Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Disney is the Johnny Cash of the film and video game worlds. Having dabbled with substances like Fantasia, Salvador Dali, and anti-Nazi propaganda in its younger days, Disney now finds that it has met its June Carter (a faithful audience), found peace of mind, and settled into a routine of inoffensive and reliable matinee ballads. As the years go by it seems to croon the same lines: 'Because you're mine, I walk the line'.

Pirates of the Caribbean 3 – film and game – is no exception. With its squash-buckling action and wallet-buckling budget, it delivers a creamy spongecake of entertainment that only a philistine would consider wildly innovative fare, but only a git would spit out.

The game's plot follows that of the film, with all its rescues, brawls, recoveries, betrayals and twists. Starting off with Will, control soon shifts to the more charismatic Jack, and it's with him that you play most of the game.

Pirates 3 is a side-scrolling platformer, with a few variations thrown in; the scrolling action halts every so often and you find yourself pitched not against one of the numerous easily dispatched lackeys, but rather a single superlackey. For these bouts Pirates 3 is more like a traditional fighting game, albeit one in which you can only duck, jump, and stab.

Some levels require you to remain in one small area and fend off a battery of goons, which again resembles a fighting game's 'Survival mode', and after a couple of these incredibly difficult confrontations you find yourself fleeing from right to left, flames and goons leaping at your back as you ignobly retreat.

From time to time you even get to man a ship's cannon, swivelling the barrel to pick off other cannons, enemy personnel, hovering power-ups, and bonuses concealed in floating casks.

None of these interludes ever feels like an inconvenience or a disruption of the game's flow, and each of them is threaded credibly into the unfolding narrative. The real meat of the game, though, is the platform levels. It's on the strength of these that Pirates 3 sinks or swims.

And unlike Pirates of the Caribbean's second movie instalment, we won't keep you in suspense. This game swims.

It would have been easy for Disney to cash in on the success of their movie franchise by releasing a sub-standard game. It's the oldest sentiment in the video game industry, voiced far too often by cynical developers: 'The proles are going to buy [insert franchise]™ whatever we do, so why waste time and effort making it any good?'

Yet Pirates 3 is a model of understated class. For starters, the controls are responsive and well-considered. Walking close to an enemy sprite induces your avatar to draw his sword and thrust it, so there's no necessity to fumble with the notoriously impractical keypad every time somebody gets in your way.

If this sounds limiting – depriving you, as it does, of the option to draw your weapon at will – Pirates 3 makes up for it in other ways. If you get a goon behind you, your avatar pulls off a rear attack, and since getting the first blow in is far from assured and many goons have projectile weapons, jumping over their heads and attacking from behind makes up much of the combat.

The levels are laid out so as to offer a wide range of movement choices (mast or deck, ground or ridge) without enabling you to get lost, a trap that many mobile developers fall into when they attempt to compensate for a diminutive screen size with a cavernous internal world.

But what really distinguishes Pirates of the Caribbean 3 is the detail. For instance, the decks are littered with rats and black gulls that perch on the masts, but they're not just part of the backdrop. If you walk too close, they scatter and flee. And in some high places you'll find barrels that you can dislodge into groups of goons as they bustle below, killing them all.

The graphics that depict these events are small but intricately detailed, and the polished piratey music changes to suit the scene as you make your way through the game. Effort is evident everywhere, and in places this ambition tips into downright arrogance. There's something charming about watching sprites the size of baby ladybirds deliver exchanges like, 'A pox on thee!', 'This is madness!', and 'This is politics.'

Capybara's Pirates of the Caribbean 3 is Disney at its best, a summer blockbuster writ-small that most will enjoy, albeit without seriously putting it forward for game of the year. It's only a shame that Pirates 3 merely walks the usual line, because given the standard of the result, its makers have every right to be ambitious enough to try something truly original.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

A top-notch swashbuckler from the ever-reliable Disney brand, Pirates of the Caribbean 3 is a couple of hours of great entertainment with few surprises, just like the film it accompanies
Rob Hearn
Rob Hearn
Having obtained a distinguished education, Rob became Steel Media's managing editor, now he's no longer here though, following a departure in late December 2015.