March 16, 2002
Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat - Review
Release Date Publisher Developer Players Rating Price
22/2/2002Electronic ArtsWestwood Studios1G8+$99.95
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Kat is a pretty good looking pirate.
Westwood Studios have been quite disappointing over the last couple of years. Their once all conquering Command and Conquer series seems to be floundering due to some uninspiring updates, while the development team has been struggling to for inspiration since their aquisition by Electronic Arts a couple of years ago. Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat is a massive departure for the development team with RTS (Real Time Strategy) being replaced by a 3D action adventure game on the Playstation 2.

Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat follows the adventures of the pirate Katarina de Leon who is haunted by the mysterious death of her mother, Mara. Katarina's mother died when Katarina was but a little girl. She was 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. These were 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 also embarks on a voyage of discovery -- learning her past as well as her destiny. This adventure takes her across five mysterious lands and pits her against many foes on both land and sea.

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The ship battles do look stunning.
Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat is actually split up into two main sections. One of these sections is the 3D ship battles, which are very similar to those in Psygnosis' under-respected Overboard on the PSOne. You ships are loaded with canons which must be aimed accurately in order to inflict damage on the opponents before they cause enough damage to sink your ship. These battles are terrific fun, with slightly customizable ships which get bigger and stronger as the game progresses. At times you will be taking on several enemies at once and if you are good enough you can line up your ship so the canons hit ships on both sides of your own at the same time. It must be said that while this section of the game is terrific fun it lacks some smaller details such as deciding where to place the canons, or the ability to board the enemies ships to take them out with hand-to-hand combat. Perhaps not as gratifying overall as Psygnosis' classic, but it's enjoyable nonetheless.

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Sadly, land combat doesn't impress.
The second area of the game is the land based adventure sections where you explore islands and take on enemies in hand-to-hand combat. Katarina has a moderate number of moves on offer such as double jumps and blocking, but the items available for use are more impressive. These items range from food to replenish health to powder kegs and throwing knives to inflict damage on other pirates. Unfortunately, this section of the game is the least impressive. It's not uncommon to walk through vast areas of land without an enemy in site, and little to do. When you do encounter enemies the battles are fairly intense but the AI can be severaly lacking. I have seen a group of several enemies throw powder kegs towards Katarina, but actually hit each other causing their own deaths.

There are still a couple of neat features in this 3D adventure component. Each level has a jump point/portal where when you get to the end of a level and defeat the enemies you open up a jump point back to the entrance to the level, and your ship. Hidden treasure is also handled rather neatly with vibrations used on the controller to notify you when you approach hidden treasures. The closer you get the harder the vibration levels are. Treasures collected can be used in ports to buy items for your ship to build it up, or to but items for Katarnia to use on the exploration levels.

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The ships are fairly well detailed.
As with the gameplay the graphics in Pirates vary between excellent and disappointing. The sea battles are wonderful to look at with some wonderful explosions, particle effects and detail on the ships. The water is equally impressive as it ripples and has a wonderful transparent look to it with fish visable underwater. Unfortunately, the land based exploration levels can be quite bland with some average texturing and uninspiring layouts. As the game progresses things get a little better but more variety in the enemies would have also been nice to see. The animation stands out as one of the games stronger points as the enemies all look wonderful when running around.

Upon first reading of the specs for this game the DTS 4.0 sound captures the imagination. How cool was this game going to be with the added quality of surround sound? We all know how much better SSX Tricky is with DTS sound. Sadly, the difference with this game isn't that great at all. Despite the slightly higher sound quality and the surround effects no amount of quality can save this game from poor dialogue and mediocre music. The characters are all very bland and uninspirational. Even Katarina seems to lack a lot of personality. The sound effects are quite adequate but never really jump out and grab you as something specia.

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The lands can lack detail.
Sadly, Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat isn't as good as it should be. The ship battles are intense, beautiful and action packed, although lacking some touches to make it great, while the land based battles seem to lack a lot of excitement and intensity. As you explore sparse landscapes, fight enemies with dubious AI and search for hidden treasure you will be wishing it was over so you can get back onto the ship as soon as possible. It's not that this is a bad game overall, far from it, but you get the sense Westwood should have spent a little more time adding more features to both sections of the game. This is a game crying for a sequel as with a few refinements and more enemies it could have been a terrific game. As it is Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat a little disappointing.

GRAPHICSThe water battles are spectacular, the land action mediocre.
SOUNDPretty good DTS 4.0 sound effects and music, voice acting is variable.
GAMEPLAYOne of the biggest mixed bags ever, from very exciting to very dull.
VALUEIt's not too likely that you will play through it more then once.
OVERALLWith a little more time and effort Westwood could have had a massive hit on their hands. Sadly, mainly due to a lack of enemies, it falls flat.

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