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Game Review

The title Risen 2: Dark Waters might instantly make you think of zombies and, uh … a cruise ship? But in this case it's all about parrots, grog, buried treasure and eye patches: There be pirates in this here game! Of course, that doesn't mean black magic and the undead won't be showing up too. Pirates have their ways, you know. So let's start at the beginning.

Risen 2 sets sail by informing us that the earth has always held supernatural beings endowed with special powers. These creatures are "chosen by the gods to determine the fate of the world." The powerful figure at the core of this tale is a sea titan named Mara who's upsetting the balance of things by loosing a mighty kraken on the globe's precious sea lanes. And somebody has to do something about that.

Gamers play as that somebody, a fellow sent off to infiltrate a band of pirates and track down that half-woman/half-octopus titan villainess. Our nameless guy has no superpowers of his own, except for the ability to take off his shirt, wear an eye patch and toss back a bottle of rum with the best of 'em. And we learn pretty early on that he drinks so heavily in an attempt to blur the memory of horrible, unspeakable events from his past (you know, from the first Risen adventure).

With the help of a quick-to-quip pirate girlfriend, our hero must join the crew of her father, Captain Steelbeard, sail from sea port to sea port, solve a series of piratey quests, and search out artifacts and a magical kraken-slaying weapon. Avast ye, it's all in a freebooter's day's work.

Doing What Pirates Do
The gameplay itself mostly involves roaming the open world layouts of a handful of islands. You travel to these South Pacific locales by ship, but there's no real sailing of the high seas or seagoing battles in this buccaneer's adventure. It's mainly a series of land-bound open-sandbox goals without a whole lot of direction—challenging you to determine your own journey. Generally that means an ongoing, and often longwinded, string of negotiations with island natives, parlays with grog-swilling drunkards, some sidestepping of political obstacles and the digging up of hidden treasures.

Along the way, of course, are scores and scores of sword-swinging, spear-chucking, musket-blazing battles with squinty-eyed ne'er-do-wells, shadowy cave-dwellers and curse-drawn creatures such as giant crabs and voodoo-created rock monsters. The waters are rife with snapping alligators and the jungles full of sharp-clawed apes and jaguars. And our nameless guy seems to be the only one prepared to kill 'em all. The hacking and shooting is mostly bloodless—and often grinding and boring, to tell the truth—but deadly looking nonetheless.

You gain experience points as you make your way through the jungle foliage day-by-day, but you have to find special trainers who demand hard-earned gold to help you upgrade your sword-swinging, gunsmithing, thieving or voodoo-casting ways.

That black magic stuff? It involves attack-centric magical blasts, cursed pirates and voodoo doll control of another character. And at one point you must make your way to the island of the dead to face off with Underworld monstrosities and speak with the not-so-dearly departed.

M Stands for More than Monkey
Those instances of killing and black magic, along with a dash of skin (Mara wears something like an alligator scale bikini top, for instance) and suggestive dialogue from some of the female characters may or may not have been enough to earn the game an M rating in today's sliding-scale world. But it's certainly enough to earn ferocious frowns from parents everywhere. And what really puts the "arrgh!" in this game is the foul and often profane bilge rats that fill every other line of peg leg dialogue. F- and s-words (and a variety of other coarse pirate verbiage) are seemingly prized parts of every character's vocabulary—from corsair to town official to port floozy to witch doctor to female titan villain.

The game reviewer for ign.com put it this way: "Talk between NPCs [non-player characters] is often obscene, full of profanity, fierce selfishness, and unapologetic racism and sexism. There are no idealistic heroes in the world of Risen 2, only the ignorant, crude and the lazy."

Aye, aye and aye, me buckos. I'm one who wholeheartedly agrees. There might be a few gaming spoils to be had amongst the Jolly Rodgers, grizzled pirates, humid jungles and dank caves. But that don't make this a video game journey worth settin' your sails for.

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