Tortuga - Two Treasures

Review

posted 4/13/2007 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: PC
No recruiting in taverns, you bellow? Nope, Two Treasures doesn't aim to rehash the conventions of previous Tortuga titles, and this is just one more of its arcade-like devices that make for hot ship-on-ship action, while notably sacrificing a huge chunk of onshore strategizing. But it works and it works well.
 
Once you step foot on the pier, however, things get shaky. Hawk's trusty saber can't manage too many guards and pirates at a time, since his direction and his targets are pretty much taken over by the computer at this point. You're helpless in joining click-fest after click-fest of combat, surrounded by enemies that aggro at the drop of a hat (violence is the only answer), and a block button that's perfectly useless the moment a second aggressor joins the fray -- and trust me, the number of baddies you face reaches comical proportions. Swordfighting is nothing more than hammering your left-click and quaffing down legions of healing potions. And ignore any so-called "stealth missions," since Hawk is only capable of moving at full-bore speeds; and pirate boots sound like horseshoes when you're on the move.
 
To be fair, a shortlist of special moves sprinkle their way into gameplay with the defeat of particular bosses. Simple mouse and WASD combinations add up to moves like the "Sailor's Grave," a coup de grace finisher for that Limey Hawk just dropped with a "Stern Kick." You can bring the fight to a standstill with a well-placed boot to the "Family Jewels," or run maniacally at a stack of enemies with your saber swinging in figure-eights using the hysterical "Wrath of the Caribbean." But even throwing in tradable goods like a single-shot pistol, or a flaming-rum grenade (of sorts) can't salvage this shipwreck of a combat system. The cameraman hangs out at a fixed distance, while infrastructure and plant growth impede your viewing angles -- especially as the land-based chapters run Hawk through increasingly claustrophobic environments.
 
While running through these set pieces, Hawk will discover some things that earn Two Treasures a Gaming Nexus Dubious Design Award: cocktail recipes. Now, despite the fact that cocktail recipes don't inform a single aspect of the gameplay itself, you will find treasure chests that imprint recipes for, say, a Mojito or a Sex on the Beach into your trusty game journal. (2 ounces of white rum, 1/2 a lime, 1 teaspoon of brown sugar, mint leaves, and crushed ice, by the way, if that Mojito sounds interesting.) I can only suppose that chapters solving the problem of "No Rum in Tortuga" already earned Two Treasures a Teen rating for use of alcohol, so the cocktails were just freebies at that point.
 
It's also understood that Two Treasures is set at a budget-minded price point. But the game easily clocks-in less than seven hours of gameplay, and a healthy portion of that time is taken up by the bullying cutscenes -- "bullying" because these scenes cut off the chapter the moment Hawk's killed the last enemy for the level, often propelling him forward into a chunk of full-motion video before you can pick up the last of the gold while on land, or salvage crew and supplies while at sea.  And even though the cutscenes provide a chuckle-worthy level of dramedy, inconsistencies between the subtitles and voice acting abound. You might read about a character named Cripplefinger Johnson, while the voiceover talks about Pegleg Johnson. Or Three-Fingered Henry might wallow about how his plantation is burned to the ground, when Hawk was actually just there and the rows and rows of plants were looking healthy -- and Hawk just hacked n' slashed everyone around that might've tried to light the place ablaze. Some cut scenes are unforgivably strung together with needless "missions" that might have you run 20 yards to the other side of town, or sail your dingy back down an eventless span of river you already ran, before throwing in another cutscene.
 
None of these disable the entire story, although Two Treasures ends on a cute but needlessly open note, with not even enough of a cliffhanger to beg for the inevitable sequel ("Tortuga - Three Threats," maybe?) But since Two Treasures' load screens only ferried Hawk through a measurable portion of the northern Caribbean -- basically from the Bahamas to Jamaica to Puerto Rico -- there's still room to explore. But until Ascaron dedicates some late nights to improving their impoverished land-combat engine, there's little to look forward to. And if they don't remove the invisible chain-link fence around sea combat, the "World of Tortuga" will be doing itself a great disservice, since would-be pirates and privateers (present company included) rightfully don't tolerate such a tight leash around their swashbuckling tendencies.
 



F
Tortuga - Two Treasures carries a funny one-liner or two and makes sea combat a fun and triumphant undertaking, even if you're only a one-ship captain. But land-based combat is already relegated to the poop deck and, without serious reworking, should be fed to the sharks in the event of a sequel. The game is slow to entrust you with special moves (your only sign of character progression), and plot holes in an otherwise adventurous storyline keep the film reel in shoddy shape.


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