Q: Whos a
pirates favorite video game hero?
A: LARRRRRa Croft.
At least, this is what Electronic Arts would have us believe, as Pirates: The
Legend of Black Kat offers little more than a watered down Tomb Raider style
action/adventure game with some swordplay, ship-to-ship combat, and yet another
big-bosomed, tough-chick-with-an-accent Lara Croft clone.
In this case, our daring adventurer is Katarina de Leon. Thats Kat for
short, so yes, her name translates to Kat the Lion. Uh-huh. Anyway, for most of her life
Kat has been running around thinking that she is just an average, run-of-the-mill girl in
a corset and pantaloons. Turns out daddy left out the part about her being the daughter of
Mara Rousseau, leader of the rich and powerful Pirates of Skull Cove. Mara disappeared
long ago, and is presumed dead. Daddys luck isnt much better. Kat comes home
one day to find her house burning down and him slain within. So she does what any
red-blooded pirates daughter would do; she vows to unlock the secrets of her past
and avenge her father. That is where you come in.
gameplay in Pirates is divided into two areas: fighting and exploring on land, or fighting
and exploring in your pirate ship. Basically, the way it works is you sail around in your
ship, fending off attacking pirate ships and destroying enemy forts. When you find a port
you anchor your ship, get out, and walk around looking for treasure and fighting pirates,
skeletons, and giant crabs. Sounds like fun, right? Well, it is, for a while.
Lets start with the land-based portion, or Captains Mode, as this
is where most of the game takes place. This is your standard 3rd person action
fare. Kat can walk, run, jump, attack, block, etc. Your objectives are to explore, talk to
people, and find treasure, keys, or clues that will allow you to purchase new weapons,
ship upgrades, and aid in your quest for revenge. This is all fine. The control system is
set up well, especially the unique camera control that uses the right analog stick to
rotate around Kat, as well as zoom in and out. You will likely be entertained long enough
to explore a few islands. You may even smile the first time a pirate looks you in the eye
and says "arrr, matie!" The problem is that the gameplay is over simplified.
Each island contains only a few tasks to complete, and every one of them is
basically "find this object and take it here." The entire Captains mode is
essentially an Easter egg hunt. There are no puzzles to be solved, or actions to perform
(other than killing everyone in sight) in order to obtain these objects. When you are
close enough to an object you need your controller vibrates and a "special
event" icon pops up. Then you press a button, and that event happens. If it is buried
treasure, you press the button and the treasure chest springs out of the ground in front
of you, no digging necessary. If it is a gate, you press the button to use the key, which
you probably found in the treasure chest. You dont really even have to find your way
around, as convenient teleporter rings (beam me up, Smee) are located throughout the
islands, and they pretty much take you where you need to go. To top it all off, the
fighting system is extremely shallow. You swing your sword using the attack button, but
your entire repertoire of moves consists of tapping it up to three times for a triple hit
combo. This isnt much considering the swordplay in Metal Gear Solid 2, which
isnt even the primary mode of combat.
The Ship Mode is a novel addition to the genre, but suffers from the same
problem. On the surface, it is very cool. When you see a ship on the horizon (actually it
just pops up out of nowhere, but more on that later), you can bet a battle is about to
ensue. Since you can only attack from the fixed cannon positions on the sides of your
vessel, the trick is to work your way into a position where you can shoot them but they
can't shoot you. Pulling up side to side and blowing them out of the water will work with
smaller ships, but you get worn down pretty fast. Your ship takes damage to its hull and
its sails, which can be repaired if you have purchased or looted the right materials. You
can also ram other ships, which can be a good tactic, but you will take some damage.
Again, the control setup is tight, and it retains that cool camera thing. But the action
is too arcadey to stay interesting for long. Basically, all you are doing is moving and
firing. Your ship has no physics guiding it whatsoever. You can accelerate, decelerate,
and rotate without help or hindrance from wind or water. There is even a turbo boost!
Thats right, you have the incredible ability to control the elements and send a gust
of wind your way with the touch of a button. Accelerate, pivot, fire, turbo
boostthis just doesnt feel like a pirate ship battle to me, especially when
this scenario could be played out so uniquely if done right.
The graphics are okay, with the occasional moment of brilliance. On land the game does
a great job of character textures and lighting effects. It doesnt do so well with
landscape textures, however, which are sparse and bland. The graphics really shine on the
high seas. The water is gorgeous, with nice wave modeling and real time object and light
reflections. There is a world underneath the waters surface as well. You will see
schools of fish, dolphins, and sunken ships. There are lots of little details during the
battles, also. The ships take visual damagetheir hulls shatter and splinter when hit
and the sails become tattered and torn. The battles are much more satisfying because of
this. Unfortunately, the game takes shortcuts wherever it can, and there is a lot of
draw-in, pop-up (hence the ships, and people, coming out of nowhere), and the frame rate
The sound is pretty disappointing, overall. Effects, like the clang of swords, the
click and scuttle of giant crabs, are great. The voice acting is not so hot. Of course,
the actors werent given much to work with. As I said, the first time you here
"arrr, matie," its kind of cool. But the dialogue never rises above that
level of interaction, and it gets repetitive fast. The music tries, but never inspired me.
In the end, the biggest crime this game commits is that it doesnt really have any
fun with its premise. I mean, come onswashbuckling, buried treasure, pirate ships
dueling on the open sea, giant crabs and skeletons? This could have had the best of Errol
Flynn and Ray Harryhausen all rolled into one! Instead, it is bland and humorless. At one
point you even run into a mermaid. But is there a sense of wonder or amazement? Is there
any smart dialogue or humor to punctuate the encounter? Nope. You see her and she tells
you to go find a flower. Thats the best this game is going to offer, and its
too bad. For those who cant get enough of 3rd person action/adventure
titles, and those who drool over heroines with impossible breasts and funky accents, you
will get some entertainment from this game. But I would say that we are still waiting for
a truly great pirate game.