“Alice: Madness Returns” (Spicy Horse, Electronic Arts) is a sequel to the original “American McGee’s Alice” and features a new adventure for our heroine that pits Alice against her nightmares in a struggle for sanity.
The game will take place in Victorian London and the emotional refuge inside her head – Wonderland. Characters from the first game will return, but players do not need to play “Alice” from 11 years ago to enjoy “Madness Returns.”
Alice will have an array of weapons and powers throughout Wonderland to battle forces that are slowly destroying her fragile sanity. New screenshots show Alice with the Vorpal Blade, Hobby Horse and the Peppergrinder, and utilizing one of her powers – Hysteria.
Similar to the feeling of super power that players felt when using the Rage Box item in “American McGee’s Alice,” Hysteria acts as a conduit for Alice’s intense rage and desire to win against her psychological demons. The new mode offers players a powerful and bloody way to pull Alice back from the brink of death and lay waste to her enemies.
This puts the Looking Glass in a whole new light.
“Alice: Madness Returns” is scheduled for release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in North America on June 14, 2011.
If you could create anything you could imagine, what would it be?
Given the power of the Green Lanterns, pilot Hal Jordan gets a Power Ring that allows him to create weapons from green energy to battle the forces of evil.
In “Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters,” players get the chance to be Jordan and save the Earth. Newly revealed screenshots show some of the things Jordan will be able to create using his ring.
A sword, fist, baseball bat and fighter jet that he apparently can throw will help players battle the alien android Manhunters. There is also a screenshot showing co-op play featuring Jordan and Sinestro.
The game is based off the upcoming movie, but how closely plot of the game and movie are related is still unknown.
“Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters” (Double Helix Games, Griptonite Games, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment) will be available June 7 on Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3, Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo DS.
Fantasy role-playing takes a staggering step forward as “Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale” lurches along with uneven visuals, spotty artificial intelligence, but a combat system that is easy to learn and easier to use.
The first D&D electronic game (Bedlam Games, Atari) that features use of the new 4th Edition rules from Wizards of the Coast, “Daggerdale” allows players to create and develop a character from 1st level, much like the table top version of D&D. Ability scores, hit points, attack and damage rolls are all part of making up your character, but without the use of any dice.
There are four base characters: male human fighter, male dwarven cleric, female elven rogue, and male halfling wizard. You cannot mix and match – no female elven fighters or male human rogues.
Each race and class has their own bonuses and class abilities to help perform their actions.
The adventure begins in a dwarven mine overrun by goblins. As with any D&D campaign, the story builds from there into a rousing battle with a major enemy at the end.
There are major quests which help move the main plot along and minor quests that offer opportunities to earn more gold and experience points. Experience points are the backbone of character development, allowing for increased abilities, powers, and weapons.
Only one quest can be tackled at a time. Once you start one, you need to complete that mission before moving on to the next. This often results in a lot of back and forth through some of the same areas.
Gold and weapons can be gathered from fallen enemies or from barrels that seem to be everywhere and in every setting. Improved weapons, armor, ring, amulets and potions can also be purchased from local merchants.
Sounds like a typical D&D game, right?
Visually, the game conveys the fantasy setting well. The dwarven mine appears foreboding, but never really gives off the dark look with looming shadows. A jail also is well lit when it could have been a better mood setter with some lighting adjustments.
A mini-map in the upper right hand corner was very helpful in pointing to merchants, possible quest givers and quest locations. A larger map was easily accessible using the character menu.
Player characters appear different as they don different armor and hold different weapons. Enemies look unique from type to type (e.g., a minion looks different from a controller) and can be readily identified by appearance alone.
Each enemy has a small box above their head that lists out what they are and what level, how many hit points they have (via a sliding bar), and things they might be more resistant against (fire, ice, etc.). In a table top D&D game, these things would be hidden so players wouldn’t be able to target weaker foes first in order to whittle down the opposing forces.
The information box would sometimes appear if the enemy was hidden around a corner, thus ruining any possible surprise that could have occurred. There were also instances where there would be a info box, but no enemy.
Enemy AI was also hit and miss. While the overall tactics of groups of enemies was good (minions charged as their archers and magic-users would ping from afar), they would also stand in place as I lobbed fireball after fireball at them. Those battles were less than epic.
However, combat was pretty good and where I thought it shined over its table top counterpart. I played through the single player campaign as the halfling wizard and switching from normal weapons to spells was incredibly easy.
All four buttons on the controller can be mapped directly to weapons, spells or potions. There are additionally four more locations that can be used by pressing the left trigger button (Xbox 360) or the L2 button (PS3), and then utilizing the standard buttons.
Spells had cool down times after casting, so you could either stand there and get pounded or find another way to attack as you power back up. As I increased in levels, more spells became available so I could fire off spell after spell in a cycle.
Action was quick and intense. Battles didn’t last very long against weaker opponents and was appropriately longer against stronger opponents. There are some “boss” battles before the final conflict and those required some use of tactics (run and gun) to be successful.
My biggest gripe about the game has to do with when those tactics fail and you die.
In the single player mode, there are healing potions you can carry with you to regain hit points. There are also clerics in the settlements that will also heal you for free.
However, there are occasions during a quest when an enemy gets some really good hits in, and, in the heat of battle, you lost track of your hit points and you die. Here is the gripe – no matter what stage you are in the quest, you have to restart the quest all over.
There are no checkpoints during the quest. There are no “save and reload” points other than in between quests.
While this is very much like the table top version of the game, it was insanely frustrating from a video game point. In more than one occasion, I completed a rather lengthy fight, defeated multiple big bad guys, and get killed on the way back to the quest-giver (forgot to heal myself on the way).
Rather than pick it up from after I beat the bad guys, I had to start all over again. This was particularly maddening during the climactic battle where you will have to defeat multiple high level characters in rapid succession.
Get through some and lose to the last one? Too bad. Start that mission over.
If playing with a party of characters is more your speed, there is a co-op mode that allows for up to 4 players to combine talents toward the group good. The enemies are stronger and the loot gets better with more people.
There is also a freeplay mode that allows for grinding your character to increase their levels once an area is cleared. Level appropriate monsters are randomly generated and, if you choose to go to the campaign mode, you will pick up where you left off.
Like the table top version, the game can be finished in a single setting. Completing the main quests only can be done in less than 5 hours (a good length for a D&D campaign), but doing all the side quests will add some time to your play.
Overall, “Daggerdale” was enjoyable, but a bit buggy. The story and combat were good and made for an exciting experience. The spotty visuals and enemy AI weighted down the overall fun, but not enough to make me want to stop playing.
Is it good enough to be a D&D RPG? Depends on how much RP (role playing) you like doing. There is little to none to be had and interactions with other non-player characters are dealt with grunts and subtitles. No dialog exists other than during cut scene cinematics.
It won’t replace your table top game, but it might give you some good ideas how to run your next campaign while still allowing you some enjoyment along the way.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale” is available now on the PC and through the Xbox Live Arcade. It will be available on the PlayStation Network on May 31. It is rated T for Teen. This review was done playing the Xbox Live Arcade version as a halfling wizard in the single player campaign.
Nearly one year ago, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay took to the mound and threw the 20th perfect game — allowing no batter to reach base — in Major League Baseball history, beating the Florida Marlins, 1-0.
Five months later, Halladay nearly did it again, pitching a no hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Division Series.
Fast forward to this April and “Halladay” throws yet another perfect game, except this one was a video game and earned 25-year-old Brian Kingrey $1 million in the MLB2K11 Perfect Game Challenge.
Kingrey, a music teacher from Louisiana, used Halladay in “MLB2K11” (Visual Concepts, 2KSports) to beat the Houston Astros on Opening Day and win the contest. He said he did his research on opposing batters, and while Halladay wasn’t his first choice, it turned out to be his best choice.
“I didn’t know about the Astros too much but when I was looking at batting averages, they like to swing at the ball. They’re really aggressive. They like to swing at balls they probably shouldn’t swing at.”
He said the combination of Halladay’s nasty slider and only a few left handed hitters in the aggressive Astros’ line up (Halladay is a right-handed pitcher) gave him the advantage he needed.
“I put my outfielders all as far to the right as possible, because I would use that slider. They would hit it to the right a lot. And if they did hit it, I would usually have somebody over there to grab it. I hardly had anybody on the left side of the field.”
Kingrey admits he wasn’t into baseball or sports games, but he is a competitive gamer with other genres. He said his wife “forced me to go out and get (the game) immediately.”
He practiced about four to five hours a day and got the perfect game on his third try on Opening Day. Kingrey said he watches more baseball now and is a new Phillies fan.
He and his wife got married last October and just bought a new house. He said they are going to get a new refrigerator to replace the dorm-room sized one they are using right now.
Kingrey plans to meet Halladay later this year and thank him for helping him win the contest.
Last year, Wade McGilberry won the Perfect Game contest using Kenshin Kawakami of the Atlanta Braves to record a perfect game against the New York Mets.
“MLB2K11″ is available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2, PSP, Nintendo DS and PC.
When is the sound of a shotgun blast not just a shotgun blast? When it is paired with 14 other sounds, including a roaring lion and an object being sucked through a tube.
Sound and sound effects in video games are now just as integral a part of the overall game experience as a good soundtrack is for a motion picture. Technology changes and expectations from a more demanding consumer have raised the sophistication of how sounds are made and delivered in a game.
Whether it is a weapon blast, a fantasy creature screaming, or simple handslaps on a railing, the sound directors are searching everyone for the right mix of sound that aurally connects the player to the experience. Simply recording a gun or a footstep won’t work for an effect that could be heard dozens of times throughout a game.
Chris Sweetman, sound director for Splash Damage, said a normal sound, for example, a shotgun, doesn’t sound particularly exciting; it is just a short concussive blast. But in a video game, that shotgun could be close or far away and the sound needs to reflect that.
“You’re taking a multitude of different source elements. And some of them are not necessarily being literal,” Sweetman said. “In the case of the shotgun in ‘Brink,’ there are a lot of non-literal elements in there. There is stuff like kick drums, explosions, air pressure, loads of different elements. And what that does is give you texture.”
Gene Semel, senior manager of the sound department at Sony Computer Entertainment America, said sounds can be triggered from so many different sources in a game and it is important to provide audio depth.
“It’s not as simple as seeing a dog bark, have a dog bark anymore,” Semel said. “Sound playback in our titles has to have dynamics and variability, so that the consumer or the players can experience the soundscape in different ways.”
Both said the development in sound in video games has been driven partially by technology advancements, but also partly by gamers who want more realism from their experience. As games got better visually, the sound experience needed to keep up.
Sweetman said sound creation in games is not much different from when he started creating sound in the film industry many years ago with his father. However, he points to repetition as the biggest difference from film sounds versus game sounds.
“In a movie, you might have one sequence where Aragorn slices a Ringwraith with a sword and you have a particularly stylized sound. But because you only hear it once or twice in a film, it works,” Sweetman said. “But you can’t do that in a video game because you’ll be slicing ten Ringwraiths in a space of 30 seconds. Repetition is a big issue in video games.”
Semel, who has worked on numerous blockbuster franchises, including “God of War” and “Uncharted”, said technology advancements in the game consoles have increased expectations from the gamer. He points to the PlayStation 3 improvements including 7.1 surround sound, more memory and better data compression.
“We are also able to use filters and audio effects and run time to our advantage much more now than we have been able to in the past,” he said. “This allows us to use reverbs for each area of the game space so that all the sounds playing back in that space have the ambient reflection that you would expect in the real world. This creates a very dynamic environment that the player gets immersed into.”
Developing sounds to mimic those expected in the real world requires sampling many different sounds, then figuring out how to put them together to make them become “hyper real,” as Sweetman described it. Putting that all together and then figuring how it plays out in the game starts very early in the development stages.
“This is a blue sky kind of thing,” Sweetman said. “We could take some concept art from the game. Okay, what would this character sound like? What would its weapon sound like? What would its footprints sound like? Then block it out and work out from mixing together all these wonderful elements and figuring out how we can put this in a video game.”
As work intensive making real sounds is, creating sounds for things that never happen naturally is even more difficult. Fantasy games, like “God of War” or “Dead Space,” require sounds that must be imagined first, but also have some grounding in the real world.
“Humans want to connect to audio with what they see on screen in a subjective way. We need to reach a humanistic response from the consumer in terms of fantasy,” Semel said. “These sounds are generally gathered from Mother Nature first and then manipulated to achieve the fantasy we are aiming for.”
Sweetman and Semel agree that fantasy sounds are the hardest for their teams to develop. Both men said it is tricky to make the sound believable without making it sound like something that already exists.
“That’s why I have nothing but admiration for David Farmer who did all the creature design sounds for ‘Lord of the Rings’,” Sweetman explained. “He effectively came up with these incredibly unique creature signature sounds and I don’t really know how he did it.”
Regardless of the type of aural effect they are aiming for, sound designers want their work to flow seamlessly and in concert with the visual impact of the game. How much gets noticed by the player depends on the effect the game designers want.
Semel said if they have done their job right, the player does not notice the sound, but is immersed in the overall experience. However, Sweetman disagrees when it comes to first-person shooter games because the weapon is the lead actor.
“(The weapon) needs to have an important voice. To me, in that case, it is one of the most important parts of the sonic landscape. It is your interaction with the world.”
Indeed, interacting or grounding the game character in the world with sound is vital in some types of games, according to Sweetman. While working on the “Burnout” franchise at Criterion Games, he said one of the most important noises in the game was tire noise.
“Tire noise is your connection, your car’s connection to the virtual world. Otherwise, it is just a virtual car traveling over an undulating landscape. But you put tire noise in and it gets grounded.”
It is the small noises like tire noise that, when missing, become most noticeable. But add them in and it gives flavor to any scene.
“We spent two days at Shepardson Studios just outside London just to do footsteps (for ‘Brink’). On top of that, we have all the mantling sounds, all the hand claps as you are jumping over stuff, as you’re mantling over metal containers and sliding along different surfaces,” Sweetman explained. “Every weapon has its own unique sound when it is effectively being used, when it’s being fired, when it is being holstered, when it is being walked with or when it is being run with.”
In gaming, the right sound effect can make or break the experience. Semel and Sweetman know as games become more sophisticated and more realistic, the expectations on the sound design team gets larger.
Neither would say if game designers or gamers are more critical in their demands, but both agree that the consumer is the ultimate judge on if they have done their sound jobs well.
Sweetman said, “The player needs to have this empowerment, a sense of size, a sense of scale and a sense of power. We need to be able to give it to them.”
The latest addition to the franchise is set, not underwater as in previous incarnations, but in the skies. You will be playing as Booker DeWitt, a Pinkerton agent turned private investigator, as you track down a woman named Elizabeth.
The time is the late 19th century, but nothing like what you’ve read about in the history books. Steampunk is king and industry is everywhere.
The art work and propaganda, created by Irrational Games artists Mike Swiderek and Jorge Lacera, reflects the time period and the uncertain mood of the country as it moves out of the Civil War era and tries to find its place in the New World.
“BioShock Infinite” is due out in 2012.
The date is fast approaching when “Bioshock Infinite” (Irrational Games, 2K Games)will be released and the next chapter of the utopian future gone wrong story unfolds.
It will be the third in the “Bioshock” series and there are indications that we will be leaving the confined of the ocean and taking to the skies.
New screenshots released this week show an open air environment, some potential flying (or falling), and actual land animals (although it appears the horse is dead).
The game isn’t expected until sometime in 2012, but their new website also features some gameplay video that portends another exciting hit. Time will tell.
However, “Starhawk” (LightBox Interactive, Santa Monica Studios) uses a unique “Build and Battle” system in a new third-person shooter that will make every level different for different players.
The game is based on a lawless, frontier in space setting where the search for rift energy has split the populous into two factions. There are the rift miners who want to gather the energy to use and sell while the outcasts, miners who have been overcome by the mutating power of rift, consider it holy and want to preserve it at all costs.
Into this chasm steps Emmitt Graves, a miner who was exposed to rift, but did not mutate. With the help of a regulator in his back, he is able to survive and use the rift energy to power his abilities.
Graves defends the locations across the system from the roving outcast war bands that seek to destroy all who would desecrate the rift energy. He has a partner who helps act as a spy in the sky for enemy movements as well as outline the upcoming missions, but does not take an active role in the fighting.
At a hands-on demo, I tried the “Build and Battle” system in the single player mode. The gameplay mechanics seemed straightforward at first for a shooter, but the introduction of the ability to build equipment offered a unique change.
“Starhawk” is an area-based shooter, with multiple objectives confined in a specific space. The artificial intelligence (AI) is more freeform and dynamic, and takes its cues from whatever the player is trying to do.
A looser AI is needed because players can build different offensive and defense additions that will change the flow of the play. Turrets, vehicles, and bunkers provide offensive firepower while walls and gates form defensive barriers that funnel the action to where you want it to go.
The items are dropped in from the sky from an unseen location, but that offers some really fun options. During one heavy firefight involving some pretty powerful enemies, I had a wall drop in and smashed them into a fine powder – effectively turning my defense into a potent offensive weapon.
Soldiers, laser turrets, and flying mechs called Hawks were at my disposal to vanquish wave after wave of Outcasts who tried to take over a valley. Some good old-fashioned rifle work was also needed to defeat my enemies.
Players can collect game rewards that are given out at the end of each scene depending on how you played the game. I got big bonuses for the wall maneuver.
In the multiplayer demo, teams with eight members on each side played in a capture-the-flag mode that was entertaining to play and fun to watch. The action was intense and loud as each side built walls, used jeeps, or sometimes just found a unique path to capture the flag and return it to the base.
LightBox Interactive president Dylan Jobe said his team wanted to build a game that was different and awarded creativity in players.
“It is all about strategy,” Jobe told CNN.com. “Each mission can be done differently depending on the player’s choice of tactics.”
Jobe, who was the game director of “Warhawk” (Incognito, Santa Monica Studio), helped create LightBox with the idea of putting together “Starhawk.”
“We really wanted to know what the universe could be like, but remain driven by the idea of unique gameplay. We want gamers to have bigger dogfights, bigger landscapes, and a sense of progression throughout the game.”
With that in mind, Jobe said “Starhawk” was built to have a fast paced, fun and visceral multiplayer game that has a single player mode to teach the gamer about tactics. He said you ‘d never get a “game over” screen because you can always go back to the last checkpoint in single player to learn try a new way to succeed.
“There is no optimal path. We playtest every single day to find new ways to complete the missions. Even when I know something won’t work, there is someone who will find a way to make it happen. That’s why our gameplay mechanic needs to be so flexible and adaptive.”
“There are still some holes in the balance, but we are closing those up. For every power, there is or will be a defense.”
Jobe likened the action to “Starcraft,” but on a much more personal level. He said the building of equipment on the fly is very similar; however, the action takes you down to a micro level that can’t be felt in the real-time strategy game (RTS).
“It has elements of an RTS. It is more personal than that. You get to build what you want, but you are going to have to blast away. It really is more of a shooter than a RTS.”
Jobe said many of the game elements are still being finished up and playtesting goes on every day. He said they would be bringing the game to the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles in June.
More than two years in the making, Jobe said “Starhawk” would be ready to go sometime in 2012 and exclusively for the PlayStation 3.
The adventure from Bethesda Games and Splash Damage takes place in the future when global warming has raised the ocean’s levels and forced people to take refuge in a floating city called Ark. The action begins as two factions battle to determine the fate of the safe haven.
The game opens with a choice: Save the Ark or Escape the Ark. But in reality, it doesn’t matter what you choose since both sides are open to you once you start playing.
In fact, there is little in the game that isn’t open to change. Only your initial characteristics are locked in place. Clothing, gear, and accessories are all interchangeable in between missions.
An introduction video (worth 1,000 experience points) is available if you choose to watch it. The video provides an explainer about the different modes, challenges, and unlockable weapons and abilities you can earn.
There are four classes to choose, from but those can be switched around in each game setting. Each (soldier, operative, engineer, medic) has special powers and usually has a specific objective in the mission to complete.
Killing the enemy and securing goals earn experience points, which can be translated into new abilities or accessories. There is a level cap of 20 that can get reached pretty quickly if you are able to complete all the primary and side objectives.
Players never work alone. You are part of an eight man squad that is controlled by AI in single player mode or other players in the online, multiplayer mode.
Either way, the missions, abilities and goals remain the same. Only the mentality of your comrades changes.
The action is fast paced and goal oriented. The team is required to alternately play offense to take over a specific point on the map and defense to hold a point.
There are side missions, such as rebuild a staircase to allow for another path, that usually require the services of a specific class. The directional pad is used to bring up the list of objectives, let the player select one, and then highlight it on the heads-up display.
For maximum experience points, players will need to change classes during a mission to complete all the goals. The switch can be done at command posts and doesn’t cost anything to do.
Movement and numbers are required for mission success. If you stay in one place for too long without support from your teammates, you will get overrun in a hurry. Likewise, a lone wolf won’t be able to hold objective positions for very long and will get hung out to dry.
The controls are pretty typical for a first-person shooter with the addition of a SMART button, allowing players to get over and around obstacles with one push of a button. Sprinting, jumping, ducking, and other athletic movements are handed with this one button, but sometimes it is hard to know when a ledge is within your reach and when it isn’t.
Death has little meaning other than just giving you a time-out. You can be instantly revived by a medic in the field or you can respawn at your base location – usually within about 15 seconds.
There are annoying problems that drag the game down.
The movement of the characters is stiff and doesn’t feel or look natural. Characters will jump off a ledge still holding the same pose as if they were standing on solid ground.
There were also instances when characters got stuck in mid-air, whether they were alive or dead. There wasn’t too much variety in how they moved and, without an icon over each to indicate class, acted very similar.
The audio was repetitive and annoying. The same catch phrases and instructions got repeated over and over again in each level. It was so bad I muted the game from time to time just to get away from it.
There needed to be a better way to alert players to objectives without resorting to the same words and inflection each time a goal was met or created.
The biggest complaint was the horrible lag in the online mode that made the game unplayable.
I will admit that when there wasn’t lag, the game was really fun to play with others and the missions became even more enjoyable than with the AI. However, when the lag occurred, control over the characters became impossible.
One moment, I would be walking into a room, then stop, appear to jump to the side, or start looking at the floor. My character was basically out of my hands.
It got so bad that as soon as I started experiencing lag, I logged out and then logged back in, hoping for a new connection. It really was hit or miss and didn’t seem dependant on time of day.
“Brink” felt like a game that had some really good elements in it, but was not quite as good as it could have been with a little more time.
The character animations were disappointing and the voice acting was distracting at best and annoying at worst. However, the changeability of classes inside the mission and the multiple objectives available made for fun play.
I like the idea of being able to complete the story line using AI teammates or online teammates. But the frustrating lag that cropped up at random moments detracted from the enjoyment factor of playing with human teammates.
It was a game that was on the edge of being very good, but fell off with elements that could have been avoided. Hopefully, some of those things can be addressed with future patches.
“Brink” is available now for play on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. It is rated T for Teen due to blood, language and violence. This review was done playing the Xbox 360 version after the day one patch.
The latest LEGO block video game (Disney Interactive Studios, Traveller’s Tales) recounts the first three movies and also includes the yet-to-be-released fourth film, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” The new movie is scheduled to debut on May 20 — 10 days after the video game is available, so you have been appropriately warned about spoilers.
Each movie is broken down into five gaming levels. It is typical LEGO style with straight platform action involving swordfights, cannons, and collecting “studs” — single connection LEGO blocks.
Items can be smashed into the LEGO block components, and then collected for points or re-formed into another item that can be used in the game. Up to eight characters can be used on each level during story mode, but it can create for a crowded screen.
There were a few times when I couldn’t see what item needed to be collected or was pushed off a narrow ledge because the 5 characters who were traveling with me all wanted to be in the same spot.
Matt Ellison, associate producer at Traveller’s Tales Games, said 70 characters can be unlocked and bought throughout the entire game. Each character has a special ability that makes it unique from others, including Captain Jack Sparrow.
“Jack’s compass is really different from anything else we’ve done (with LEGOs),” Ellison said. “It will point to things Jack can find and also helps point to things to solve puzzles in the game.”
Ellison said the settings are as iconic as they could be and the team tried to put the LEGO spin on the classic movies. Since the films’ characters are so well known, he said they wanted to make sure to include little details to help players relate to each character.
For example, Captain Barbossa is often seen with an apple in his hand and Jack’s running style – arms straight out, waving frantically – is humorously well represented.
“A lot of time went into making sure we got Jack’s running right, his character right,” Ellison said.
The game play is all about exploring the vast scenes during each level. Puzzle clues and treasure are all over the place, waiting to be discovered.
“Eight collectibles in each level and 10 ships in a bottle can be found,” Ellison said. “There is something always hidden to get.”
Using Jack’s compass helps discover the missing booty, but there are also sign postings to assist players in finding key elements in the level. Since the scenes are so big, it would be easy to get lost or frustrated without those helpers.
“The exploration game play ties into the ideology of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ Plus we wanted to make a distinctive change of pace between the levels, so you are treasure hunting in one level, and then fighting foes in the next.”
Even on ship levels, players will need to go up into the rigging or down into the ship’s belly to find all they need to find. Ellison said each scene has to be solvable for all ages and the game teaches you what to do and where to look as it goes along.
There are lengthy cutscenes and cinematics between the levels to fill in the story. The humor from the movies really shines in LEGO form, which uses its blocky medium to put interesting spins on the tale.
“The humor appeals to all ages. We took the iconic movie settings and twisted them slightly to make them funnier. Plus we took the same slapstick humor from the films and just made more of it.”
As I said, the fourth movie is also included so I was worried about spoiling my future enjoyment. Ellison smiled when asked about it, but assured me no details about the story line would be ruined.
“We will have some of the same locations, but none of the dialog (LEGO characters do not speak, only grunt). We do have some of the action from the movie but it shouldn’t ruin the film for anyone.”
If you remain concerned, then wait to play the fourth level until after the movie comes out.
The one drawback to the game was the two player co-op play. As in other LEGO video games, two people in the same room can drop-in/drop out as separate characters and solve all the puzzles.
Unlike previous LEGO games which forced the two characters to stay in the same screenshot, “LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean” actually split the screen as the characters walked away from each other.
However, the split in the split screen moved around in relation to where the characters were on the level. As the characters got closer to each other, the scene slowly changed back to a single screen.
It was difficult to focus on what my character was doing or where it was in the split screen action. My co-op player and I found it confusing, and, at times, frustrating to figure out where we needed to go or what we needed to do unless we were in the same screen.
There was never a time where a puzzle needed to be solved in split screen mode. After a while, it just gave me a headache.
Once each level is completed in story mode, free play mode is unlocked which allows you to use any of the characters you have available to solve puzzles that couldn’t be previously figured out. Those characters will also get you into previously unavailable areas.
Finding all the collectibles and solving all the brain teasers will keep players playing for many hours after the story mode is complete.
The game is also available for the Nintendo 3DS, but there are only 16 levels and you can only use one character during the level. Ellison said the 3DS version is tailored to the single player experience and everything can be solved by one character.
“LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean” is a fun spin on the blockbuster (pun intended) movies. It ramps up the humor from the films and offers plenty of action for players.
Exploration is the key. While the story mode only took me about nine hours, I barely collected 40 percent of all the items that could be found. Replaying the game in free play will keep players interested for many more hours.
The co-op mode was a trouble spot and disappointing. While I often lamented about being kept in the same screen in previous LEGO co-op versions, the split screen action as presented is not the solution I was looking for.
Overall, the game is lots of fun despite some playability glitches. And following the adventures of Jack Sparrow .. I mean, Captain Jack Sparrow .. is worthy of any would-be pirate.
“LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean” will be available May 10 in the U.S., May 13 in Europe and May 19 in Australia. It is available on the PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, and PSP. It is rated E10+ due to cartoon violence and comic mischief. This review was done playing on the Xbox 360 in story mode, co-op mode and free play.