Hot on the heels of Bethesda's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow, which filled us in on some of the past exploits of cinema's most flamboyant buccaneer, comes Buena Vista Games' Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, which aims to bring us up to speed on Captain Jack's most recent voyage concerning a certain seafaring spirit named Davy Jones. Dead Man's Chest does a good job of evoking the spirit of the second film, expanding on and making alterations to the plot without breaking it. The dominant sword-fighting mechanics are even a bit novel at first, but the game fails completely in exploiting them, and this shortcoming, along with some clumsy platforming and a frustrating late-game design decision, all but drag Dead Man's Chest down into the murky depths.
Captain Jack Sparrow has a debt to pay to Davy Jones.
The story in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is fairly faithful to its cinematic counterpart, focusing almost exclusively on the bits featuring Captain Jack Sparrow, since that's the character you'll be playing as over the course of the game. The game starts with a little explanation for what Jack was doing in that coffin at the start of the film, and on the whole the story is mostly faithful, though it tweaks a few minor exchanges for the sake of streamlining the game's storytelling and stuffing more fights into the narrative. It's also highly referential to the film, and if you haven't seen it, some of the storytelling will come across as a little murky. It works better as a companion piece than a stand-alone story. Johnny Depp lent his voice to The Legend of Jack Sparrow, but Dead Man's Chest gets a soundalike who doesn't slur quite enough, though he actually gives a more enthusiastic performance than the real Jack Sparrow. More authentic than the voice work is the Hans Zimmer score, which regularly swells up to accompany the clanging of swords, the crack of a flintlock, and other sounds of general swashbucklery.
As Captain Jack, you'll make your way from that dreaded cliff-side Turkish prison to a lush jungle island to the pirate port town of Tortuga and beyond. But no matter what exotic locale you travel to and what salty enemies you encounter--which include regular old pirates, the Harryhausen-esque skeletal variety, zombies, cannibals, and more--there are really only three different enemies you'll encounter over the course of the game. The game takes a unique approach to the swordplay, where a button icon will appear over an enemy's head when you approach him, and you'll need to press the appropriate buttons in sequence to take him down. The system is reminiscent of The Mark of Kri, though Dead Man's Chest only lets you engage one enemy at a time. This would have worked quite well if the button combos you needed to take down an enemy ever evolved. There is a different combo to take down each of the three different enemy types, but once you figure out what kind of enemies you're dealing with, most of the excitement is sucked out of the action. The predictability is a shame, because this combo system could have made for some really excellent boss battles, but instead it's just squandered.
There's more to the single-player game in Dead Man's Chest than just sword fighting, just not that much more. The game breaks up all the blade work with the occasional puzzle, though it also spells things out for you with a series of skull-and-crossbones icons that basically tell you what to do next. There are some real piratical activities to get up to, such as knocking down walls with cannon fire and using explosive rum barrels to knock down doors, but it's more for window dressing than anything else. The puzzle-solving, while not particularly challenging, at least works as it ought to, unlike the game's sloppy platforming sections. Dodging plumes of fire and falling boulders is pretty stock video game activity, but your control over Jack's movement is too imprecise for its own good, which will inevitably lead to some unwarranted deaths. The punishment for death is scant, simply returning you to an earlier spot in the level, so it's not as frustrating as it could have been, but that still doesn't make it enjoyable.