If you've been following the coverage we've done on the site, you've already seen that Age of Booty appears to be a fun game when played with friends and acquaintances in a local match. But those circumstances--hooking up multiple boxes in the same room to ensure that all trash-talking occurs in a face-to-face setting--aren't likely to be duplicated by most people out there. So I was left wondering how Age of Booty would hold up under more "normal" or "sober" settings. The answer remains mostly the same: Certain Affinity's single-unit real-time strategy game is a well-designed one, with plenty to offer players who want to team up and plunder towns over Xbox Live while fighting off rival pirates and occasionally shouting "yarr."
Age of Booty is, really, pretty simple. You control a pirate ship, usually on a team with other pirates, and you're up against one or more opposing teams. Your goal is to win the map, which is done by either capturing a set number of towns or holding the most towns when time expires. Towns are taken by force with the cannons on you and your teammates' ships. Taking towns can also get you resources, which are used to upgrade your ships or your towns, making them harder for the enemy to capture.
That's the back and forth of Age of Booty. While the towns start out neutral, all the teams are going to be scrambling to take and re-take them until a victor is declared. So deciding when to hang back and defend your existing towns and deciding when (and where) to push forward makes the game nicely strategic. But it's also fast-paced, so you don't have a ton of time to think before you act.
That's why it's nice that the controls are really simple to understand. You do most things using only one button that controls the movement of your ship. The hex-based map makes it easy to determine your attack range--you'll attack anything worth shooting at if you're one hex away from it. If you've got two targets next to you, you'll split your fire, which makes pinching your enemies between two pirate ships or a ship and a town or something like that a totally key strategy. The only time you'll use other buttons are if you need to quickly scroll around the map or spend your resources on an upgrade.
When you look at Age of Booty's online setup, it's easy to see that Certain Affinity, the game's developer, was started by a group of ex-Bungie employees. Rather than the typical ranked/unranked split that most 360 games have, you can either jump into standardized playlists or set up a private game. You can get some friends together and all jump into a game as a party, as well. It's easy to pick up and makes getting into a game pretty fast.
You can also set up matches with AI-controlled bots, and the game has a set of single-player challenges that team you up with some AI guys, as well. This stuff is functional, but perhaps disappointing when compared to the multiplayer. Since there's an extreme need to cooperate with the other members of your team, you're sort of stuck following the AI teammates around, since you can't order them around and they rarely seem to come back you up or play with any sort of meaningful intelligence. Once you've gotten the hang of the controls in a few single-player games, you'll probably get online and never look back.
Age of Booty also has a well-implemented map editor that lets you create different sizes and fill up the maps with anything you find on the official levels. Once you create a map, you can take it online in private games. Any created maps that you encounter are automatically saved to a list of recent maps, where you can decide if you want to store them permanently or not. Also, Certain Affinity seems to have already released two new official maps, which download automatically when you fire up the editor. All things considered, it's a surprisingly deep feature to find in a downloadable game that seems to be implemented a bit better than the N+ custom levels were.
It's easy to hear the words "console" and "real-time strategy" in the same sentence and immediately determine that Age of Booty is not for you. But the game really feels like it was built with the constraints of the average gamepad in mind while simultaneously not feeling dumbed-down or stripped. If you've got some rowdy friends, or if you're willing to take a chance online and try to meet some rowdy strangers, Age of Booty's multiplayer is well worth checking out.