From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random obscure games back into the light. This week, you'd think it's any port in a storm, but there's only one to choose from—a rotten, maggot-infested port that find whole new dimensions of suck.
Forget the Dark Souls PC port. Darksiders 2 missing a few options? Pffft. Sure, at first glance that kind of thing may score high on the ol' betrayal chart, but for me? No. For I have played The Legend of Jack Sparrow, one of the most half-arsed ports in the history of mainstream franchises.
Yes, it's really that bad. Sit back and let's see how a phenomenal concept ended up being the adventure that really put the "Yaaarh!" into "Yaaarh, I was just stabbed in the balls with a fork!"
Now, I loved the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and while the sequels dropped and picked up the ball more often than an apprentice juggler, even their worst moments weren't enough to dampen the original greatness. A little high-seas action. Adventure. Funny dialogue. Imaginative escapades. The genius reversal of the concept—a ship of pirates trying to return stolen treasure. And of course, Jack Sparrow, who's admittedly a complete cartoon after so many sequels, parodies, spin-offs and that god-awful fourth movie. When he debuted though, he was a breath of fresh air, a trickster mentor who stole the show from his very first scene to the moment he sailed off into the credits at the end.
As a concept, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow is a perfect game pitch. It's not simply 'let's make a game about Jack Sparrow', but a game where Jack gets to be the narrator of his own tall tales. How did he sack a whole port without facing a single shot? Did he really defeat a Viking ghost monster previously buried for eternity in ice? It doesn't matter. Jack just has to be able to tell it with a straight face and let the awesomeness flick two snotty fingers up at reality. I wasn't expecting the greatest game ever from this, but I was actually looking forward to playing it.
Unfortunately, I never actually got off the first proper stage. Why? Well, it started here:
Yep, it's just the main menu. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to tell me what button you press to select the current option. Assume you don't have a controller plugged in, since this was 2006 and it wasn't as common to have one back then. Keyboard only here, and I'll give you a clue—it's not CTRL. Or Enter. Come on. I wouldn't waste your time if it was that easy.
Got it? Got that key firmly locked in your mind? No changies!
If you said 'space bar'… you are wrong.
If you said 'E'… nice try, but no. Again, wrong.
Ready? Make sure you're sitting down.
It's NumPad 2.
I'm serious. More to the point, so were they. No other key does a damn thing. It has to be Num Pad 2. And how do you find out that it's Num Pad 2? Well, that's the best bit! You have to press it to go into the Options menu and see the key-bindings in the first place—at least in game. I don't still have my manual, but I don't remember it helping. Playing the game, all you get are meaningless icons like a sword or a pointy hand instead of actual buttons, and they certainly weren't explained properly outside it.
Did I mention that later, there are QTEs? Did I even have to?
You're probably thinking "But that's OK, at least you can check them in game." Nope! Only the Options screen you can access from the main menu offers any key information. In-game, you can only alter volume, vibration and subtitles. And the bit that really takes a shit in the chocolate ice-cream and hands you a spoon? One of the commands—the Run-Kick—isn't even configured. Even if it's comprehensively useless, the gap stares back from the screen like a sucking abyss of… uh… oh, what's the word I'm thinking of? Describes things that are not very good at all. You know.
We haven't even started the game yet. This is the Options Screen! How does a game fail so miserably and so completely on its Options Screen that the only reason not to rip it out of the drive and use it as a frisbee is that the pure concentrated force of suck might combine with an abandoned copy of 50 Shades of Grey to spawn an apocalyptic black hole? Which I still recommend over actually playing it!
If you do venture forth though, things get so much worse. The first instruction in the game is to press Start, and to give Legend of Jack Sparrow the tiniest drip of fairness, it's not the only game that's goofed over that. Unfortunately, it's followed by this digital face-palm…
So, press the Switch Character button to switch characters. Thanks, game! And so it goes on. "Press Light Attack for Light Attack" it effectively adds after this. "Press Use to Use". "Press Block to Block attacks!" But oh, it gets worse. It hits rock bottom when—using keys—it tells you to…
HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO DO THAT?!
No. I must have misread it. Must have. Let me double-check.
SECOND. WORST. TUTORIAL. EVER!
(The worst of course being the one in Derek Smart's Echo Squad, which was a linear recording that didn't bother checking if you were keeping up with it, or even in the right part of space to do what it was asking, and at one point gave the thrilling order "Leave the controls alone and for about five minutes watch as the fighter performs an escort flight profile around the carrier". But that's another rant.)
OK, let's try and break this down. Reach for the mouse? Nope, that doesn't work, even if you're using it for other things like selecting menu options. What kind of game do you think this is, anyway? No, what you're meant to do is figure out what button corresponds to a hand, press it, then cycle through the A, S and D movement buttons at wrist-cracking speed, because if you let go for a second, so does Jack. You can just hit A and D, but that judders around in a way that not only suggests you're on the brink of failure, but that you're only getting away with it because nobody bothered testing this method.
By which I of course mean "Suggests", with big, bold speech marks for emphasis.
Still, at least it's funny, right? It's packed with charm and personality, which helps undercut the complete failure with a little self-deprecating wit and refuge in audacity? After all, it does have Johnny Depp himself voicing Jack rather than merely a soundalike, which is what Will and the other characters get.
No. In fact, this is the most disappointing/amazing thing in the game.
The Legend of Jack Sparrow manages to get a bored performance out of Johnny Depp.
That takes real effort. Even if you don't like him as an actor—and he definitely has his misses—he's a performer who throws himself into roles regardless of whether it's Jack Sparrow or Ed Wood. In this he's so unenthusiastic you have to start wondering if he's here purely because the game's producers locked him in a closet with a microphone and refused to let him out until he'd voiced their shitty tie-in game.
It doesn't help that the writers don't seem to know that when you're writing scripts, as opposed to prose, you generally want to do things like 'keep clauses to a minimum' and 'remember that actors need to breathe'. The usual solution for that is to… how to put this so that it doesn't cause a literally blinding flash of the bleeding obvious… read your lines aloud before giving them to your actors.
Honestly, can you blame him for sounding asleep at dialogue like "I was partnered, through no fault of my own, with the young blacksmith Will Turner—who stands beside me even now, as unjustly sentenced as I." If you ran this stuff through a speech synthesiser it'd stop halfway through to call its agent.
As for the game, does it really need describing? Not really. For the sake of it though, here's a clip of the second or so proper level, which is as far as I got before realising my time would be much better spent on more personally satisfying projects, like biting my toenails and slipping them into my enemies' sandwiches, or macrame. To be exact, I got to the end of this stage, and while the PS2 version just flashes up the symbol buttons on the controller, all I was given were the mystery-meat swords and shields and similar… which didn't seem to work anyway. And to add insult to injury, both then, and replaying it just now, a graphical glitch meant the door was wide bloody open.
In short, when you get your hands on a port that seems rushed, half-hearted, or just plain terrible, it's absolutely fair to rant and rage and complain. If you can remember "Well, at least it beats Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow" though, maybe it won't be so bad.
Top Tip: This also works for root canals, being punched in the face with a glove covered in lemon-dipped spikes, and having to listen to drunk karaoke performances of Call Me Maybe. In fact, the only thing the suckiness of this game can't take the sting out of… is itself. Also bees. Those bastards hurt.