Age of Booty

It'd be easy to think that the strategy adopted by sea-faring pirates was simply to prey on the weak and rich, while running away at the first sign of the strong and brave, and although that might not be a huge distance from the truth, Age of Booty, a strategy game from Certain Affinity, demonstrates that there's more to pirating than simply pillaging, scarpering and burning dodgy DVDs. In fact, Age of Booty even goes one step further and makes a pirate's worst enemy other pirates. The question is: does taking to the seas and squabbling over territory with fellow ruffians provide an enjoyable experience? The answer, on the whole is "mostly".

MeteorStorm screenshot

In Age of Booty, you control a pirate vessel, starting from your own safe haven, tasked with taking over key cities spread across the map. To do so, it's simply a case of launching an assault on the unsuspecting town, but there are two major obstacles. Firstly, the towns will shoot back with land-based cannons. Secondly, and more importantly, other pirates in the area share the same goal, and will not hesitate to shoot you, your towns or anything else that gets in their way as they struggle to gain ground. An immediate problem would arise - that it would be fairly boring to watch two evenly matched ships slog away with cannons until the one with the lowest health at the beginning finally succumbs - but this is avoided through the option to upgrade your ship. As you traverse the seascape, crates can be collected, yielding resources that can be used to upgrade your ship in one of three categories (speed, armour or assault). The choice of upgrade is never straightforward either, with tactical options available in all cases. Utilizing improved speed, ships might be able to secure a town before the opposing team can get anywhere near, while heavily armoured ships may turn up late, but rely on strong protection to slog their way to victory. The advantage of taking a town, other than the fact that securing enough towns grants victory, is that the town will also fight in your favour, turning the available guns towards any nearby enemies.

Moving your tiny pirate ship around is quite responsive, and the cellular nature of the arenas provide clear boundaries and attack distances that aid tactical decision making. Most levels are quite small (it would be possible to go from one side to the other in less than 30 seconds), but there are usually multiple routes to take, plenty of towns to attack and several other interactive features on offer. For example, other vessels will patrol the seas, not necessarily pirates, and these ships will open fire you as you pass by. The advantage of their presence is that they leave behind special crates when sunk, which provide players with special moves, including whirlpools and charges that can be used against the enemy. What results is a fiercely intense tactical battle, with players constantly required to make key decisions about which towns to target or defend, while also trying to gather sufficient resources to upgrade as they go. The upgrades aren't limited to ships either, with the game also offering the chance to help protect your secured towns, which can be key to defending the locations you already own from would-be subjugators. Things get busier as you progress too, with beaten enemies often joining forces to help you in your quest. There's not a huge amount you can do to organize your AI teammates, but they're pretty sensible in their tactics, and certainly provide an equal match to the enemies you face. That said, it can never rival the scale of the Command and Conquer series for real-time strategy. It's a bit like controlling a single tank on the battlefield, but at least things are livened up with the upgrade system.

MeteorStorm screenshot

Booty isn't a bad looking game, though it's certainly not a major looker. The water is nice enough, and the ships have a few interesting details (and the ship upgrades are noticeable visually), but there's nothing to make other store titles look bad. The block-style of the levels lends itself to a handy level editor, but there's no real way to be inventive with the tool, since it's always going to be limited to see, shoreline and a few towns, but you can make your own mazes, should you wish. Meanwhile, the soundtrack of the game is actually one of my more serious complaints with the game. The bass-filled pirate themes are all very nice, but the bass is set far too loud. It's not a major issue, but having to turn the volume down forty percent just to avoid causing a tremor through to the house next door is somewhat irritating, when all other games manage to keep things consistent. The occasional brief bits of voicework are quite entertaining though, and very piratey (though in a stereotypical piratey way), and other effects like cannons and water effects do the job well enough to get by. It's not spectacular in any way, but that's not really what you'd expect for a store title. Still, it can't rival the sound in the incredible Super Stardust, so it finds itself outdone by similarly-priced opposition.

The single-player campaign in Age of Booty can become a little irritating at times, and a save function mid-game would have been nice, but it's pretty enjoyable on the whole. It doesn't compete well with the tower strategy games on PS3, like PixelJunk Monsters, and will likely be blown out of the water by full disc releases like Red Alert 3, but there's a lot of stuff that impresses in the game. The online play is a key feature that can really extend the lifetime of the game, since human opponents will always provide a more unpredictable experience than AI opposition. There are even trophies available now, with the usual "complete blah blah levels", but also a few inventive ones involving special attacks on the enemy. These featuers all add to the above-average single-player game to make a decent title overall. The score would probably be higher were it not for the fact that there's rarely a feeling of genuine excitement that something spectacular has just happened. The breath-taking ice levels of Super Stardust and the comic mayhem of Calling All Cars! set those two store titles apart is truly excellent games, where perhaps Age of Booty lacks the same outstanding feature. Still, as a relatively cheap store download, Age of Booty does a lot of things very well, and if you're after a real-time strategy game set in the world of pirates, there's certainly no better candidate.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Capcom

Developer:

Certain Affinity

Players:

1-4

Online:

1-4

Release:

2008-11-13

Trophies:

10

Review summary

Gameplay:

Interesting and fun tactical battles

Graphics:

Nothing special, but it does the job

Sound:

Too much bass, but not bad

Lastability:

Replay aided by level editor

6.1

Red Giant

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