Hawk gains a reputation, one way or another, over the course of the game. Do good deeds and you'll be well liked by most of the European nations, though maybe not by the pirates. Or, you can become a wicked pirate yourself and strike fear into the hearts of wealthy merchants everywhere, though you'd better be ready to face some powerful enemy European fleets. As he gains levels, Hawk also becomes eligible to commandeer larger and larger ships, so soon enough your crew of less than a hundred may grow to many times that size if you can afford (or relieve an enemy of) a better set of sails. In the bigger ships, especially if you have fleets of them, you can even take on island fortresses in some of the game's most challenging naval battles. The larger ships can be less maneuverable than the smaller ones and can cost a fortune to repair, but they are still hands-down superior to smaller vessels for the most part. As such, it's quite satisfying to upgrade to a larger ship class.
Naval combat is appropriately dramatic, slow, and challenging. Get used to seeing Davy Jones' locker.
Naval combat is slow-paced and relatively simple--just point your broadsides at the opponent and commence firing, then maybe try to maneuver to an odd angle as you reload, to prevent the enemy from returning fire as effectively. You have a number of different ammo types at your disposal, including good old cannonballs, grape shot that's perfect for killing enemy crew, knippel for destroying sails and rigging, and bombs, which are more expensive but more destructive than the other types. You may also upgrade to different types of cannons, some of which have a longer range at the expense of less power, or vice versa. There isn't so much you can do to customize your ship besides that. You want to keep your crew maxed out at all times and keep its morale high, which is easily achieved just by paying everyone extra if their morale gets low for some reason. Also, just as you can upgrade your ship's weapons, so can you buy better swords and pistols for Hawk.
So, Pirates of the Caribbean does indeed have a number of different elements to it, but none of them are very complex, and none of them are good enough to carry the game on their own. This is the sort of game that instead achieves success through the sheer quantity of activities it has to offer. At first you'll probably get thrown off by the game's rather jarring transitions between the map, in-ship, and on-foot sequences--even when you board an enemy vessel, all you get is a loading screen to represent the process. Still, you'll probably be able to suspend your disbelief during these lacking transitional sequences, just as you'll be able to forgive the clunky and rather slow on-foot controls both for combat and for just running around. Fortunately, when in town, you have access to an icon-based menu that lets you magically jump between locations of interest. You could easily approach an island, dock your ship, and sell all your cinnamon and tobacco at the local store in about a minute of real time, for example.
On a high-end PC, some aspects of Pirates of the Caribbean look really impressive, and the Xbox version mostly looks great too. The main difference is that PC owners can get the game running faster and smoother and in considerably higher detail than on the Xbox. In either case, the game's character models are simple and move awkwardly, but the ships are highly detailed, the undulating and shimmering water looks dazzlingly realistic more often than not, and weather effects look very convincing. Other graphical details, such as how tall grass folds and bends as you run through it, help make Pirates look particularly convincing at times. The game's sound effects are minimal--speech is mostly limited to some generic catchphrases uttered by nonplayer characters (their actual dialogue is all in text), and ambient effects in towns or while at sea aren't anything to write home about. Some of the sounds during naval combat are quite good, though, and the game's musical score is excellent. It's noticeably missing the Pirates of the Caribbean ride's "yo-ho, yo-ho" theme song, but it's catchy and fits the setting and circumstances very well.
It's not all great, but there's a lot to see and do in Pirates of the Caribbean.
As mentioned, Pirates of the Caribbean unfortunately has some bugs to it, and surprisingly the Xbox version seems to be the bigger offender. We spotted some textual typos in the Xbox version that weren't in the PC version, but more seriously, at one point during our experience playing the Xbox version, one of our saved games became corrupted and the game then crashed, resulting in hours of lost time. Other players have reported similar incidents, though the incidents seem more unlucky than rampant, whereas the PC version of the game seems rather more stable and merely at risk of an occasional crash to desktop. Strangely, neither version of the game feels entirely at home on its platform. On the Xbox, much like with Morrowind, you get the feeling you're playing a port of a PC game, due to the relatively complicated controls, text-heavy open-ended gameplay, ability to save anywhere, finicky frame rate, and frequent and somewhat annoying loading times. On the PC, you feel like you're playing a port of a console game, due to the awkward default controls and the limited ability to change them, as well as the very large in-game text. These sorts of issues make Pirates seem rough around the edges and do hurt the game to some extent.
Even with its problems, though, Pirates of the Caribbean is an enjoyable game that's recommendable to those intrigued by the subject matter. The big, dramatic-looking naval battles pack in a lot of variety, and the open-ended structure of the campaign rewards your curiosity. Too bad the shortcomings put Pirates somewhat shy of greatness in the grand scheme of things, but you won't be thinking about that as you're waylaying or defending merchant ships filled with silk and ale and all sorts of other good stuff.