Piracy is a dirty word when it comes to gaming, conjuring up images of dodgy torrents and racks of shiny golden discs containing ill gotten gains. But naturally, not every pirate game is one you’ve bought from a bloke with a suitcase down the market.
There are some genuine pirate games, such as Age of Booty, which has you battling for supremacy on the high seas. It also has a name that’s begging for some sort of awful pun, which of course we wouldn’t dream of stooping to construct.
Age before Booty… sorry, Age of Booty is an Xbox Live Arcade strategy game which focuses primarily on multiplayer competition. There’s an offline campaign involving AI pirates over a series of 21 scenarios, but that’s really just the hors d’oeuvre before the main online course. It’s useful for learning the ropes of the game, but the AI opposition is a bit on the dumb side and it can be quite aggravating when your computer controlled team-mate acts like a dolt and costs you the match.
While the map is hex based, Age of Booty is played in real time. The gameplay is kept simple and streamlined: you click to move somewhere and if you encounter an enemy ship or a town to pillage, your vessel will automatically open fire. When cities are captured they generate resources (rum, gold and wood) which can be used to upgrade their defences or your ship.
Upgrades can be made to the ship’s cannons, armour or speed. Tank ships with the former two upgrades will blast weaker opponents out of the water and easily take towns, but there are advantages to being nippy, such as being able to head back to base to repair quickly, and the ability to hoover up the stray crates that pop up around the map containing extra resources. A final touch of spice is added in the form of merchant ships; when sunk these drop a curse crate that gives the player a handy one-use power.
One-on-one battles can be played, but we found the two-versus-two or even larger eight-player engagements were more interesting, with the added nuances of learning to work together effectively as a team. Given that it’s such a simple game on the face of it, there’s actually a surprising amount of depth to the strategy in Age of Booty, particularly when teams are involved.
Capturing towns for resources is vital, and in particular wood is prized because this is used for both town and ship upgrades. If you concentrate solely on grabbing towns, however, you’ll lose out on the resources floating around in crates, and more importantly the curses.
These include powerful bombs, whirlpools that whisk enemies across the map and all manner of goodies. Careful use of these can turn the tide of a battle, so co-ordinating your team in order to pick off towns while hoovering up a plentiful amount of crates is vital. Naturally, all the while you’ve got to keep an eye on what the enemy is up to and try to disrupt their plans.
Thanks to clever game and map design, the balance of power is often very close and easily tipped, making for some edge-of-your-seat matches in which you’ll discover exactly why the poop deck is so named.
Are there any holes in the good ship Booty’s hull? Well, if you’re playing with an idiot team-mate with a wooden brain rather than the traditional wooden leg, it can be a bit irritating (especially if they go AFK making a cup of tea for several minutes; at least a computer AI partner won’t do that to you). We also found the long distance movement pathing to be a little off at times, and it’s best to direct your ship using short range clicks. That’s hardly a major problem though.
Incidentally, a PC version is due out imminently, in fact it might well be online to download by the time you read this review.