I started playing Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat on a PS2 and switched over to my Xbox just as soon as I could lay my hands on my own copy of this fantastic 3D adventure game. Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat is a cross between a really good seafaring game and a really great third-person adventure game. And the best part for me was that the controls were almost exactly the same in both modes and over both platforms, so I could switch back and forth.
You play as Katarina de Leon, or Kat, the daughter of an island governor and a pirate queen. The adventure starts when pirates kill your father. As he lies by his desk dieing, he pens Kat a note telling her about her mother, a secret he kept from her in hopes that she would not follow the same path. Seeing as she is a pirate to begin the game, its probably a safe assumption that his plan had failed at that point anyway. Guess pirating was too much in Kat’s blood. Anyway, Kat decides to avenge his death and seek out the hidden treasure left by her mother. Armed with her mothers pirate flag, she begins her adventure.
Well, you don’t quite begin right away. First you have to win a ship-to-ship combat before you go to a cut scene with your fathers note. The game is liberally filled with cut scenes. Many of them involve you sinking other ships. You get to watch cannon balls in slow motion as they fly into the enemy ship. The other cut scenes consist of short story telling segments. For example, in an early cut scene, an old pirate that knew your mother thanks you for rescuing the city from the grasp of the evil pirates and comes with you to show you the way to a new island. Westwood did a nice job with the cut scenes. If you are fighting a battle with a ship and a fort at the same time, and you take out the fort, the game skips the cut scene of the fort surrendering, because you still have the other ship blasting you. Basically, you are treated to cut scenes only when they won’t get you killed, though story-based cut scenes happen at the end of chapters and after important events no matter what. But the game is essentially paused while you watch the movies so no harm is done.
The game itself consists of an adventure where you explore islands like an Age of Sail Lara Croft, and a ship combat game where you sail within the islands on each individual map as well as sail between island chains on a big world map.
The world is huge and allows for a good, long gaming experience as you explore the world. From the sea, the detail of each island is good enough that you can sail around and see what you are going to be facing, however, nothing is quite as good as the real thing. Once you find a dock, you can park your boat and head inland. There is treasure lying about, as well as in locked or buried chests.
Kat has the unique ability to sense buried treasure, which is represented by the controller vibrating. The stronger the vibration, the closer you are to the treasure. Some of the chests are locked with different keys. You have to find or complete a quest to get all the different keys.
There are also enemies on the island that will try to stop you, including pirates with swords, pistols, and explosives. There are also creatures including crabs, apes and wolves. And every once in a while, you get to take on a boss, like Blackbeard, a giant crab, or a demon. There are tricks you will have to learn to take on the bosses, but I am not going to ruin it for you here.
In combat Kat can swing her sword, and also make a special attack with her sword every once in a while. She can also block attacks, a handy thing especially as the opponents start to gang up on her. Can also has items that she can use including throw weapons, explosives and sleeping potions. Along the way she also picks up idols that have special powers like fire, ice, earthquakes and more. Some of the controls carry over between ship and shore. The attack button makes Kat swing her sword as well as shoot the cannons on the ship. The left controller moves Kat and the ship, and the right controller controls view.
One of the differences is that the jump key on land is the special wind orb (speed burst) on the ship. I found both the controls on the Xbox and PS2 to be very user friendly and set up to allow for really cool acrobatic feats. The ship also has special equipment including wood and sail to repair the ship on the go, as well as interchangeable figureheads that have a special ability. My favorites are the one that allows you to ram other ships and not take as much damage, and of course the lighting blast.
Please don’t get me wrong. Fighting ship to ship requires some skill. You start out the game in a ship with a cannon facing left and one facing right. And your best bet is to get where the other guy can’t shoot you, stay there, and blast him. Actually that holds true on most encounters. I guess, what I am trying to say is pick your battles and keep the wind orb charged up for a quick exit. Remember though, that as you spend your treasure to upgrade your ship, the tactics change. As you pick up treasure you can spend it at the forts you capture to upgrade or improve your ship. A gunboat bristling with cannons can easily take out island patrol boats without much of a bother.
Also keep your eye out for smuggler shacks. They are the place to pick up the stuff that Kat carries with her on her island adventures.
Overall the graphics are not that impressive. They look the same on the Xbox as they do on the PS2 and I have seen better on both. That said, the character animation is well done, and the overall design comes across as very pleasing. The frame rate on the Xbox is an improvement over the PS2, but that is the only noticeable difference. The lighting effects are well done and are often used as a clue on how to get where you need to go.
The background sounds are very good in Pirates too. During combat you can hear the clang of the swords, and during sailing you can here Kat shout out orders to the crew. Over all there is a nice orchestral melody playing in the background.
You are probably thinking that once you solve this game you will be done. However if you enjoy the ship-to-ship combat, you can continue to play battling your friends to see who is the better sailor and tactician. The 2-player mode is completely customizable letting you select ship type and other little details that make for a good challenging match.
Overall, Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat is fantastically fun. This is not a game that pushes the envelope by any measure, but as adventure games go, this is probably the best one out for the Xbox right now. The combination of graphics, sound, and an easy interface really makes for a lot of fun exploration. Westwood Studios brought all the right pieces together to make a great adventure and seafaring game that I rate at 4.5 GiN Gems.