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LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean Preview

By Neilie Johnson, 3/22/2011

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Those of us who love Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean and were stoked last E3 by PoTC: Armada of the Damned died a little inside last October when Disney unexpectedly canceled it. Thanks to Traveller's Tales however, this Spring we have something to look forward to. Like bacon, it's been proven there's nothing LEGO can't make better and with that in mind, TT Games is set this May to bring us LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. We sat down with the game on Xbox 360 at this month's Game Developer's Conference and after a mere half hour can say truthfully that pirates and LEGO are a brilliant combination.

Having explored other franchises that offer hooks like building things with magic or the Force, the team at TT Games chose this time to completely forgo the building aspect of the game. Risky? Perhaps. Building things is certainly something gamers love the most and within a LEGO game, seems impossible to exclude. Still, when you think about it, how does building things fit into a pirate-themed universe? Pirates aren't stand-up guys; they're more likely to pillage a town than construct one and they're all about taking things, not creating them. So instead of building, TT Games has wisely shifted the thrust of the game to focus on activities that are distinctly more “piratey”. To that end, they've distilled the essence of pirate-ness into three main elements: buccaneering, pirate powers and curses.

The first involves all those things pirates love to do: walking planks, swinging from ropes and various other platform-friendly activities. The second concerns the powers each individual pirate has, such as being able to hold his breath for a very long time (very useful when looting sunken galleons). Pirate powers should be particularly interesting since in this LEGO game's super-free-play mode, you can use up to 70 characters. The last element pertains to those things that make pirate life all the more colorful, like the nasty Curse of Cortez and the Curse of the Flying Dutchman.

Despite sharing a name with the latest PoTC movie installment, the story in LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides encompasses all four PoTC films. The bit we played was straight out of Dead Man's Chest, with Gibbs and Will Turner running around a tropical island. The game maintains the previous titles' party puzzles, wherein you have to direct a party member to help you activate levers and switches. During the hilarious sequence we played, Gibbs and Will used human-sized hamster wheels to activate an ancient set of gears and then ended up rolling madly around in the bone-cages seen in the film. As we navigated the island in the ridiculous rolling cages, the game's sense of humor was even more obvious in the way Jack Sparrow was seen running frantically back and forth across the rope bridges in the background.

After the island sequence, we were briefly shown a level set on the Flying Dutchman that was still in a very early stage, with a fair amount of placeholder art. Even so, it was there the game's aesthetic departure from previous LEGO games became very apparent, with the Flying Dutchman rendered very un-LEGO like, in all its crusty glory. Surprisingly, this level of detail worked alongside the simple LEGO characters and in spite of the placeholder assets, the game thus far looked amazing, no doubt due to an engine overhaul that's done wonders for the overall lighting and shadows.

Having been wholly impressed with what LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides has to offer, we were then treated to a look at the 3DS version, which amazingly, uses the same assets as the 360. From the few moments we had with this version, we could see that already the game is much easier on the eyes than other 3DS titles we've seen, with less of that sickening double-vision effect that so often occurs. We were told the title will make good use of the 3DS's new “street pass” mode by letting you engage in pirate duels when the 3DS is in sleep mode. You can pre-set your pirates’ attack levels and then any 3DS/On Stranger Tides owner you pass within a few yards of better beware! Your pirates will engage in swashbuckling fights with their pirates and when you turn your 3DSs on again, both of you will see who won the duel and will win some gold for use in the game.

After last year's brilliant LEGO: Harry Potter Years 1-4, Disney and TT Games may have a time convincing magic-loving builders that pirates are good for LEGO. From what we saw at GDC though, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides may very well be the strongest title that TT has yet released, missing building mechanics notwithstanding. The game is set for release in conjunction with the movie this May and is coming out on PC, Xbox 360, DS, PSP and Wii.



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