A block-buster in every sense
With the fourth Pirates film hitting cinemas this week, it’s about time the folks at TT Games got around to a Lego version of one of Hollywood’s most popular franchises. But the wait has been worth it. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is a polished and hugely enjoyable adventure that might well be the best Lego game yet.
Shiver me timbers
On Stranger Tides isn’t the sole focus, as the story mode spans all four of the movies. Levels are accessed from a hub port, and while you can choose any film to start with, the plots of each individual movie must be followed in order. If you want to battle the Lego Kraken – and yes, that’s every bit as fun as it sounds – then you’ll have to play through the four previous stages of Dead Man’s Chest first.
And it’s the second film in the series that gets the best of the set-pieces, with a roll down a mountainside in ball-shaped cages, followed by an epic swordfight inside and around an enormous water wheel. Not that the other movies are short of excitement – On Stranger Tides opens with a thrilling chase through the streets of London, while the swirling maelstrom at the climax of At World’s End looks spectacular.
Drink up, me hearties
Indeed, the visuals here are often genuinely impressive. The game engine has been steadily tweaked over the years, a factor that was clear during the grand battles in Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars but is even more evident here. There are few of the graphical shortcomings from previous titles, and the fountains of Lego studs cascading from every smashed Lego object don’t cause any kind of stutter to the action. Meanwhile, stormy seaborne sequences and bright tropical sunshine showcase the brilliant lighting and shadow effects.
Fans will be delighted to learn that the core of the Lego games hasn’t changed a bit. You explore, solve puzzles, fight enemies and smash everything in sight. Every character has a specific ability, from blacksmiths who repair machinery, to those who can use ranged weapons. Barbossa’s cursed crew can walk underwater, while Jack Sparrow has a compass that's used to find the 'X that marks the spot' where hidden items can be dug up.
Captain, Captain Jack Sparrow
Cap’n Jack himself provides many of the laughs, with a comical walk that captures the essence of Johnny Depp’s rum-soaked performance perfectly. He’s a hoot in the cutscenes, too, which helpfully streamline the excesses of films two and three, covering complex motivations and twists with visual gags, gestures, and occasionally cardboard puppet shows. Even if you’re not familiar with the films, you’ll frequently find yourself chuckling along. The films’ darker moments are twisted in such a way that they’re often the game’s funniest.
With five stages per film, the story mode alone should take a while to finish, but the Free Play mode adds substantial replay value. The various trinkets and collectables are often inaccessible on the first attempt, and are only uncovered once you’ve unlocked certain characters whose abilities are required to reach them. This could easily be a cheap way to extend the game’s life, but it’s nothing of the sort. Rather than just tucking away individual secrets behind previously insurmountable obstacles, most stages have huge new areas that reward player curiosity, often with unique asides as an added bonus. Lego spider battles, anyone?
There’s little that’s genuinely new here, but it seems churlish to complain at what is easily the most polished Lego title to date. Improved partner AI is a boon if you’re flying solo, while sticky platforms make running and jumping much easier when playing co-operatively. Leaner, funnier and more satisfying than the films, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is a real treasure.
- Very funny
- Thrilling set-pieces
- Superb graphics
- A little familiar
- Minikits too hard to find!
- Too many bit-part characters