Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: April 23, 2002
Pirate games have a long history on the PC, where Sid Meier’s masterpiece Pirates! pretty much kicked off the whole genre. From there, many franchises have sprung up ranging from Akella’s attempt to properly succeed the innovator with Sea Dogs to the lighthearted adventures that deal with Monkey Island. Not many exploits of the high seas have appeared as console titles, but a properly piratey adventure has finally found a welcoming port on the PS2 where it flies the flag of Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat.
The Black Kat of the title is actually Katharine De Leon, who was raised a governor’s daughter but left her home early for a life on the high seas. Unbeknownst to her, Katharine’s mother had tread the exact same path, settled down with Katherine’s father and then taken to the seas one last time. With her death, a dark pirate bent on cruel tyranny has assumed control of the island chain through his followers the Crimson Sails, with Katharine as the only real thorn in his side. The game begins as this Captain Hawke decides to take vengeance and slaughters Governor De Leon, earning Katharine’s eternal enmity. With resolve firm in her mind, Black Kat takes to the high seas once more to finish the quest her mother had started years before.
As Katharine, you’ll take control of both her ship, the Wind Dancer, and the lady herself during her onshore excursions. In this respect, The Legend of Black Kat is most akin to Drakan: Order of the Flame, since you’ll be treated to freeform exploration on your ship and up close and personal combat when on land.
When exploring the islands, Katharine’s controls are similar to most third-person action games. Similar to Soul Reaver‘s control scheme, you can rotate the camera freely around the pirate queen and move in relation to its viewpoint, meaning you have a lot of freedom over your vantage point. Combat is fairly simple, as swordplay is mostly a string of elegant moves that combine strikes from Kat’s parrying dagger and sabre. Defensively, you can parry most blows, though many creatures will power up an attack if you cower behind your defenses overlong. Every time you land a blow, a globe at the bottom of the screen fills up a bit more, and once topped up you can execute powerful, unblockable attacks of your own.
Later in the game, your melee combat will become more involved, as Kat start to acquire a selection of throwing knives, bombs and various magical potions and idols that can put enemies to sleep, zap them with lightning and generally ease your path. The more mundane of these items can also be purchased at various friendly merchants scattered across the islands, but you’ll need to wrest the rarer items like magical tikis, vampire skulls and poison darts from the various treasure chests in the game.
Many of these chests are required for quests and simply stand on the surface of the island. Others are buried underground but our heroine’s pirate blood and finely honed sense for gold tells her whenever she’s near a likely spot for buried booty. Often, Kat will comment that she smells gold or something to that effect, but most players will be along for the ride as their controller begins vibrating wildly. As might be expected, the stronger the vibrations, the closer you are to the treasure, and prospective hunters can spend hours digging up every chest across the islands, many of which you’ll want to find for additional treasure and, of course, your seashell collection. It may seem inane for a pirate to collect shells, but these special items can unlock Easter eggs in the game, so they’re a worthwhile time investment.