Age of Booty Review
Ok, show of hands—how many of you have Beyonce's CD, “Age of Booty”? Really? Bzzzz! It's a trick question. While Age of Booty certainly sounds like something Mrs. Jay-Z would record, it's actually a new pirate-themed Real Time Strategy game brought to us by Capcom.
RTS's are often intimidating due to their extensive interfaces and inherently complex game-play. If you're RTS-phobic, Age of Booty is a good way to overcome your fear of the genre. Developed by Max Hoberman's (of Bungie fame) Austin-based company Certain Affinity, Age of Booty is a skillfully edited version of the classic RTS. No need to spend hours trying to understand what your troglodyte workers need to gather so you can build an energy generator—just pick the game up and within minutes, you'll be climbing the mizzen mast like an old seadog. Figuratively speaking.
In single-player Challenge mode, you're sailing for the Red Hand against other pirate gangs like the Sea Devils or the Poison Talons. There's a tutorial, but it doesn't explain much. This gist of it is this: the maps in Age of Booty are made up of hexagonal cells which you click on in order to move your ship. As it moves, your ship auto-fires at anything within one cell's length of it, including enemies, merchant ships, villages and towns. The objective of the game is simple—capture towns. To capture a town, swing your ship into the cell next to it and exchange cannon fire until one of you goes down. Beware though; the townspeople aren't pushovers. If you attack a town without upgrading your ship, you're headed for Davy Jones' Locker.
Now once you've managed to subdue the inhabitants of Tortuga, Nassau, Memphis or any other coastal settlement, that's when things gets tricky. To keep your town out of the hooks of such dastardly bilge rats as Poxy Phil you'll have to become a master multi-tasker, resource gathering, upgrading and making clever use of skill cards.
Both towns and ships can be upgraded once enough resources have been gathered. Age of Booty's appropriately piratey resources are gold, wood and rum, all of which you can get by salvaging floating crates, capturing towns or blowing small villages to smithereens. A simple on-screen resource diagram clearly indicates the number and type of resource you'll need to fortify your town or make your ship faster and stronger. Skill cards are gained by sinking merchant ships which sail randomly around the map. Once sunk, they leave behind one of three cards that enable you to set bombs off, trigger whirlpools, or plunder precious resources from your opponent's ships.
As simple as Age of Booty is in relation to other RTS's, it still demands skillful time management. How do you do so many things at once and how do you decide what to do first? Do you race to capture as many towns as possible or do you upgrade your ship first? Do you build up your defenses and slowly expand or do you dominate the map, guns blazing? As any RTS player will tell you, in a good strategy game, winning is all about efficiency. It's about finding the best way of becoming stronger and faster than your opponent, and even in a game as comparatively simple as Age of Booty, doing so takes thought and ingenuity.
Single Player Challenge mode contains twenty-one maps: seven maps for each of three difficulty modes. In all of them, the win condition is more or less the same—capturing a set number of towns—but the number of allied AI, enemy pirate gangs, towns, and merchant ships varies as does the map shape and type of skill cards available. The Single Player maps are both challenging and fun, but unfortunately, there are a couple of maps that feel virtually unwinnable, due to what seems like a half-inert AI ally. It's bad enough you can't control your AI allies...
Wait. How could I forget to mention how irritating it is not to be able to control your allies? Countless times I'd be defending one of my towns against a band of scurvy marauders and and right before having my ship reduced to a pile of flaming driftwood, I'd see my seemingly self-involved AI buddy sail blithely past. Not stopping, not helping me, but apparently bent on collecting yet another floating crate. Or he'd repeatedly attack an upgraded town defended by ships much stronger than he and would be repeatedly sunk, every scuttling costing me precious resources. And as I started to say before I so rudely interrupted myself, on a couple of maps, the AI allies just don't seem to get the concept of upgrading.
While enemy pirate ships hurriedly gather resources and upgrade their Speed, Armor and Cannons to level 4, my unambitious AI allies drift happily along at level 1, apparently deaf to my cries for support and assistance. No, this doesn't happen on all the maps. It's just one or two, but it's keeping me from earning my King's Pardon achievement. Damn you, Pegleg Pete!
In spite of the occasionally reluctant AI, Age of Booty is a fun game, especially because of the pirate context. Actually, it's too bad there's not more pirate schtick in it. Being a big fan and observer of “Talk Like a Pirate Day”, when I fired the game up and heard the Monkey Island-ish accordion/flute music and saw the great 2D character art, I got all excited. Turns out though, the pirate flavor consists only of short text blurbs before each map. Nope, no cutscenes and only minimal voiceover, and that makes me sad. Considering how many funny and colorful characters Certain Affinity came up with, it would have been cool if more attention had been paid to the fictional side of the game.
Of course, all of this criticism applies mainly to the single player game and as every RTS player knows, single player is bush league; the real test of your ability is when you take on another player. Age of Booty gives you 25 multiplayer maps and 4 game modes: 1v1 Quick Match, 2v2 Dueling Duos, 4v4 Four by Four and Battle Royale, which sounds like utter madness with 2v2v2v2. Challenge your friends locally to these salty scuffles or scupper some landlubbers on Xbox Live or System Link. And if you're a sore winner, you'll appreciate the ranking system and Leader board.
In addition to 25 ready-made multi-player maps, Age of Booty comes with an easy-to-use level editor so you can make your own. With it you can place bases and decorative objects as well as set win conditions, match duration, resource availability, number of merchant ships, skill card type and map size. Once done, maps can be saved and shared in multi-player mode and it's a good thing too. We'll need something to keep us busy while we're waiting for the as-yet-nonexistent downloadable content.
Simple as it is, Age of Booty is a great way for all kinds of gamers to learn the basics of RTS gameplay. Not only because of its content and its rating (E for Everyone), but because of it's price. At $10, it's likely to be the most accessible real time strategy game out there.
The Good: Accessible to gamers of all types, level editor, $10 price tag
The Bad: Unreliable allied AI, minimal story/context, virtually the same objective for every map