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Age of Booty

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Certain Affinity
Release Date: Oct. 15, 2008

About Brad Hilderbrand

I've been covering the various facets of gaming for the past five years and have been permanently indentured to WorthPlaying since I borrowed $20K from Rainier to pay off the Russian mob. When I'm not furiously writing reviews, I enjoy RPGs, rhythm games and casual titles that no one else on staff is willing to play. I'm also a staunch supporter of the PS3.


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PSN/XBLA Review - 'Age of Booty'

by Brad Hilderbrand on Nov. 11, 2008 @ 4:35 a.m. PST

Age of Booty is a casual, real-time pirate-themed multiplayer strategy game that puts you at the helm of your own pirate ship with the goal of sending your enemies to the briny deep, and looting/capturing towns for your pirate faction.

Why is it that we continue to be taken by the allure of pirates? These high seas criminals, whose morals were loose and education didn't extend beyond the best way to hoist a sail, continue to serve as a romantic attachment to days gone by. Maybe we adore their carefree lifestyle, wishing we could cast off our daily responsibilities and sail the high seas looking for ships to plunder, or perhaps we just really like the idea of shooting cannons and stabbing people with swords. In either case, Age of Booty has arrived on Xbox Live Arcade, and while the multiplayer portion of this title may shiver your timbers, the single-player experience may as well walk the plank.

Age of Booty is a simple strategy title, one which trades out complex resource management and unit creation for simple point-and-click gameplay and minimal clutter. You and your team of scalawags face off against other pirate factions for control over towns and their resources. The game utilizes gold, wood and rum as its lifeblood, and collecting these items allows you to upgrade your ships and towns. Gather enough gold and wood, and you can upgrade a captured town with thicker walls and more cannons so that it can withstand an enemy assault. Track down enough wood and rum, and you can upgrade your ship's speed, armor or cannons.

Resources are mainly derived from capturing towns (although you can also find them in random floating crates and in small, poorly defended villages), with each location you snag giving you access to at least one kind of material. Attacking a city is simply a matter of sailing your ship into an adjacent spot on the game's hex-based maps and waiting as your ship continually exchanges fire with the port. You must be wary, however, as your enemies are often jockeying for the same cities as you, and if you get caught between an enemy ship and the port, then you will have to split your fire, effectively taking double the damage while halving the pain you dish out. Even worse, if the port you sail into is an enemy city and they also happen to have a ship in an adjacent hex, that boat will be continually repaired while it is engaged with you. Thus, what seems like a simple premise "capturing and holding the towns" quickly becomes much more complex, and careful strategy is needed in order to know when to attack and press your advantage or retreat and hold your ground.

Further diversifying the action is the presence of merchant ships, which exist both to harass your forces and provide you with useful "curses." The merchant ships are fairly weak, though they have a penchant for sneaking up on you while you're attacking a city and dishing out some major pain. Once sunk, however, each ship will grant you access to a curse that will either allow you to place a bomb damaging all boats and cities in an adjacent space, a whirlpool that sucks down ships and spits them out way on the other side of the map, a resource-stealing monkey, or the ability to turn your ship invisible to enemies and slip by foes undetected. The curses definitely add an element of unpredictability to the game, and some matches can turn on the effective use of one or two curses in key situations.

Age of Booty is clearly meant to be a multiplayer affair, as almost all of the game's most entertaining battles are waged against other human players. In addition to local skirmishes, players can jump on Xbox Live for 2v2 or 4v4 battles, both of which offer a highly entertaining experience. Four-on-four fights are especially fun, as you can use diverse tactics such as steamrolling through the map as a fleet, gambling on capturing enough cities to win before your opponents manage to undo your progress, or playing a more defensive game and attacking only when your enemies are reeling. In one of my favorite matches, both teams were fully engaged in a heated battle over a particularly strategic city, and one of my teammates quietly slipped off. To the other team, it appeared as though he was heading for a friendly port for repairs, but he was actually sneaking around their flank and attacking one of their weakened towns. By the time the other team realized what was happening, their city was captured and our team had won the game. Sudden strategic flourishes such as these are quite common in Age of Booty, and the simplicity of the title gives virtually anyone the opportunity to tap into his inner Admiral Nelson.

There are a couple of issues that crop up in multiplayer, though, that can downright ruin the experience for the unfortunate. First off is the fact that in order to upgrade your ship, you must sail all the way back to your pirate base. This isn't an issue for a well-oiled team who is willing to share upgrades and work in balance, but inevitably, you will find yourself in a game where one or two allies won't leave the base because they want first dibs on every upgrade that pops up. This selfishness is a killer because while your teammates are squabbling over who gets to have bigger guns, the other side has likely already won.

The other issue is one of communication and trying to work as a cohesive unit over Xbox Live. As we all know, not everyone playing games online is the most emotionally stable and socially adept, so trying to coordinate team efforts can be like herding cats. Again, if your team is working together under the strong direction of one rather capable leader, then victory is all but assured. However, if everyone wants to give the orders and no one want to follow them, only failure awaits. Finally, if anyone on the team isn't using a headset for some reason, just give up because the match is already over. More so than some games, Age of Booty requires all team members to work in harmony, and even slight discord can cost you the game. When the margin of victory is this razor thin, sometimes the matches can feel more like work than fun.

For all the depth and nuance of multiplayer, Age of Booty completely falls flat on the single-player front. The title features 21 challenges spread over three difficulty levels, but it is unlikely you'll ever finish them all because it becomes too frustrating. This is because your capable, usually intelligent single-player partners are replaced with AI bots so dense that you'll wonder if they even know what side they're fighting on. Unfortunately, you can't give your computer-controlled wingman any orders, so you never know what it may do next. It could choose to hang back and defend a city, or strike out and attack a town all by itself. Normally, this means you're forced to follow your partner around the map and help out when you can, rather than executing the planned strategy in order to win. Thus, battles draw out much longer than they should, and the challenges are artificially inflated due to the fact that you can never win by yourself, but your AI teammate doesn't seem too keen on helping. The developers could have alleviated this with simple commands like, "Follow me" or "Defend the port," but instead, you end up like a puppy following a particularly dumb master, and it won't be long before you abandon the single-player experience altogether.

If you're looking for a great multiplayer strategy game with a nautical theme, then Age of Booty will likely swab your deck just fine. The game is simple to learn, yet lends itself to intense, challenging battles that can really get your adrenaline racing. Just beware of selfish teammates and shoddy AI putting a damper on what is otherwise a first-rate gaming experience. While we may never truly know what makes pirates such dashing figures in the eyes of many, with games like Age of Booty, it's not so hard to see the appeal after all.

Score: 8.0/10

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