January 9, 2002
Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat - Preview
Release Date Publisher Developer Rating Players Price
22/2/2002Electronic ArtsWestwood Studios1$99.95

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Westwood know how to make a woman.
No longer do Electronic Arts release half a dozen titles prior to Christmas then they announce almost a dozen more for March 2002. The first off the rank is the Westwood developed action/adventure game Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat, which is the new name for Pirates of Skull Cove. Don't ask me why the change. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that this is one very promising title. If the gameplay matches the graphics then we are in for a real winner. Prepare to play a game choc full of swashbuckling, sailing, and looting.

The game follows the adventures of Katarina de Leon. Katarina de Leon is a pirate, it's in her blood. This saucy pirate is one of the most beautiful women to ever swash a buckle, and yet Katarina is much more than a pretty face. She's tough and independent, with seawater swishing in her veins and a penchant for cutting loose on the high seas.

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The ship battles look impressive.
Perhaps the only thing that obsesses her more than the sea is the mysterious death of her mother, Mara, who died when Katarina was but a little girl. Raised by her father Marcus, who worries about the young Kat's wanderlust, Katarina doesn't yet know she's inherited her sailing spirit from her mother, the founder of the Pirates of Skull Cove, a legendary band of rowdy but righteous scoundrels who brought their own brand of fun to the seven seas.

As Katarina embarks on a voyage to avenge the death of her father at the hands of Captain Hawke, she'll also embark on a voyage of discovery -- learning her past as well as her destiny. This adventure that will take her across five mysterious lands and pit her against hordes of foes on both land and sea.

This game is really split up into two main areas. First the game includes a exploration/adventure component from the third person perspective where you can explore the five islands. Supplies need buying, treasure needs burying and a scallywags need scuttling. On the islands of the Five Seas you'll find many friends, but foes are numerous and devious. Like so many other adventure games teh foes all have their weaknesses will have to be discovered. To help you, your character has been equipped with a sword to attack enemies. If your in a bind and surrounded you may wish to block the enemies, or resort to a power attack.

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You can expect many sword fights.
Power attacks cannot be blocked by baddies and do much more damage than regular sword swings. There are three levels of power attack for each sword you find: the first two are the same for all swords, while the third is unique to each sword. Each sword you find will be more powerful than the one before it, so learn how and where each power attack works best. And best of all, since you recharge your power attacks in combat, you will never go for very long without it.

Katerina can also resort to using items while exploring the levels. One of the major items is a throwing knife which is an accurate weapon for attacking from a distance. Still these aren't as powerful as the sword but are easy to get a hold of during the game. The second items are small powder kegs packed with gunpowder and a short fuse. Katerina can lob these at foes and even cannon emplacements to cause a nice damaging explosion, transforming most large problems into several small pieces. Make sure that you are nowhere near where the things explode as they don't care who they blow up on.

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Is that red logo from Red Faction?
The second area is a battle simulation between pirate ships. If you remember the old Psygnosis title, Overboard then you wouldn't be too far off the mark in the style of game. It's a frantic blast fest, although you will have to carefully watch your ammunition. It's also possible to collect and buy power ups such as sail repairs and upgrades to the ships.

Sea combat is not just a question of firing your cannon until the other ship sinks. It demands a certain amount of strategy. Most ships can only fire from their port or starboard (left and right sides). Therefore, the best place for you to be is in front of or behind that ship. This is called crossing the T. Position yourself such that the enemy ship is pointing its front or rear to your side, and then open up with a broadside. You can bring all your guns to bear on the enemy and he can't fire back. Be careful though, some of the more powerful ships have front and rear-mounted cannons.

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Taking on a rather large skeleton.
Graphically Westwood Studios, who - for those of you unaware - are now owned by Electronic Arts, look to have done an admirable job with Pirates. The detail on the characters is quite impressive while the ships appear wonderfully detailed with some terrific explosions in the sea battles. The background texturing during the adventure sections looks a little bland at this stage, although in a cartoony game like this it shouldn't really matter to the end result.

Time will tell how well Westwood have moved from the real-time strategy genre to a more action/adventure styled game. The graphics certainly look the part and playing a pirate is usually quite entertaining. We can expect quite a bit of coverage when this game hits the shelves in late February.