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ups: Pirates, and lots of them; good sound; great concept for the game; did we mention the pirates?
downs: No sense of humor; control and camera issues; just kind of mediocre.

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Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat Review (Xbox)
game: Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat
three star
posted by: Aaron Stanton
publisher: Electronic Arts
date posted: 09:10 AM Wed May 29th, 2002

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\"It's nice to see a female in the lead role,\" a friend of mine commented one night when she saw me playing Pirates, complete with my \"well-endowed\" swashbuckling pirate running across the screen with saber in hand. I couldn't help but chuckle as I brought out my list of cheats and passed it over to her, fully prepared to crush her fragile feminist optimism of female characters in video games.

\"Do you want her bikini to be blue on top, or green?\" I asked. I like this sort of humor on my Xbox. At the risk of opening myself to possible accusations of male chauvinism, I find that games tend to be more fun when the developers had fun making them. It's unfortunate, then, that the main body of Pirates is deprived almost entirely of any similar characteristics. In WarCraft you could click multiple times on the units and listen to their witticisms. In Max Payne you had the constant \"who cut the cheese\" expression and his running commentary on the lifestyles of the rich and mafia-involved. In Pirates: The Legend of the Black Kat you have the outrageous accent of each of the characters, which at first is funny, until you hear it enough that you start to wonder if it was meant as a serious attempt. The game doesn't take itself too seriously; the cheats are there after all, but it would have been nice to see a little pun on social life, a random encounter from the days of Fallout 2 maybe. Pirates is a vast and interesting world full of various adventuresome treats: sea-life, treasures, a Captain Hook wanna-be or two. It's also an ideal world for the type of imaginative humor that would have made this game incredibly fun instead of just basically entertaining. This game could truly have been something else.

These pirates aren't to be confused with the ones we've been seeing in the news lately--the completely unenchanted kind; these are the pirates with the code, the noble streak that lets them rob vessels with Robin Hood flair. In the beginning there was your mother, a pirate once famous throughout the land (seas?). She disappeared in a time before you (Katarina de Leon) can remember, setting off to fight a final sea battle from which she never returns. Years later, your father is killed by a conquering pirate and uses his final dieing breath to inform you of your mother's past occupation. True to form, Katarina brushes up a pirate ship and crew in a matter of seconds (what, doesn't everyone have a couple in their basement?), and sets to the seas in search of the exciting and rewarding lifestyle promised by the mysterious word that has intrigued the popular mindset since Treasure Island: Pirates.

The game is divided into two parts: the sea parts, in which you command a ship on the beautifully rendered open seas, and the land parts, in which you carry a sword and traverse various islands on foot in what amounts to, as was mentioned in the PS2 review, \"a giant treasure hunt.\" Fitting, in some ways, for a pirate. The two playing styles are almost separate games. The majority of your time will be spent on the land. It is here that most of your major battles will occur and most of your significant meetings will happen. The controls are easy to learn for the most part, with a free flying camera that rotates around, and zooms in on, Katrina depending on what you do with your right analog stick. Aside from the occasional and rather minor frustrations with the camera angles (I've yet to run into a third person game that has perfected this completely), I have only three complaints. First off, you can't back-up during combat. You're sword fighting; you're swinging and stabbing--you want to back step to get that perfect angle to skewer the sucker... but no! Your character makes a full about turn every time you press the back button, a maneuver that both takes time and exposes your back to the enemy. Second, you can't look around. You want to see what's on the ledge above your head? Sorry. Want to look down to see what's on that ledge below? Sorry. Your camera moves in relation to the direction in which you are moving, and looking up and down is limited to zooming in and out on your character. Third, you can't jump to dodge many enemies. Try avoiding a cannonball by jumping out of the way. It's not going to happen.

That aside, though, Pirates is surprisingly addictive. When in combat the enemy blocks just the right amount to keep it interesting, and the expanse of the land keeps you exploring. At each group of islands you'll acquire some trinket or magic stone that opens up another setting, each with their own distinct differences. The Voodoo isles have monsters and music that are different from those on Winter and Volcanic, enough so that opening new areas of the map in search of your dead mother's lost treasure is your primary joy. Along the way you'll encounter different characters that require things of you, everything from mermaids to skeleton kings. These quest givers appear with a mix of quality design and imagination. While some show up without flair (Katarina's reaction is often akin to, \"Oh, it's a mermaid.\"), others are forlorn spirits tied to the ancient hulk of their mighty ships, and carry quite an extra charge. A quest from an interesting spirit has the ability to make you more interested in the game, while collecting flowers for the lazy mermaid seems to lack pizzazz and can have the opposite effect. Many of the bad guys are the definition of stereotypical, but we had to expect that; where would a pirate game be without the Argh and Hook combo? Each of them also has their own accent, an element that was interesting at first but didn't seem to sit well with me over time. The voice acting isn't great, with dialogue that I can only describe at times as unique, but I've seen much worse.

Graphically, Pirates shines...most of the time. The ocean waters give a magnificent feel of depth, complete with extra details like living sea squids and sunken ships, both of which swim silently beneath as you glide by with your sails full to the wind. On land there is a tremendous feel of height when you're looking down from a hilltop onto the docks below and the enemy ships sailing in the background. However, there are oddities, slight indications that the developers skipped over an element rather than address it head on. When on land, for example, you can't enter the water at all. It's as if there is an invisible barrier at every shoreline. You couldn't even fix your hair in the reflection if you had to. When you slice your sword through tall grass, tiny chunks fly into the air as if you're mowing the lawn, but there appears to be no effect to the bush you just cut up. Except for the enemy guard towers, you can't damage or change the land about you, and this is too bad.

Once aboard your ship, Katarina becomes captain. You cut through the waters of the ocean on your way to your next docking point, blowing up castles and enemy ships as they happen to appear. The ship perspective is a unique addition to the gaming world, though you'll spend comparatively little time on the ship in relation to being on land. You'll have opportunities to upgrade your ship along the way, adding more gun ports and cargo storage for gas and fire-bombs. Ramming other ships is one of the most efficient ways of doing damage, and a sea battle can be quite entertaining, since you can only shoot in certain directions dependent on the ship you have. In fact, the multi-player option in Pirates is a mildly entertaining, though not overly in-depth, one-on-one ship based battle against a friend.

The game has magnificent audio effects. You can read the PS2 review for an alternate opinion on this subject, but I found the sound of the water lapping the side of my vessel while at sea very atmospheric. The soundtrack is varied and I couldn't help but feel inspired whenever I got behind the helm and the music launched into a miniature parade of sounds. There are sounds that are simply annoying, and I'd have liked to kill the save parrot a few times with its unceasing chirping, but over-all I found myself impressed by the quality of the audio.

When it comes down to it, Pirates could have done a lot more. Though there is a laugh factor in fighting a one handed, one hooked Blackbeard with a bikini clad swashbuckler, the developers seemed to restrain themselves almost completely from exercising their creative humor-bone in the actual game. An entertaining romp in a time past, with a massive world and a solid amount of game play, Pirates is a solid three stars, but missed the boat on what it could have been. The world is just begging for a little comedy, a random encounter with Bigfoot or Moby Dick, a Swiss Family Robinson look alike, or a chance meeting with some Survivors. As is, Pirates is a competent game that will hold most people's attentions for at least a little while. I probably wouldn't recommend purchasing it unless you're a true blooded third person fan, and in which case your could do much, much worse.