All of the monsters you’ll find terrorizing the open seas are fully realized and incredibly detailed. The mutated whale is one of the most intimidating monstrosities you’ll encounter, with its open wounds leaving its rib cage exposed, its tentacles and razor-sharp teeth like something out of a nightmare. Mermaids, one of the most common enemies in the game, are revolting—their gaping maws are lined with fangs, and their ghastly gills and fins make them a particularly frightening addition to the game. And don’t get me started on the cursed wanderers, who seem to have been lost at sea for so long that they’ve sprouted lobster claws for hands and sport particularly gross-looking goatees.
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I’ve been pleasantly surprised at just how fright-forward the art design is. It’s nice to interact with all of the protagonists from the films like Captain Jack Sparrow, Elizabeth Swann, Will Turner, and Captain Barbossa, but what drew me in was the fact that the game world surrounding the main characters was so faithful to the darker themes and designs that made the films so compelling. Even the game’s menus are creepy, like the smoky, hand-painted backdrops that await you in Shansa’s cave.
The most narrative-driven corner of the game, Shansa’s cave is something of a story mode that allows you to revisit classic moments, battles, and characters from the films by way of the sea witch delving deep into Jack Sparrow’s memories. You’ll relive commandeering the Black Pearl, which is subsequently helmed by Jack Sparrow’s “Shade,” a spectral double of the captain. You’ll go head-to-head with Davy Jones and his sea-rotted Flying Dutchman, and even join forces with the slimy scoundrel by adding him and the Dutchman to your fleet. The most recent film in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Dead Men Tell No Tales, is also represented in the campaign, and for my money, Salazar is the most terrifying character in the entire series (his image is featured prominently in the game’s menus, and no lie, his pale, crusty face makes my skin crawl every time I see it).
Aside from the game’s haunting imagery and overall vibe, what truly makes it such a great game to play leading up to Halloween is its thriving community. I’ve been a member of my alliance for a while now, and in addition to supporting each other with missions and amassing resources, there’s an ongoing chat that allows us to connect in a real-world context. If you’re a Halloween enthusiast looking for other people to talk horror movies with or even create a new, Halloween-themed alliance with, I guarantee you you’ll be able to find like-minded individuals in Pirates of the Caribbean: Tides of War. Setting sail to hunt down wailing banshees is absolutely better with friends.