Having Lego-fied the worlds of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter, the team at Traveller’s Tales is primed to do the same for a new blockbuster franchise. Pirates of the Caribbean. At an event thoughtfully staged in a rum-soaked North London pub, we were able to get our hands on some grog and the game, and have a chat with Traveller’s Tales Production head, Jonathan Smith.
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is a bit of a departure for the series, in that it covers the whole breadth of the Pirates of the Caribbean saga so far, from the original Curse of the Black Pearl to this summer’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. This also makes it the first TT Lego game to handle a film that’s still in development. “The team loved working with a new movie” says Smith “because it’s so exciting to be part of that whole process of something being created out of nothing, and to be insiders in that.” This involvement hasn’t just enabled the team to work with the characters, locations and adventures of On Stranger Tides, Smith explains, but also. “given us an extra impetus and energy in the process of making the game.”
It’s an energy you can feel in the near-finished product. By now, we know what to expect from Lego games, and Lego Pirates of the Caribbean isn’t about to throw away what makes the series work so well for adults and for kids.
The stages we played through, based on sequences from the first three movies, are chock-full of the kind of block-building, scenery-wrecking, puzzle-solving antics we’ve come to know and love.
“You’re always picking up Lego studs, you’re always collecting these characters, you’re always using their abilities to overcome specific challenges - that is a foundation with which we are very happy” says Smith.
The key thing here is the world of pirates, which is full of opportunities for high-adventure, and the characters themselves. “It’s wonderful to be in this world of pirates, where anything is possible” says Smith. “These guys go out there and find treasure everywhere in amazing new environments, and we’ve had a lot of fun with that.”
During the hour or so we spend playing the game, we get fantastic platforming sections with pirates rolling around in the spherical bone cages from the second movie, sequences of puzzle-solving adventure in Port Royal and Tortuga, and some brilliant swashbuckling action.
Think of a pirate, villain or any major character from the movie, and you’re sure to find them in the game, and they’re an interesting and frequently acrobatic bunch.
“All the pirates are athletic roustabouts,” says Jonathan Smith. “They can clamber and climb. They can climb up walls, climb along ceilings, climb up rigging, climb up masts and have battles high above ship decks. They’re always getting into trouble and dangerous situations.”
Having seen Lego versions of Messrs. Depp, Bloom and Rush in action, plus a surprisingly limber Lego Keira Knightley and Mackenzie Crook, we can only agree. There's plenty of interactive scenery to explore in search of hidden Lego stubs, and some of the most adventurous platforming we've seen in a Lego game.
We're also big fans of the fully playable dog - a loveable scamp who can dig for treasure, and whose bark definitely isn't worse than his bite. But while the new game goes big on duelling cutlasses and derring do, it also develops on the more complex puzzle-solving we saw in the Lego Harry Potter and second Lego Indiana Jones games.
As usual, each pirate has some cool ability that can be used to solve the game’s conundrums. For instance, when Lego Jack Sparrow isn’t racing around with his signature loony swagger or clashing swords with rival pirate scum, he has a handy compass that reveals items buried in the scene, while Lego Gibbs (the pirate with the whacking muttonchop sideburns) can whack glowing red objects into shape with a handy hammer.
Clearing a path might mean getting the wheels back on a broken cart then getting a horse to run amok in the streets of Tortuga, or using a cannon to blow some gates away, while the bone cage level is chock-full of ingenious switches and giant, rotating wheels. It's not Monkey Island or Portal 2 clever, but we're a long way from just building bridges out of blocks.
Smith believes that, with the series now established, its possible to add a little more depth to the gameplay.
“What we have now which we didn’t have when we made the first Lego Star Wars was a generation of gamers who have grown up with Lego games. So a lot of the stuff that we were very particular about introducing very carefully early on we can now, to some extent, take for granted.”
From what we’ve seen and played, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean has everything we expect. It’s fast-paced, frantic and fun, and jam-packed with those brilliant cut-scenes which subvert familiar scenes from the movies in beautifully observed Lego form - we’re especially pleased to see Lego Orlando Bloom as the butt of so many jokes.
If you have kids, this is likely to be one of the best games to play with them this year. But does it bring anything really new?
Visually, it looks to be the most impressive Lego game yet, with the sort of exotic vegetation, sun-drenched stonework and rippling blue water you’d expect from the Pirates universe, and the animation - particularly when it comes to Jack Sparrow - is so well-observed that you begin to suspect that Traveller’s Tales has some weird Lego motion capture system up and running.
But does it bring anything really new?
Yes, says Smith. Firstly, there’s a new Super Freeplay mode that, in Smith’s words, “really enables you to take control of the story and play it in your own way by mixing up the characters”. And not just a selection of characters, but the whole lot. Over 70 characters from all four films will be featured, and you’ll be able to switch between them, at any time, within the Super Freeplay mode, which you’ve never been able to do in a Lego game before.
It’s not as if collecting every last Lego stud on every level has ever been a chore, but this should make it that little bit more exciting.
But for Smith, there’s one other killer feature he can’t wait for people to see in action. “For me, it’s hard to see now how we could not have previously done a Lego game in which you ride on pigs. That’s one of the details which shines in Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, and it’s an acme of things that can only happen in Lego games.”
Once you’ve taken a destructive porker for a spin, scattering debris across Port Royal or Tortuga, we’re sure you’ll agree. Who needs a rocket-launcher when a grumpy swine will get the job done?
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean will be out on the 13th May on the PS3, Xbox 360, 3DS, PSP and Wii.
We’ll give you a full review as soon as we can.