooler, plastered pirate who can gather up all pieces to a treasure map (your goal in the games)? Ultimately, neither. Sure, in both games, the developers get the surprised, alcohol-ridden moves down in their animations, so much so that you occasionally feel that you are Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow. In Dead Man's Chest for the PSP, you're not out to rescue the governor's daughter as in Black Pearl. Instead, Jack Sparrow has his own demons to deal with as he tries to save himself from becoming an undead pirate/slave to the ghoul with the octopus-tentacled beard, Davy Jones.
In the PSP offering, the action comes fast and furious as soon as you start the game. Taking a page from the book of Devil May Cry, you'll fight against numerous pirates by pressing buttons madly. There are blood-curdling screams and spooky echoes and unsettling rattling which induce anticipationeven fearas you enter each room to fight your enemies. You'll climb up ropes and slide down ropes, all of which makes you feel like you're on a roller coaster ride. Or a Disney ride.
Yet there's so much hacking and slashing in Dead Man's Chest, the game becomes repetitive. The developers try to staunch this by having you do some puzzle-like tasks such as carrying a barrel full of explosives to a locked jail door, then lighting it so you can get inside for some loot. And the graphics are particularly nicely rendered with shading and crisp outlines, all done in widescreen format. But the swordplay becomes banal about halfway through the game, and you wish there were more story here. Heck, even in the movie, which is good, the swordplay can become tedious.
There are also camera angle issues here. If you get into a corner, you seem to become one with the wall and you can't see enemies that are coming at you. By using the buttons on the top of your PSP, you can move out of this predicament. But, really, the software should do it for youseamlessly.
In the PS2 version called The Legend of Jack Sparrow, you have a similar game of hack and slash. But there are more cut scenes to give you a better sense of story and action. Still, Johnny Depp (yes, they got Depp to voice act) seems somewhat lackluster when reading the lines of a script that's admittedly not up to the same sharpness as the movie's screenplay. In addition, the graphics suffer somewhat. Developers know that they can pack a huge amount of detail into the art in a PS2 game in this, the last year of the old console's popularity. Yet the visuals here aren't that much better than the PSP game.
If you're a big fan of Johnny Depp and of the humorously punky pirates based on the famous Disney ride, these may be the games for you. But I began to reread Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island in preparation to see Dead Man's Chest and to play the games. Just one sentence shivered my timbers more than anything in the software: "On stormy nights, when the wind shook the four corners of the house and the surf roared along the cove and up the cliffs, I would see him in a thousand forms, and with a thousand diabolical expressions." That's what the pirates in these games need: more "diabolical expressions." If only Stevenson were still alive to help out. Heck, if only the game makersor at least the games' writershad read Stevenson.
Developer: Appaloosa Interactive
Long before Peter Benchley, the popular novelist who wrote Jaws, died earlier this year, he had changed him mind about Great White Sharks. In fact, with a great deal of passion, he told a group at the Smithsonian, "Today I could not, for instance, portray the shark as a villain, especially not as a mindless omnivore that attacks boats and humans with reckless abandon. No, the shark in an updated Jaws could not be the villain; it would have to be written as the victim, for, world-wide, sharks are much more the oppressed than the oppressors.
Benchley backed up his opinions, saying, "Every year, more than a hundred million sharks are slaughtered by man. It has been estimated that for every human life taken by a shark, 4.5 million sharks are killed by humans. And rarely for a useful purpose." I know what he means. A few years ago, I flew into South Africa's Cape Town. After driving for about three hours in a cheap, three-cylinder Kia, I boarded a weak-looking 20-foot boat with two Great White Shark researchers. After about a half hour, we got to Dyer Island, populated by thousands of smelly seals, the white shark's favorite food. One of the researchers threw whale blood into the clear blue ocean near the island. Soon, four or five sharks circled about. Donning a thick wet suit and a 30-minute air tank, I went down in a cage. Into the cold waters. As they nudged the cage, I could see they were powerful creatures. They could be scary, sure. But they also had a grace, a beauty that only someone who's been down in the cage can understand. It is a magnificence that should be preserved.
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