You know, I don't think I've truly loved a console-based real-time strategy game since perhaps Herzog Zwei for the Genesis. In the years following, the genre got absolutely huge on PCs thanks to games like Dune 2, Command & Conquer, and Warcraft. They were great games... on the PC. Consoles, meanwhile, became a wasteland of great games with poor control schemes as developers struggle to find a way to cram all of those hotkeys and grouping options onto a gamepad. It's an issue that developers still struggle with today.
Maybe that's part of why Capcom's Age of Booty feels so refreshing. Though there is a PC version also in development, this one-unit strategy game feels like it was built with consoles--and their controllers--in mind. As a result, you never really feel like you're battling the controller harder than you're battling your on-screen foes.
Of course, it only loosely resembles the real-time strategy games you're used to. Age of Booty puts in at the helm of a pirate ship, and all you really have to do is use one button to navigate the seas. What happens from there is automated depending on what you're near. The game takes place on hex-based maps, so if you sail your ship to a hex that is adjacent to a target, you'll automatically open fire. Things you'll want to blow up include merchant ships, which drop power-ups, villages that give up resources when destroyed, and towns for you to overtake. You must take a set number of towns to win the battle.
There are also enemy pirates on the seas, attempting to take over enough towns to win themselves. Opening fire on other pirates works the same way as it does with everything else, and when a pirate ship is sunk, one of its team's resources is dropped. In addition to taking towns, you'll also want to collect rum, lumber, and gold from those towns and villages. Those resources can be used to upgrade your captured towns to make them more resilient against enemy attack, or you can sail back to your home base (a cove, naturally) and upgrade your ship's speed, armor, or cannons.
It's an impressively simple game that's very easy to pick up, partially due to a good tutorial at the beginning of the single-player game. But it's probably more impressive that the game offers enough multiplayer and editing options to potentially keep players excited for a good, long time.
Age of Booty allows for up to eight players, and those can be split in different ways, so you can have four teams of two, two teams of four, and so on. The game has splitscreen support for local play, and you can also take your splitscreen games online, allowing you to get with three local friends and take on the Internet.
The online player matches seems especially slick, as it's basically taking its cues from the Halo party system. It appears easy to line up a few friends over Xbox Live, form a team, and then put that team up against other groups of players.
Capcom's visit had us playing 2v2v2, 3v3, and eventually a one-on-one match to figure out who the most dominant pirate is. You'll have to watch the video for the stunning and slurred conclusion on that one, but I can say that Age of Booty made for great fun in this sort of party-like setting. It'll be interesting to see if it's as much fun when you're playing against strangers.
In addition to the robust online matching features, Certain Affinity has also created a simple, but powerful map editor that will let players create their own levels. You're able to skip around an empty hex grid and place anything you like. This leads into the game's different type of maps. It will contain plenty from the get-go, and it looks like the developer will be offering some downloadable maps that automatically add themselves to the game as official maps. But there are also tabs for "my maps" and "recent maps" when you go to play a game. Recent maps is a holding cell for any maps you encounter while playing other players online. If you run into a really great created map while playing online, you can save it as one of your own and create new matches with it quite easily. Slick.
Perhaps the only thing standing in the way of Age of Booty is its look. Anyone glancing at screenshots of the game is liable to see a big hex grid, assume it's some over-the-top turn-based tactical strategy game for people with big brains and lots of free time, and stay away. That, as you've probably figured out already, couldn't be further from the truth.
For more proof that any drunken idiot can understand and enjoy Age of Booty, please see the following video as the landlubbin' staff of Giant Bomb pairs off with the experienced swashbucklers of Capcom for a rum-soaked high-seas adventure...
Giant Bomb would like to remind you to pillage responsibly.