Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 03/24/02 | Genre: Action
The latest offering from Electronic Arts is not a sports title, instead we are treated to a game about pirates. In the past, not too many games based on pirates have been successful. In fact, only Sega's Skies of Arcadia really comes to mind. Oh, and let's not forget that Vyse and his crew weren't just pirates, they were air pirates. Well, I digress, Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat is grounded wholly into the sea-faring pirate world, and has a few unique features that set it apart from the pirate games of old. In the Xbox port of this title from developer Westwood, I found that all elements were just as solid as the PS2 original.
The plot centers around our attractive heroine, Katrina de Leon. When you begin a new game, you see a scene in which an old pirate man begins to tell a young girl about the legendary ship, The Wind Dancer (the game is actually the man recounting Katrina's adventures). The Wind Dancer was Katrina's ship, and apparently it was pretty popular at some point in time. Anyway, you watch as Katrina's father is killed and when she rushes in to help him, he informs her that her mother was actually a famous pirate. He didn't want her to know for fear that she would follow in her footsteps. Oh well, can't blame the guy for trying, eh? Katrina immediately sets out to determine her mother's identity, and to seek revenge against the man who murdered her father.
The cool thing about this game is the nice mixture of combat on land and combat at sea. Both types of fighting are fairly simple, and more fun than in most games. Fighting on land is handled like combat in the N64 Zelda games, but with no lock on. Katrina can jump, defend, and string together several attacks to create combos. Also, as you fight, a small circle in the lower lefthand corner of the screen will begin to fill up. Once it is full, you can unleash a special attack with the square button. You can also allow the circle to fill three times before using the attack to add on more damage. Kat's main weapon is a sword, but there are several other weapons that can be used as well. For instance, you can toss miniature powder kegs for some explosive fun, or stop a fleeing foe in his tracks by planting a throwing knife in his back.
Fighting on the water is pretty fun too, but can be frustrating at times. Basically, all you need to know is that you move your ship around with the left analog stick and fire your cannons with the X button. Just like on land, additional items can be used at sea as well. You can toss a flaming pot aboard the enemy's ship, or use stink bombs to disrupt their concentration. All throughout the world, there are enemy forts that can be taken over by shelling the heck out of them, and once you take them over you can purchase weapons for your ship, or on occasion, upgrade to a new ship. New ships move better, and can hold more cannons per side giving you greater damage potential against enemy ships.
Other gameplay elements are fairly typical for adventure games. There's an awful lot of collecting various items during your quest. Mostly, you'll be after gold so you can afford new items and ship upgrades. However, you may also find the aforementioned additional weapons, or a special seashell. These shells are scattered all over the world, and finding one will update the "scrapbook" on the main menu; each time you find one, a new picture will become available for your viewing pleasure. You will also want to hunt down various types of keys. There are different types of treasure chests throughout the islands, and each type can only be opened by using the corresponding key.
The graphics in the game are pretty impressive. Unlike the dull, uninspired levels found in many of today's games, the colorful environments in Pirates are actually fun to explore. Some of the enemy character models are a tad on the generic side, but Kat's character is nicely animated, although her movements are a bit limited. The game's soundtrack is actually pretty good. You won't be rockin' out to it, but it does have some nice, uhm... piratey tracks that go great with the on-screen action. Admittedly, the voice acting is of the cheese variety, but that's pretty much expected in a video game.
The game begins to run into problems as you get further into it, mostly due to it's length. A long game may not be a bad thing, but after a few hours, the combat and exploring become repetitive, and this is a fairly lengthy title. Your attacks are limited when using only your sword, and Kat will perform the exact same combo time and again. Basically, if an enemy charges, you should just defend until he swipes at you, and then counter with an attack of your own. Ship battles also become tiring after a bit as all you need to do is circle the enemy ships while maintaining a constant barrage of cannon fire. Another drawback is the amount of backtracking required to open all the different chests. During your quest, you'll see several chests that you can't open early on because you lack the required key. This means that once you find the key, you must revisit every area you've been to and open those chests, and believe me, there are plenty of islands that you'll be visiting on your adventure.
Overall, Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat is a pretty decent title. It's certainly not the best game available right now, but you could do a lot worse with your fifty clams. If you're in need of a solid adventure title, then you may just want to check this out.