When I first saw Pirates of the Caribbean on my E3 schedule, I was less than impressed. The license doesn't grant the game its most celebrated character, Cap'n Jack Sparrow; it's not based on a particular movie; and features none of the characters from the films. What, I asked myself, is the point? As I meandered over to Disney Interactive's E3 booth to see the game behind closed doors, all I could think about was the colossal amount of other games I'd rather be playing. Well shame on me for judging a book by its cover, because Armada of the Damned was my guilty pleasure of E3.
Before jumping into the action, Propaganda Games' Devon Blanchet asked us how we wanted to play the game. You are Captain Sterling, but can choose his personality: a flamboyant swashbuckler known as the Legendary, or a supernatural outcast referred to as the Dreaded. With neither of the journalists sat next to me offering a preference, I requested that the game be shown from the perspective of the Dreaded, which sounded anti-establishment and considerably cooler than the alternative. I was later told that everybody chose the Dreaded option.
Take a look at the screenshots that decorate this preview; remind you of anything? To my eyes, the game owes a great deal to the Fable series in terms of visuals, and Lionhead's influence extends to gameplay too. I brought up the comparison fairly early on in the demo, to which Devon revealed that the team had actually looked at Fable as a point of reference in making the game. From the stocky character models, to the role playing mechanics, to the morality system, elements of Fable turn up in many areas of the game's design. I'll admit that for a while I saw the game as little more than a cheap imitation, but the pirate theme quickly grew on me, and I began to notice a range of unique features that had been added to the formula.
The section of the demo we played took place on an island known as Tarana Oma. The playable area was vast, with clear blue skies encasing an endless sea of lush vegetation. It was just how you'd imagine an island stumbled upon by pirates would look. An impressive draw distance revealed the top of the volcano we were heading for, and I was assured that no loading times would interrupt the journey there. Along the way to this mountain top, primitive island dwellers tried to thwart our advances, apparently afflicted by some kind of curse. This was the first opportunity Captain Sterling had to show off his fighting moves, and he didn't hesitate in striking the first blow.
The combat system is a real-time hack and slash affair not dissimilar to the aforementioned Fable. There are hints of Devil May Cry and God of War thrown into the mix too, and although I didn't get to try it out first hand, it was mighty satisfying to watch. Sterling's anchor blade had an impressive reach, and as he flung it about the screen I was reminded of Kratos and his mighty Blades of Athena. A JRPG-esque damage number accompanied each successful hit, a number that obviously increased based on Sterling's level and attributes.