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     " Yo-ho-ho and a half-empty bottle of rum. "

      Title: Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales by Atari

      Format: PC Pirate Roleplaying Game

      Reviewing Monkey: Our Ape Masters

      The Hype: This latest action/rpg rom Akella, developer of other pirate games such as Sea Dogs, Age of Sails 2, and Pirates of the Caribbean, follows their trend of open-ended games designed to go light on story and heavy on plunderability. In it you make a name for yourself as the scourge the Caribbean; assaulting military vessels, raiding merchant ships, and even capturing towns if your cutlass is big enough. But is it a hit to the main-mast or a long walk off a short plank? Read on, my monkeys, and find out.

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Graphics: Like most roleplaying games, Age of Pirates (AoP) will not live or die by its graphics. Though serviceable, and not ever unpleasant, they are often antiquated and generally unimpressive. The exception is in the detail on some of the up-close ship battle and storm screens, when the light streaming through your sails and the ambient effects are definitely noteworthy, but as we move solidly into the next generation of graphic engines it would be hard to call even those anything more than quaint…especially when you notice the game's rather steep system requirements. 3 out of 5

      Playability: Following in the model of games like Oblivion, AoP plays a bit like a hybrid between an FPS and a traditional RPG. Because it's real time, the movement and combat controls are streamlined into a standard W,S,A,&D and mouse combo interface, while leveling when you gain enough experience is done on a very RPG-esque screen.
          Sticking with the latter for a second, leveling is, perhaps surprisingly, one of the most compelling aspects of the game. Unlike the traditional RPG, which really uses leveling as a means to an end (i.e. if you don't have a high enough fencing skill, you won't really be able to do any damage so you'd better level up to proceed), AoP manages to make each of the numerous skills seem important, if not critical, to your character. Yes, your proficiency with a sword matters a great deal, but so does your ability to command more men, load your cannons, tend your ship, and generally fulfill the myriad of obligations that will be presented to you as the captain of a burgeoning pirate fleet. That's the good.
          The bad is the lackluster combat system that makes up the bulk of Age of Pirates' play. Though a number of potentially interesting options exist, combat in all its forms (both ship-to-ship and hand-to-hand) is overly-simplistic and often buggy, discouraging you from really investing more into the interactions than you have to. What's more, despite some potentially cool features, because the combat is actually simplistic enough that you can get away with little more than blind, timing-based attacking, it would take a much more dedicated monkey than I to keep from falling into the repetitive trap of single-strategy-using, same-button-mashing, listless-but-victory-inducing boredom that the game's shoddy AI and tedious gameplay will lure you into.
          Which is a shame since combat is really all you'll spend your time doing in AoP. True, there are towns a plenty to explore, and even port cities to conquer when you build up enough of a fleet, but unfortunately the developers actually seem to dissuade you from doing any of it by making the rewards vastly inferior to just plundering the open ocean on your own. So, despite the rudimentary combat, you'll spend your time wandering around looking for opportunities to commandeer freighters anyway, because it is unquestionably the best way to succeed. 3.5 out of 5

      Story and Drama: As has been widely reported, Akella originally wanted to forgo any story at all in the game--leaving you to "make your own story" as you plundered your way around the islands. But, unfortunately, a RPG without a story is like a boarding cannon without grapeshot, so they changed their minds and have tacked a story onto the game. Unfortunately, tacked on is just how it feels, and so instead of a compelling narrative told through lavish cutscenes and intertwining quests you get bland text backgrounds and seemingly random quest updates. It makes the whole thing feel like commercial breaks for a story game you might want to try later on, periodically interrupting your gameplay with snippets that don't really make sense and could act as teasers if they weren't so uncompelling. 2 out of 5

      Multiplayer and Replayability: Definitely the place where AoP really shines, the open ended design and compelling leveling will leave you with countless hours of game to explore. What's more, the presence of honest to goodness ship-to-ship deathmatching, team deathmatching, and capture the flag games will give you an added level of goodness. Of course, it would hold better if the combat was more interesting in the first place, and if on-line opponents were easier to find, but at least they included it all! Now if only someone would do a co-op where you could form a combined fleet… 4.5 out of 5

      The Verdict:

       All in all, fans of the genre may find enough here to keep their interest for a while, but people casually browsing for a new game should look elsewhere. It is fun, and it has some merit, but unfortunately the biggest place this game needed to thrive is the one they seemed to slack on the most.

      The Good: Decent looking and amazingly open-ended.

      The Bad: Combat gets dull in a hurry, and this roleplaying game has no story worth mentioning.

      The Overall Ugly: Yo-ho-ho and a half-empty bottle of rum.

      What it's Worth: Twenty bucks.

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