Following the plot of the recently released movie of the same name, Dead Man's Chest attempts to bring the fun and entertainment of the blockbuster to the small (but relatively large) PSP screen. This is also an original PSP game; it hasn't been ported across from the PlayStation 2 and hasn't simply been upgraded from the DS version that is released at the same time. While this might seem like a good thing for a system that has had more hand-me-downs than younger siblings across the UK combined, it's sadly another PSP game that could have been great, but ended up being terribly mediocre.
I won't ruin the film and game for you by going into plot details, but Jack Sparrow and his crew are back, and they're fighting bad guys. The main baddy this time round is Davy Jones, who just so happens to have made a deal with Jack. The repayment is simply Jack's Soul, so as you can imagine, he's not too keen to pay the tentacle-faced Jones what he's owed.
Gameplay mixes combat with a number of puzzles. The majority of each level is spent fighting endless goons though, and although competent the fighting system is far from brilliant. Rather than give you a free-form combat system akin to that seen the latest Prince of Persia game, you must hammer the buttons that are shown on the screen. After hitting that button a few times you'll have to switch to another button, once again highlighted on the screen, in order to finish off the enemy. It makes everything pretty simple, but also makes the majority of the game feel rather repetitive.
Obviously keen to recreate the large fights seen in the movie, you'll often be faced with more than five enemies at once. Sadly the fighting system doesn't cope with this at all well, making it nearly impossible to avoid taking damage, and with enemies often requiring different attack buttons to take them down, it's far too easy to attack with the wrong button and set yourself up for a cheap counter-attack. Add in enemies that shoot you from a distance, and you have the recipe for a very tedious gameplay experience.
When you're not fighting, you're solving puzzles, but these suffer from the same sloppiness that blights the combat. Every puzzle is usually made blindingly obvious by a skull and crossbones icon, which ignites when you're within range to perform a context sensitive action. Whether you are simply required to climb a rope, place an explosive barrel in front of a door, lower a bridge or perform another action, it's never rocket science. In a way the inclusion of the icons is an essential touch, as you often find Jack Sparrow rather unwilling to perform the action he's meant to carry out. Numerous button presses later and he'll finally do what he's told, but had the icons not been there it would have been far too easy to give up and search for a new way to solve each puzzle.
Aside from the main levels, completed treasure missions reward you with new power moves. A health bonus and double notoriety reward can also be gained, but do very little to help the overall game. Notoriety seems like a nice little additional feature, but it's rather inconsequential. The more you act like a pirate, the more notorious you become, which is shown by the notoriety rating on the game status screen. It adds a high score element to proceedings, but that's about it.
A multiplayer game based on the rather clumsy single-player game mechanics would have been a complete disaster, and thankfully that isn't what is included in the game. A four-player pirate ship battle game is included, and even lets players without a copy of the game take part. What's more surprising is that the multiplayer battle mode is more than a mode tacked on to add a feature to the back of the box. You get a number of selectable ships, each with a unique special ability, four game types, power-ups, and even ship upgrades. As entertaining as the multiplayer battles are, it's not a game in itself and doesn't make up for the lacklustre single-player campaign, but is a very nice addition indeed.
Presentation is a mixed bag, with the single-player adventure featuring some impressive character models and environments, but also a sluggish frame rate and some animations that appear to be missing key frames. Audio from the movie goes some way to recreating the blockbuster vibe on the PSP, and the voice acting is solid, but throughout the game there's the obvious feeling that things were rushed in order to meet a deadline. Dead Man's Chest certainly isn't a poorly presented PSP title, but it's far from the best the system can manage.
Perhaps I should be less hopeful in the future, but Dead Man's Chest was a PSP title with real potential. Sadly, the final game feels rushed and suffers from far too many problems to make it worth your money. The ship battling multiplayer game is a lot more fun than I had imagined it would be, but this alone isn't worth shelling out for. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest may well turn out to be the biggest grossing movie of the year, but the video game is a big disappointment.