Version tested: Xbox 360
Age of Booty
- Developer: Certain Affinity Inc.
- Publisher: Capcom
- Cost: 800 Microsoft Points
- In Real Money: GBP 6.80 / EUR 9.60
- Release Date: 15th October
After the rather soggy Pirates: The Key of Dreams on WiiWare, and with the loosely related Pirates vs Ninjas Dodgeball doing bad things to my brain, I wasn't in a particularly receptive mood for yet more downloadable buccaneering seamanship. The fact that Age of Booty managed to thaw my frosty pirate prejudice, even slightly, is clearly a victory of sorts.
For one thing, it gives me the chance to use my awesome joke about "booty" and a pirate called Arrrr Kelly. It's also a strategy game, a genre which seems to suit nautical combat better than any flat-out action approach. Played out on a map of hexagonal spaces, you direct your ship by clicking the spot you'd like it to sail to. Stop alongside an enemy vessel, a wandering merchant ship or a port and you open fire, automatically trading shots until someone sinks into the briny deep. Capturing towns in this manner is the aim of the game, with a set number needed under your control for victory. Despite looking like an old-fashioned turn-based game, it's actually all real-time, and play is very fast and arcadey.
Each town you capture starts adding resources to your stockpile, and you can also top things up by grabbing floating crates or small villages. There are only three resources to worry about - wood, gold and rum. Wood and gold can be used to fortify towns, while wood and rum are the currency for upgrading your ship's speed, armour and cannons. Defeating merchants will net you a curse. These are one-use weapons and abilities like whirlpools, bombs and invisibility. It's hardly a deep system, but it adds just enough to keep things from being too mindless.
Where the game flounders is in the balance of the gameplay. There are 21 single-player challenges - seven each for easy, medium and hard difficulty - and during these you're accompanied by AI bots. You have absolutely no control over these supposed team mates, which can be more than a little frustrating. You may be trying to take a town, while battling rival pirates, but if your other ships decide they'd rather pick up crates, there's not much you can do about it. They'll also happily spend your resources on upgrades without asking, which can be a real pain if you're working towards a specific strategy of fortification for your towns.
The AI enemies are a problem as well. I mean, obviously they're a problem - they wouldn't be enemies otherwise - but the game respawns destroyed ships almost immediately, at the cost of just one resource item. This means you can be battling a rival pirate, sink their ship, and be facing them again - with full health - seconds later. With such a fast turnaround, and with no way of issuing even basic orders to your team, capturing and holding towns all over the map can be a Sisyphean task (that's your recommended daily dose of Eurogamer pretension, by the way).
It's clear the game was designed primarily for multiplayer, and with fellow humans controlling the other ships on your team the experience improves considerably. You can strategise, plan pronged attacks and split your efforts between attack and defence with far more success. There's also a map editor, so you can create your own challenges.
As a single-player experience, Age of Booty is frustrating and poorly balanced. Take it online, however, and you've got something that's almost worth the 800-Point asking price.