Sailing the high seas in search of villages to pillage, loot to plunder, and unsuspecting vessels to waylay, countless dreaded pirates have staked out a name for themselves in the annals of history as the grisliest lot of seafaring ruffians you’d ever expect to run up against. Their thuggish reputation and brutal nature alone is enough to strike fear into the hearts of wayfaring merchants. You might not expect a boat full of dirty, bristly, scurvy-ridden thugs would be such great tacticians; your opponents in Certain Affinity’s Age of Booty – whether human or computer – prove otherwise. Teammates, on the other hand, are a different story.
With neglecting your pirating duties amidst a full-scale, free-for-all grab for land and riches being completely out of the question, you must quickly hone your abilities to pre-empt opponents and make split decisions on the fly in Age of Booty. Knowing when to fight, when to smash and grab, and when to turn tail and run is crucial. This fast-paced game of strategic combat and resource gathering proves to be an addictive combination when played with human teammates or against human opponents, but does it hold up when the computer A.I. has got your back? Not always.
The pirating life is by no means dull, and the straightforward, arcade-style, real-time strategy gameplay of Age of Booty follows suit. Piloting a single, cannon-laden ship in a small fleet of pirates, you’ll work hard with your unwashed comrades to scuttle the vessels of other rival pirating gangs. Navigating the dangerous water byways set out across hexagonal map grids, you’ll pillage native villages for resources and wage war against your pirate brethren in order to take over a pre-set number of towns located on islands and along the shorelines of each battlefield. Most towns won’t give up without a good fight, and neither will your adversaries.
Three major resources – wood, gold, and rum – are needed to upgrade the strength of settlements you’ve conquered and improve your ships firepower, armor, and speed. Resources can be gained from stamping out weak native settlements, collecting floating boxes left from slain adversaries, and capturing towns. Upgrading towns when you’ve accrued enough gold and wood can be done instantly from anywhere on the map, but upgrading your ship requires you to trek all the way back to your secret cave. Since other ships on your side (both A.I. and human-controlled) are also seeking to improve their vessels, it’s not uncommon to head back to port only to find a pal got there first and stole your chance to upgrade. You are dealing with pirates, after all. This adds to the challenge of the major turf power struggles that erupt on maps with hotly contested towns. A little more speed, an extra cannon, and a little more armor here and there can make a big difference in how long you’ll stay alive in a skirmish. Get sunk and you’ll respawn back at your lair, but this can waste precious time – a precious commodity, since it only takes a few seconds for a fleet of enemy ships to recapture a town you’ve just claimed for your own.
Age of Booty plays up its pirate theme with tons of campy lingo, amusing sound effects (like well-placed “yarrr”s and parrot squawks), goofy pirate names (Shark Bait Bill, Spork), and delightful music. The game’s presentation has a stylish, quasi-Warcraft III vibe. There’s not a lot of variety in the visuals from one level to the next, but the level layouts change things up enough to keep from getting old quickly. The game also has some nice graphical flourishes, particularly the beautiful water effects.
Every aspect of the game’s design bears simplicity in mind, which is part of what makes Age of Booty so enjoyable. Forcing players to manage a broad range of controls and menus in the midst of chaotic multi-location battles that require quick thinking and split-decisions would have been a big mistake here. Fortunately, all orders can be issued by pointing and clicking the mouse at a particular hexagon on the map. You’ll essentially tell your ship where to go and the computer does the rest. Your ship automatically fires upon any enemy vessels that come within a one-hex radius, and situating yourself next to any neutral or enemy settlement will cause you to attack (and be attacked). Conversely, stationing your shop next to friendly settlements slowly restores your health, giving you the advantage when being attacked en-masse by a fleet of enemy vessels that are hell-bent on stealing your town.
Pirates don’t play fair, and you don’t have to either. Sometimes you’ll pick up curses – special items that allow you to pilfer resources from opponents or wreak an extra level of havoc on unsuspecting foes. Bombs, for example, can be laid out and will deal damage to ships and towns in all adjacent hexes, and whirlpools will suck a ship up and spit it out elsewhere on the map at random.
From the ground up, the gameplay is clearly tailored for multiplayer. The single-player campaign – a 21-mission challenge mode featuring increasingly difficult battles set on a broad range of maps, will do in a pinch – if you don’t mind playing around with the inconsistent A.I. controlling your teammates. However, Age of Booty is far more enjoyable when played with other humans, and being able to collaborate on tactics is a big bonus. It’s not that the solo missions are a bust. Foes are reasonably challenging and appropriately tough on harder maps, but your A.I.-controlled teammates are only occasionally helpful. There are moments where they’ll pull through when you least expect with a surprise capture for the win or lending a hand in battle, but they’re often off doing their own thing.
For being such a simple, straightforward game, Age of Booty possesses a certain intangible catchiness. Many players may find the solo campaign to be a little too limited, but jump online, and you’ll find the gameplay shines brightest with others involved. At a paltry $9.99 download, this piratical RTS is worth getting keelhauled over.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
A clean and colorful style with great water effects make for a pleasant time. 3.9 Control
One-click-does-all controls are simple… and that’s good. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great music and sound effects, though some sounds get irritating when repeated incessantly. 3.5 Play Value
It’s a very fun game that doesn’t last very long, if you don’t spar alongside human opponents online or via LAN. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.