I’m a console kid. I spent the better part of my gaming adolescence behind an oddly shaped N64 controller, digging in to hours-long story games. So it stands to reason that after college nights of Bioshock and Fable installments that my taste for mobile gaming would surround similar breadths of story franchises. The Assassins franchise is as detailed as they come, and with the mobile installment Pirates, I found myself pleasantly surprised. Before I knew it I was spinning ships’ wheels and pillaging rival ships on the touchscreen with as much fervor as I would on my 360. But it didn’t come without its share of letdowns.
The format of this plot-based action game does feel similar to most of its kind. You spend the better part of the saga steering your ship—either physically with the wheel or from a birds’ eye vantage point dragging lines on a map. Battles with enemy ships are turn-based with time-sensitive tap methods that RPG fans are familiar with. There are also racing challenges, loot-finding puzzle excursions and some seriously tough boss battles. And while spinning your wheel, launching your cannons and scoping out enemies through your looking glass might seem like an immersive experience, the plot game seems to spin its own wheels a bit with a little too much repetition.
The ship battles themselves, while fun, lie somewhere between dodge-heavy arcade games and turn-based RPG games, complete with attack cool-downs and move timing. So while the combat does lend itself well to the small screen, it doesn’t promise anything groundbreaking. And to be honest, after the initial “this is pretty fun” moments, I found myself wanting more, expecting to feel more of a connection with my pirate’s ship as it gained crew members and experiences. But I didn’t.
The XP and crew upgrade system is where the game shines, if only for brief moments. As you complete chapters, gain gold and build XP, you can add crewmembers to your ship, thus equipping yourself with gameplay perks (quick speed bursts, wider attack range, etc.). So there’s a satisfying degree of strategy as you pick and choose new abilities.
As for the story … there really isn’t much of one. Plot points feel tacked-on, with cutaway dialogue boxes and interconnected zones to explore. It’s an odd experience from a franchise that bases almost its entire tenure on rich stories, open-world fields and essentially unbound exploration. But this game lacks the open seas that are so exciting in the franchise’s console counterparts—they even released Black Flag this year to quench fans’ thirst for pirate pillaging. In Pirates, however, you start out out as an “up-and-coming” pirate who traverses finite zones (bays, cays, etc.) to collect treasure, complete missions and defeat adversaries—including a few afterthought run-ins with Templars and Assassins. That’s pretty much it.
The game makes for a solid subway commute distraction, that also maintains the ability to offer a few 3-hour stints of binge gaming, but don’t expect to linger long on this limited little touchscreen tapper. At the end of the day, it’s just too repetitive. The finite RTS map exploration and the open-field sailing don’t always play well together. The ship combat ultimately feels canned and limited by the game’s end, and the story itself doesn’t offer anything rich to latch onto. But even with all that, I do think it succeeds in the mobile sphere, as a casual title, rather than the core title many players will no doubt be expecting. I’m docking points strictly because the franchise as a whole didn’t deliver. But fire this game up during your next voyage… er train ride and you’ll be entertained. But if you do, be warned: you’re in for a shallow ride.
A repetitive little game from a titan franchise that ultimately falls short of its bigger console brothers.