The brand of “Pirate” has come to mean a lot over the past decade. These days, images of the jerk in the back of the theatre with a video camera or the guy that mysteriously returns every CD he or she buys comes to mind. The mere idea of one of them handling a cutlass and flintlock pistol to capture buried treasure betrays the very idea of the classic, definition of a pirate. Thankfully there are games like Tortuga: Two Treasures by Ascaron Entertainment that bring back the swashbuckling days of yore. And while Tortuga strives to portray a gritty pirate adventure, it struggles along the way.Now tell me if you’ve heard this one before. A sly and witty pirate captain is betrayed by someone he once trusted and on the way to revenge must fight off not only the English navy, but also a mysterious black pirate ship; its crew d**ed for eternity to roam the seas as the living dead for plundering a cursed treasure. It makes a person wonder whether the developer codename for this project was Pirates of the Caribbean: Electric Boogaloo Redux. All joking aside, Captain Thomas Blythe is p**ed and takes to the high seas to claim his ship, his woman and his treasure. Arrrr!Gameplay is broken down into two areas: that at sea and on land. Sea battles are handled similarly to those in Sid Meier’s: Pirates! Ships are loaded with various types of cannon shot—grape, chain, plate breaker and vanilla “cannonball.” Using the wind as their guide they must maneuver to deliver ever-devastating broadsides to sink or cripple, depending on the objective, enemy ships and forts. Aside from these classic strategies, Tortuga also incorporates special items that serve to repair player’s damaged ships and a*ist in destroying the bad guys, like explosive barrels that can be plunked down in the sea and using bait to attract the legendary Kraken.On the surface this appears to be a decent mix of strategies that would engage and challenge the player. In practice sea battles quickly become trite. Not because of the repetition of combat, which is to be expected for this era it re-creates, but because of the stubbornness of enemy ships to sink. Sea battles take so long to finish that after jockeying other ships for firing position players will often hit the edge of the map and be automatically turned around, all the while begging for the fight to end. The use of special attacks like barrage help but must be meticulously positioned to be effective or else it just feels like a waste.But while the combat may not be the most engaging, Tortuga does get credit for mixing the sea missions up. Most involve battling entire enemy fleets until they are at the bottom of the Caribbean but players will also flee soul-eating ghost ships and a*ault forts with nothing but a dinghy and a prayer. Perhaps the biggest letdown of it all is that there is no free-roam mode to speak of. Occasionally the idea of a mass-pirating spree may get into the minds of players but they’ll find there’s almost no room for deviation from a planned mission. Players can ignore primary mission objectives and kill the small merchant and pirate ships that wander into the area but there’s no thrill and no prize aside from a few power-up crates they may drop. Traditionally, the romanticized idea of a pirate is one that involved free exploration for treasure and to do whatever he or she desired on the waves. This idea is sorely lacking from the game.Off the seas and back onto land, things deceptively start off better but quickly bog down into normality. One of Blythe’s first land missions involves waypoint missions traveling from point to point to advance the story. At a certain junction, three guards are patrolling a wall and he must discover how to avoid them. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a game taking a stealth approach, but when the majority of every subsequent mission thereafter utilizes the “kill anything that moves” gameplay mechanic, it boggles the mind of why the developer even bothered.With killing being the main course of the day, Tortuga does have a few tricks up its sleeve. Besides rapidly tapping the left-mouse button to swing Blythe’s sword as quickly as possible, players also have access to special moves unlocked over the course of the campaign. Hardly fair and ever-amusing, they include such standout moves as kicking an enemy in the crown jewels and being able to instantly-execute someone if they ever fall to the ground. Who ever said pirates don’t have honor?Augmenting the special moves are various power-ups players can collect in-level and during trading sessions at the end of every mission. Pistols will give one shot to thin out a herd of baddies while voodoo powder makes everyone fall asleep for a short time. Unlike the sea-based powerups, some of which may never be used, it’s vital on land to utilize every tool possible to win since players are often heavily outnumbered.If there’s a major flaw in the single-player campaign, it’s that the whole experience is extremely cutscene driven, with more time spent showing players the plotline than letting them discover it for themselves. Admittedly it’s a small gripe, but one that may prevent players from really immersing themselves in the Tortuga universe.Graphically, Tortuga isn’t using the most advanced engine out there but it gets the job done. Small pieces of debris fly from ships when they’re peppered with enemy cannon and pool in the water when their crusty hulks sail into coral reefs. Fires ignite onboard to signal damage and the resulting smoke trails are noticeable from a fair distance. The sea itself looks like a shimmering pane of glass at the right angles and the crystal blue water is often interrupted by the peaks of underwater mountains that form dangerous reefs.The only real problems with the graphics are almost immediately noticed in any land-based mission. Texturing for buildings is bland and entire towns are covered in the same design making it hard to distinguish one structure from another. Enemy soldiers for each faction only have two available skins in what can only be described as a Star Wars-esque clone war. Pirates are the exception to this rule but even they only sport one or two more characters. The camera also has a nasty habit of not rotating when backed against a building and instead becomes embedded into the wall. This typically happens when players are surrounded by an angry mob of English soldiers. So it would appear Thomas Blythe’s favorite skill is that of fighting completely blind.The music is typical a foreboding mix of string and brass with a few chords sounding eerily similar to another recent pirate-related release. It works well with the content and does the job adequately. Effects, however, are another matter. Talking and shouting from players and NPCs alike are woefully low volume to the point that players will be forced to focus on the audio and nothing else in order to comprehend any of it. When it is heard, not all of it makes a whole lot of sense as the crew will shout out “Man the cannons!” when sailing by just about anything. And when things heat up, players can indulge themselves in listening to the same exact audio scream loop after each broadside is received.When it’s all said and done, Tortuga isn’t a terribly bad game. But it doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself as a standout from the action genre. Players looking for a quick swashbuckling-fix to their pirate-craving may want to check it out but anyone looking for something with a little depth may want to leave this one marooned on the store shelves.
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.