Five hours into Risen 2, things aren't going as planned. Spending all of my money on a pair of stripey trousers seemed like an important part of the become-a-pirate process, but aren't the springboard to yo-ho-ho I originally envisaged. Now I spend my days butchering monkeys in the jungle, saving up money to buy a pair of shoes. The best way to earn honour - Risen 2's XP equivalent - is by killing the tiny apes that can't defend themselves. No wonder Jack Sparrow is always knocking back rum; becoming a pirate is harrowing stuff.
The plethora of barely-explained options at the start of Risen 2 means it's easy to back yourself into a corner. I invested all my cash in learning how to sneak, which allows me to rob people blind without any consequence. It also makes you shuffle around with the trepidation of a man gripped by explosive diarrhoea - a feature that's inexplicably not listed on the back of the box.
Nothing good can be said about the game's technical abilities, but while the visuals, framerate and collision detection are merely bad, the animation is spectacularly terrible. From the choice of two jump styles - "indifferent bop" or "barely-animated levitation" - to the kebab-aftermath sneaking, it's hilarious throughout. The same can't be said of the game's other problems. The combat is simple but rarely feels fair, with a knock-back effect that relies on first-hitting. Guns provide a hefty damage but take up to 20 seconds to reload, leaving you into rely on lacklustre sword-swinging.
The erratic lock-on system makes crowd control a nightmare, which forces you to try and draw foes away and pick them off one at a time. Until you've spent at least eight hours in the game, fighting three pigs at once is suicide. Let that thought sink in.
Invest money wisely and you'll face fewer problems, but with so much to choose from it's hard to know where to start. Spending Glory to level up your basic traits gives you access to a better range of skills, but learning these requires hard-earned gold. Learning new skills is important for progression, but you'll also need money to buy better gear. There's very little guidance on what's good to buy early, which leads to a lot of expensive guesswork. As monsters don't respawn there's no chance of grinding your way to a better life, and instead you're left roaming a forbidding landscape full of higher-level enemies - like pigs - hoping you'll find some loot lying around.
At the same time, this clunkiness makes it charming. For roughly 500 gold you can either learn the how to kick things, or you can learn how to take control of monkeys. When people complained about the lack of choice in Mass Effect 3, I'm pretty much sure this was what they were getting at. Killing turkeys drops 'Raw Chicken' loot, while getting pinned down by a leopard brings up the best QTE ever: a picture of the yellow Y button pops up, with text beneath that simply reads "GET RID OF".
Experiences like this keep it inadvertently funny throughout, even while the expletive-laden dialogue falls flat. Monkey Island fans will spot plenty of references, and the early quest design brings back some fond memories as you talk to the governor, explore the island, and complete a series of tasks so you can become a real pirate. There's something strangely pleasant about meandering through the jungle and trying to find treasure, even while the game itself piles obstacles in your way.
Once you've burned through the initial madness of random discovery, the game runs out of stuff to show you. Most of the islands look the same, and you'd have to be mental to keep playing for the story. The combat isn't fair, the aesthetics are grim, and at times it's uncomfortably racist and sexist. But while it's an anachronistic mess of a game, it's weirdly compulsive regardless. Pieces of eight out of ten, then.
Swash-buckles under its own weight
- Strangely endearing
- Frustrating combat
- Looks dreadful
- Unforgiving skill system