Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tortuga: Two Treasures Review

Tortuga: Two Treasures, developed by Ascaron Entertainment and published by CDV.
The Good: Excellent maritime graphics, decent (but derivative) storyline, simple controls, some cool items, sharks eat people
The Not So Good: Completely linear, superficial hand-to-hand combat, lack of in-game tooltips, ships move very fast making combat difficult, unfair odds in land combat substitute for poor AI
What say you? A casual action-adventure game that lacks the depth, variety, and unrestricted gameplay of other swashbuckling titles: 5/8

With the popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, there was no doubt that the PC market would be inundated with countless pirate-themed games. And this prophecy came to pass, with the revival of Sid Meier’s Pirates!, Age of Pirates, a couple of Pirates of the Caribbean games, the forthcoming Pirates of the Burning Sea, and Tortuga: Two Treasures. This game is more in the vein of one of my favorites, Sea Dogs, in that you have both naval and land missions to satisfy your scurvy needs. Will Tortuga: Two Treasures prove to be the Oblivion of pirates, or sink down to Davy Jones’s locker?

By far the best part of Tortuga: Two Treasures is the graphics. The ocean vistas are simply spectacular: translucent and reflective water, waves, time of day sunsets, and sharks eating people all combine to create a very believable and realistic ocean environment. The ships are also highly detailed, complete with men running around the deck and cannons recoiling from shots. While nobody will confuse the towns with those in Oblivion, the cities are detailed and polished. It’s obvious that a lot of time has been spent with the graphics in Tortuga: Two Treasures, and the game certainly looks very good. The sound is not quite as impressive. While the battle sounds are fine, voice acting could be better and the phrases of enemy soldiers become repetitive very quickly. Also, the subtitles and sound don’t match exactly, varying from a few words to whole sentences being different or removed. This becomes confusing if you read the subtitles while listening to the speech as I do. Still, the sound can’t detract from the stellar graphics: watching sea battles in Tortuga: Two Treasures is undoubtedly a treat.

In Tortuga: Two Treasures, you follow the trials and tribulations of Blackbeard’s right hand man through a path of betrayal, mystery, and shooting people. Instead of offering a main campaign and a suite of side quests like Oblivion, the storyline and campaign of Tortuga: Two Treasures is strictly linear. This not only reduces the time required to complete the game, but it also makes repeat adventures completely pointless. The game does offer a good incorporation of a tutorial into early missions, but the rigid gameplay path is completely out of date when compared to contemporary role-playing and adventure games. Tortuga: Two Treasures also has completely obvious objectives and linear ways of completing said objectives, which removes the concept of self-imposed free-form adventure present in other games.

The missions are a mix of land-based fighting and some stealth with sea-based ship combat. The land combat is repetitive and boring, at least until you unlock the special combo moves that add a small amount of variety. Fighting enemies consists of pressing the mouse button repeatedly until they die. There are way too many enemies to fight at once (imposing the only difficulty of the game) to compensate for the non-existent AI. Even the bosses only mix it up by throwing in a special move or block every once in a while. The more strategic hand-to-hand combat system of Sid Meier’s Pirates! is far superior to the one present in Tortuga: Two Treasures. Special moves add some variety, but the combat is still too straightforward and subsequently very shallow. The game has a stamina rating but it rarely matters: you need to string a whole bunch of strikes in a row in order to deplete it, and the enemy is usually dead by then anyway. The game also has a console-like auto-targeting system, which may not target the biggest (or even nearest) threat as you swing wildly. Items that you can buy between missions (from the money earned by killing people), such as pistols, Molotov cocktails, and healing potions, are interesting but don’t make the combat any better.

The ship combat fares better, but it still has some issues to content with. The main problem is that ships move way too fast even with reduced sails; this makes it hard to maneuver into a firing position and even get a shot off, as the enemy must be right across from you in order to fire. If two ships pass each other at even just quarter-speed, you have maybe a quarter of a second to fire. I thought that naval combat during the time period was slow and deliberate (a style that works a lot better in my opinion), but Tortuga: Two Treasures replaces this reality with more frenetic pacing. There is some strategy involved in choosing the usual assortment of sail ripping, people killing, or hull breaking ammunition, but we’ve seen all of that before in much better games. Ships have their selection of power-ups as well, including the kraken (blatantly stolen from Pirates of the Caribbean) and ship repair items. Again, while these add a bit of variety, the ship combat seen in other games is far superior to that in Tortuga: Two Treasures.

Unfortunately for Tortuga: Two Treasures, the pirate action/adventure game has quite a number of good titles in it, and everything that’s done in this game is done better in previous titles. Featuring a storyline eerily similar to the second Pirates movie, Tortuga: Two Treasures has repetitive and shallow land combat, hasty ship combat, and a completely linear campaign, both in terms of the order of the missions and how you complete them. Tortuga: Two Treasures might appeal to very young or extremely inexperienced players, but the difficulty gap between the easy objectives and horribly outnumbered land combat sequences virtually eliminates anyone from enjoying the game. The lack of freedom in the campaign is a severe hindrance as well. Other than the graphics, there is no reason to play this game over titles like Sea Dogs due to the completely linear campaign and lack of anything innovative.