Pirates is like a Zelda-meets-Tomb Raider, though the actual environments you'll explore are pretty original, as is the method by which you'll get around.
Originally known as Pirates of Skull Cove and revealed shortly after the launch of the PlayStation 2, Westwood's high-seas 3D action-adventure game has been a long time in the making. But after years in development, a title change, and a slight change of design focus along the way, Pirates: Legend of Black Kat is finally done--and there's a lot to like about it. Pirates is essentially a sprawling 3D adventure that's like a Zelda-meets-Tomb Raider, though the actual environments you'll explore are pretty original, as is the method by which you'll get around. Throughout the game, you'll have access to a ship and a crew, which you'll use to sail between groups of tropical islands that make up the game's setting. In Pirates, the act of seafaring is really a game in and of itself, which simultaneously provides a good contrast to the third-person adventure gameplay and complements the act of exploration.
Throughout Pirates, you'll play as Katarina de Leon, or Kat, a buxom female pirate, though she has heroic traits that help make her generally likable. As Kat, you'll sail between and explore a series of island worlds in your quest both to avenge the death of your father and to rid the world of a group of bloodthirsty pirates. The game's story is colorful and well rooted in the sorts of swashbuckling antics you've come to associate with adventure on the high seas. Cutscenes are used quite liberally throughout the game to move the story along, and since the game is not entirely linear, things won't get predictable.
Pirates is arranged much like a platform game, in "worlds" that for the most part consist of groups of several islands. Each island in any given world is a stand-alone environment, usually composed of a number of smaller landmasses, which you travel between by boat. The environments themselves are simply huge, and they seem quite alive as you sail through them--enemy boats can be found patrolling the shores, and occupied forts will fire on you if you get too close. You can spot prominent features on islands as you coast by, which will no doubt encourage you to explore them. Indeed, you'll be able to explore many of these landmasses on foot; you merely have to look for a dock on the island. Most worlds will feature at least a couple of islands that you can explore, as well as some shops that you have to liberate from the evil pirates. Special areas are also quite common, where you'll meet characters who will send you on quests, sell you things, or battle you. Actually, the game's boss battles are rather drawn out and satisfying.
In general, the action on foot is enjoyable as well, largely because of how mobile Kat is and also because of the game's well-done control scheme. Kat can perform a smooth five-hit combo with her sword and execute a handful of special attacks. She'll also have access to a number of miscellaneous weapons, which you can purchase or sometimes find in the game's environments--things such as throwing knives and grenades. During battle, the camera can cause some problems--enemies will sometimes sneak up on you from out of your view--but if you've played games like Tomb Raider, you'll be used to this. Of course, Kat can jump in addition to attack with her sword, and she can even double-jump, though jumping as an evasive measure won't do you much good. Fortunately, you can control your jump in midair, so you'll use it to mainly traverse the environments.
The environments themselves are large and seem lifelike and realistic. Fortunately, you won't always have to run from one area to the next. You'll find convenient "warp points" that can whisk you to remote or otherwise inaccessible areas within the environments. You'll often use these warp points to return to the safety of your ship after trudging through a particularly rough series of battles. You'll encounter a wide variety of enemies, which is great--you'll fight all kinds of pirates and monsters (both living and undead), and you'll be able to distinguish different types of enemies within groups of foes.
As you might expect, a privateer like Kat wouldn't be in it just for the danger, so you can expect to find some rich rewards for your troubles. Much of the treasure you'll find will be retrieved from defeated enemies, but some of it you'll also find buried. Luckily for her, Kat is psychically sensitive to the presence of buried treasure, and your controller will slightly rumble when you're near some. Once you unearth the treasure, you'll also need the proper key to open the chest--there are several different types hidden throughout the world, and once you find one, you'll be able to open all chests that correspond to it. This provides some incentive to go back and explore previously visited areas.