Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat
I would like to start this review by noting that until a month ago, I was completely unaware of Pirates’ existence. But after spending some time with this mysterious game I feel like I’ve stumbled upon an absolute gem. How Westwood, the folks best known for the Command & Conquer series, could create a third-person adventure game that succeeds on nearly every level is beyond me. Whether you’re running around on foot searching for the game’s hidden treasures or engaging in heated naval battles on the salty brine, Pirates always entertains. OK, so the character design (including the main pirate babe, Katarina) tends to fall into the pit of cliches, but the gameplay makes up for it. Katarina controls like a nimble tittle dancer (albeit a nimble little dancer with wicked swordplay combos and a host of magical attacks), and the enemies she meets are diverse in both looks and their offensive and defensive strategies. Still, let’s not kid ourselves. The coolest moments in the game occur when you take to the high seas and kick battleship ass. While you start the game with a barely effective sailboat and a couple of cannons, by game’s end you upgrade that dinghy to a massive man-o’-war complete with the game’s finest arsenal. Blowing ships up and knocking down massive land-based battlements rank among the best times I’ve had in a video game. But enough talk-time to sink me some ships.
For a game so short on looks and character, Black Kat is surprisingly engaging. Sure, the pirate dialogue is ridiculous and cheesy, but I enjoyed combing island after island for secrets and treasure. Kat’s combat revolves around a single four-hit combo, but tedium isn’t an issue thanks to the number of enemies you’ll be up against. The ship battles are what really bring atmosphere to the game; with the moon reflecting in the crystalline waters, Black Kat’s mood just clicks. You feel like your boat is really your boat, and you really have to scrimp and save to upgrade it. Don’t take BK too seriously, and as an action-RPG lark, it’s among the best on the PS2.
Avast ye mateys, hoist the sails! ’Tis a pirate game off the starboard bow. But is the young lass seaworthy? Arr, I regret to inform ye that she’s taking on water. Ya see, despite her beautiful graphics, the repeated hack-and-slash gameplay gets tiresome quickly. Sure, the island environments and enemies may look unique, but every time you step off the boat, the action’s always the same. Enemies are scattered all about, but not a single house or village can be found. Strange.... Ship-to-ship battles on the high seas provide some excitement at first, but even those shortly become just another annoyance. Pirates is simply an average game in pretty packaging.
Download Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat
When Katarina de Leon saw the islands of the Five Seas pillaged and plundered by Captain Hawke and his Crimson Guard, she could not sit by idly and watch. She got together a crew and ship christened "Wind Dancer" and raided Crimson Guard ships and used the stolen booty to help the innocents. What she didn't know is that she was beginning to follow in her mother's wake as a pirate. Now join Kat on her quest to liberate the various islands of the Five Seas and find out who her mother really was in Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
There aren't a whole lot of pirate video games out there so I was rather excited to break this one open and see what it was all about. I must say I was very pleased with what I saw from the moment I turned on the Xbox. First off, the game loads fairly quickly and doesn't put you through a whole lot of company splash screens. In addition they can all be skipped as well. This is a nice touch that more games should employ. When you get to the main menu you'll see several options including starting or continuing a game, sea battle, scrapbook, and options.
In general this is a 3D-action/adventure game. The game takes place in two main scenarios. The first is captain mode. Captain mode has you take over the movements of Katarina as she explores and battles her way from island to island. She's pretty easy to control although I do need to mention that when you stop running in any direction she always seems to take an extra step or two which makes the control seem sloppy at first. After playing the game for all of five minutes I didn't even notice anymore and haven't noticed at all except when the game was begun. Since you never have to make any real fine movements in the game it's of no consequence anyway. In addition to walking or running around, Kat can also perform special actions, jump around, block enemy hits, and fight as well as, if not better than any swashbuckler you've ever seen. The fighting and blocking is a very simple interface consisting of a single button to attack and a single button to block. Although simple to operate, you'll get to watch Kat pull off some really cool looking swordplay. After you've had enough successful hits with your sword you'll build up a stronger attack that can do devastating damage to nearby enemies. The enemies come in dozens of shapes and sizes from sword-wielding and musket-toting pirates, to giant killer crabs to angry gorillas to haunted skeletons to screeching ghosts to even cannon turrets and many, many more. Each set of islands you visit have different kinds of enemies that get progressively more challenging to defeat. In addition to the enemies scattered about, there are also boss enemies. Defeating the bosses requires a lot of brains and brawn and figuring out how to damage them is often a puzzle in itself. Occasionally you'll meet up with interesting characters that will sell you items, give you hints as to where you need to go next or give you a special quest to complete to gain other important items such as charts of other islands.
Kat has the pockets of a true video game adventurer'she can carry dozens of different items yet her pockets never look bulky. Some of the items you can use are throwing knives, mini powder kegs and enchanted tikis that can do serious damage to groups of closing enemies. You can also find better and stronger swords. Defeated enemies will often leave some type of loot behind such as gems or bags of gold doubloons. They can also leave health items like fruit, hearts and, yep, the magical potion grog. Whenever Kat drinks grog she lets out an "Aaaaah...Grog!" Nice auditory touch.
Littered around the islands are hundreds of treasure chests. Some chests are unlocked and many are locked and can only be opened with the appropriate key once found. Some chests are even buried. Finding buried treasure is an interesting task. When you come near a buried chest, Kat lets you know she can sense or smell it. The controller then begins to vibrate and the closer you get, the more the controller will vibrate until eventually the dig icon appears (activated by the special action button). In addition to getting items from defeated enemies or opened chests, you'll also occasionally find smugglers that will sell you their wares. Unfortunately you cannot carry any grog with you, though. There are also seashells scattered about the islands and for each three seashells you find you will unlock a picture in the scrapbook from the game's main menu. The scrapbook just shows lots of neat concept art for the game.
The game's second gameplay scenario is ship mode. When Kat boards her ship, the "Wind Dancer," you'll take command and cruise around the islands searching for ports to land at, fighting enemy ships, and liberating towns by destroying enemy forts and cannon emplacements. Liberating towns has an added bonus of letting you purchase items for your ship. Like Kat on land, the Wind Dancer also has a good size cargo hold and can hold various items such as wood and sails to fix your ship. It can also hold weapons such as chain shot for shredding enemy sails, stink bombs that make it impossible for the enemy to aim at you, and black powder mines as well as several others. As you progress through the game you can upgrade to bigger and better ships that carry more cargo and better weapons. In addition, each ship upgrade also allows you to add more cannons to your arsenal. You can also pick up additional magical figureheads that attach to the bow of the ship and give the ship some sort of special ability such as better ramming ability or being able to blow enemy ships away from you.
The ship controls are very responsive (at least very responsive for a large ship). You control the steering and sails. Raising or lowering the sails affects the speed of the ship. In addition the Wind Dancer has a special ability to fill the sails with a burst of wind for quick getaways (in other words, a turbo boost, but that just doesn't sound fitting in a game like this, now does it?). You can also switch and use items as necessary, the most importantly being your cannon fire. Your crew is fairly competent, as their aim with the cannons is good as long as the cannons are facing their target. Turning enemies into cannon fodder builds up a special power shot that does some serious damage to whatever it hits. The way the special shot fires depends on which figurehead you're currently using. Overall the control is fairly easy to handle although it takes some time to learn to properly do battle with other ships and against forts especially because of the camera angle handling.
Unlike most other games in the action genre, the camera doesn't really get in the way much. The hardest part of handling it in ship mode is making sure it's facing your enemy so you can see what's going on. There's also an option to immediately move the camera to the port, starboard, bow, or aft section of the ship. But the best and most useful camera movement of all is being able to zoom in and out. I found when in battle that it's easier to leave the camera zoomed in, otherwise it can be hard to see the enemy cannonballs coming at you. Unlike ship mode the camera in captain mode does not stay behind you as you turn, but it doesn't get in the way either. I found that in captain mode it's easiest to play with the camera all the way zoomed out so you can see what's going on around you but you can manipulate it as you like. Other games should take a cue from this game on how to make the camera manageable.
In either mode you have the ability to view the captain's log. The captain's log shows you the status of your game in general by displaying charts from all of the islands you've visited including locations of treasure chestss and other important islands. It also shows you what tasks and quests you need to complete, how many chests you've opened and seashells you've found as well as the total for that particular set of islands on a chart. I particularly liked how the game shows you the totals of everything in the game so you have an idea of whether or not you've found everything on a particular island. The map also shows if other ships are nearby as well as if the local fort is occupied by the Crimson Guard or has been conquered by you.
In addition to the normal game there's also sea battle mode. As you might guess, the sea battle takes place in ship mode with you against one other ship, a fleet of ships, or another person. You can select one of many different types of ships including some you may battle against in the normal game, but never actually use (and you'll be glad when you see how weak some of these are). This is a good way to practice maneuvering your ship and toggling and using various items in the heat of battle. Like the normal game, you can battle in several different environments too.
Arrr, matey, ye best be removit' that eye patch so both eyes can savor all that scrumptious eye booty. In other words, this game looks incredible. The sky and the way it reflects against the rippling waves is gorgeous. The water looks so real you'll want to get a towel to dry off your TV. Most of the effects in the game are pretty subtle, but masterfully created. For instance, take a close look at the wake of the ships as they pass or zoom in on Kat herself and watch her hair blow in the wind. There are some more apparent effects such as explosions and certain magical items light up your screen like the neon in a Vegas casino. Although the game graphics are incredible, the full motion video graphics aren't quite as good as they appear to be less sharp than the game graphics.
The audio is as great as the graphics but since pirates don't wear ear patches I can't make any silly comments like above. The sounds in this game are very detailed and are quite fitting. You'll notice a ton of background sounds such as the local wildlife doing what they do, listening to the ocean waves lapping against the shore, and hearing the creaks of your ship as it sails along. You use the sound to your advantage to hear nearby would-be assailants or cannon turrets firing upon you. The sounds can also confuse you slightly. One time I thought someone was firing cannonballs at me but it really just turned out to be dolphins jumping out of the water near my ship. The sounds of battle will fill your speakers with the clanks and swooshes of swords swinging, cannons booming, unfriendly ghosts screeching, and muskets firing as well as others. Each important character has his or her own distinct voice. Most notable is the slight Spanish accent in Kat's voice'very nice touch. The music is as dramatic and exciting as the situation you're in but does not play constantly. You'll hear a song for a while and eventually it will die out leaving you with other sounds to keep you company for a while. I found the music only adds to the game and never gets annoying at all.
The multiplayer takes place only in sea battle mode. It plays almost the same as any other ship battle except that you cannot manipulate the camera at all. This is due to the multiplayer not being shown in split screen mode. While not quite as easy to control ships or aim cannons in this mode, you'll both have the same disadvantage so it's all fair. What isn't fair is a gunboat against a galleon. Of course if you're in that situation it's your own fault because you can pick what ship you want to use and what color sails that ship will have. During battles, crates will pop up out of the water that have various random items in them. Multiplayer can only take place between two people.
I felt this game was pretty original in both theme and general gameplay. There aren't many pirate games out there to begin with so it's a refreshing change from all the other thematic clones on the market. While the running about and fighting isn't necessarily all that original, the addition also commanding the ship as an integral part of the gameplay adds a lot to this game. I also thought how they handled finding buried treasure with the vibrating controller was a very innovative touch.
This is a fairly thick manual and what makes it seem even thicker is that smallish print is used. Fortunately most everything you need to know to play the game is introduced as the game progresses. While there isn't actually a tutorial there are game tips that will occasionally pop up on screen (these can be disabled in the options). After playing the game for a little while you should browse the manual to make sure you don't miss anything not mentioned in the online game tips.
This is the best game I've played in a long, long time and I found myself totally addicted to it. The theme is fresh and the multi-mode gameplay is outstanding. As a reasonably good game player, I found the challenge to be just right for me in normal mode although there is an easy and hard mode too. The amount of available items to find, quests to complete, enemies to conquer, and locations to explore will keep you busy for days without a dull moment. Simply put, this game is a lot of fun right out of the box (or DVD case as the case might be) and it only gets better as you get deeper into the game. This review really cannot do the game justice as you just need to see and play it for yourself, which is why I give it a score of 89.
Having made many enemies, the leader of the just (yet cutthroat) band of pirates known as the "Pirates of Skull Cove," Mara Rousseau made the ultimate sacrifice, leaving behind a husband and daughter. Not wanting his young daughter to follow in her mother's ways, Governor Marcus De Leon never mentioned the adventurous tales Katarina's mother had lived.
But being a pirate was in Young Katarina's blood and as she grew to womanhood, she realized that she could not sit idly by as the bloodthirsty Captain Hawke and his Crimson Guard slaughtered the innocent people that resided in the isles of her Father's Governorship. Assembling a group of men who were of like mind, Katarina flew the flag of the pirate in an attempt to stop the increasing madness brought on by the Crimson Guard. But the final straw was when Hawke himself killed Katarina's father, setting in motion a series of vicious battles both on the high seas and on land.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, especially if that woman is a pirate.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat, is a mix of 3rd person adventuring, overhead view ship combat with a dash of RPG elements thrown in. As the heroine, Kat De Leon, your quest is to rid the "Five Seas" of the oppressive Crimson Guard and its vile Leader Captain Hawke. Your travels will move you all over the world map where you will constantly do battle against other ships and with enemy forts in an attempt to liberate the lands. But I appear to getting ahead of myself'let's start with Kat.
The majority of Pirates is played via the 3rd person adventure where Kat is controlled simply by moving the left analog stick (called "Captains Mode"). She has a rather easy interface to pick up with the normal jump and attack buttons. But while adventuring in Captains Mode, as Kat does battle with other pirates, skeletons, giant crabs, etc., she powers up an icon located at the bottom left of the screen. This is her power attack icon, and when it gets filled, pressing the powered attack button will allow for an almost mystically powerful attack. If the icon is filled and the powered attack is not used, it continues to get more and more powerful until finally unleashing it on some poor unsuspecting gorilla, which will then become a poor unsuspecting dead gorilla. Other functions of the Captains Mode are the block button and the center up button. Essentially, since you control the chase camera with the right analog stick (like the game Oni) things can get a little confusing, so the programmers added the R3 button function which automatically centers you behind Kat.
As Kat adventures on the various islands, she will run into all sorts of strange characters, some good and some bad. Almost all of these characters will provide Kat with either an important clue or useful item, provided she does some sort of favor for them. Now considering that the game takes place over a huge group of islands, don't count on completing these "favors" very quickly. One that comes to mind is the Mermaid I ran into towards the beginning of the game. She asked that I find her five orchids and bring them to her. Well, that was a few hours ago and I have only found one orchid. I suspect that this favor will yield an important item or clue since it obviously will take a long time to complete. Add to this the fact that you find treasure chests all over that can only be opened with special keys, your health/hit point meter increase as you adventure, and obtaining more powerful weapons and pirate ships as they become available, and you can see why the game incorporates a slight RPG feel.
In addition to the the 3rd person perspective adventuring you will do, there is also the real time ship combat the game incorporates. In order to get from island to island, and in some cases the other side of an island, you use the ship mode. During the ship mode the camera pulls back to an extreme overshot (which is controlled by you) and you move around the sea in much the same way you move Kat around on and. Now just like real pirate ship combat, the idea is to attack your enemy from the side while either the bow or stern (front or back) is facing you. The reason for this is because the cannons on ships like this are mounted on the side. And trust me, it will take many, many shots to sink even an average ship. Fortunately, there are upgrades that may be purchased for your ship. Weapons like Chain shots, which employ a long spiked chain good for shredding sails, stink bombs for making your enemy miss his target due to the stench, and the ceramic jar filled with flammable liquid that ignites your opponents' sails. Eventually you will be able to upgrade to other ships, including some with multiple cannons on each side, some with better maneuverability and speed, and some with all of the above.
The game works on several different levels. First, the fact that it incorporates the same kind of feel a Sinbad movie does with its monsters and over the top villains makes the game a bit wider in its target audience. I was happy that there were monsters in the game, I really can't explain why, but it just seemed right to have strange things like monsters in this game. Second, the ease of how quickly you pick up on the controls is very important considering the two modes the game is played in almost the same way. Third, the game is just not complicated; it has depth and a non-linear scope, but it's not bogged down with an inordinate amount of characters, controls or other things that require you to upgrade your brain's memory.
Well, I honestly can't say there is anything truly compelling or defining about the games graphics. But then again, I can't say anything really bad about the graphics either. They are middle of the road. Fortunately, the game has no lag problems even when there are multiple bad guys trying to kill you. Unfortunately, the monsters and other enemies appear bland and uninspired. Each and every pirate that I have run into on the different islands all looks the same. Water effects are nowhere near the level of what I have seen in other PS2 games (Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance), but I have certainly seen worse. It's almost like they were aiming for average on this one.
The audio was a bit better. Katarina has a Spanish accent that works well for her character and at times throughout the game she will yell out some sort of battle cry "Fire!"
The cannon shots and other combat noises sounded pretty authentic. If you think about it, when's the last time you heard a cannon fire in a video game? The clang of sword combat and the swoosh of a knife flying through the air was also done appropriately. Also, when you blow up an enemy ship it sounds like a ship blowing up, very loud and effective. But still, the game's audio was overall, nothing to write home about. I wish they could have put the same chutzpah into the game's other areas as they did with combat.
The game has several unique things about it that I thought were worth mentioning.
- When you liberate an island, specifically the fort, the flag changes and that fort will fight on your side should naval combat come within the range of their cannons.
- When adventuring as Kat, your PS2 controller will vibrate if she gets close to buried treasure.
- Each ship has a figurehead on the bow. During your travels it is possible to find and install magical figureheads, which increases your ramming ability and possibly your weapons effectiveness.
- Once a ship is destroyed, treasure from it goes flying everywhere, pick it up before an enemy does!
- There are lots, and I mean lots of things to find in this game, including teleporters that can send you to other places.
- There's a character named Old Salty, and he's as ornery a pirate as you'll ever meet.
Ship combat is fun, and the programmers must have known that because the game offers a two-player mode called Sea Battle (single players who like the mode can play it too). In Sea Battle, there are three modes of play. The first is the quick mode where each player picks a ship (from the list of several) and dukes it out on the high seas. The second is the Ladder battle, where each player fights against one another but when you lose, you go up to the next more powerful ship, eventually ending with the Man O' War. The first person to lose their Man O' War, loses the battle. The last is a Fleet battle, where players go up against increasingly difficult fleets of AI controlled ships.
Hey, it's the most fun I have ever had playing a pirate game. I wished the visuals and audio were better but they do the job. An effective blend of two genres that as far as I know have never been melded together, and truth be told, I like this game. If you like 3rd person adventuring, then this game will do you no wrong, but if your tastes are for some other flavor then you'd do best to rent it.