Like any publisher that has been around for so many years, Capcom has been known to dip into its catalog of classic games with Xbox Live Arcade rereleases. But while timeless favorites, such as Street Fighter II, get most of the attention, Capcom is also working on some fresh material to bring to the digital distribution market. One of its new games we just had the chance to play was Plunder, a pirate-themed strategy game scheduled for release this summer.
Plunder can be described as a casual real-time strategy game with streamlined gameplay that places less emphasis on micromanaging and more on teamwork. In the game, you navigate the ocean on a hex-based grid in search of seaside towns to raid, enemy ships to destroy, and resources to collect. The towns on the map begin as neutral territories that can be taken over by your team. Once your team controls the majority of a map's towns, you win. A high level of teamwork is required because the villagers fight back, leaving you exposed to rival pirates you might encounter at any moment. If you were to raid each town with a teammate, the damage is halved because the villagers must then spread their fire across multiple ships.
Like most strategy games, there are resources to consider. Here, those resources are gold, wood, and rum (this being a pirate game and all). By collecting these items, you can upgrade your ship in one of three ways: increase the cannon damage, raise your nautical speed, or bolster your ship's armor. There's a definite rock-paper-scissors element to the upgrade system.
The big twist here is that these seas are awash with rival pirate factions. You can play on a single system with four players, but going online allows for up to eight at a time. You can then divide these players (and optional artificial intelligence ships) into teams of two or more. You'll need to adjust your strategy depending on the size of the map and number of players. In a small map, you'll frequently run into other players and engage in a cannon fight. In these cases, you'll need to focus on your health while making sure your team sticks together. On bigger maps, speed is more essential, and players can split up to cover more terrain.
Although there's a good amount of strategy and teamwork required, the game doesn't require much of you in terms of controls or mechanics. A lot of your actions are totally automated. When you sail up to a town or enemy ship, you'll automatically attack simply by occupying adjacent spaces on the hex-based grid. Once you've taken over a town, you simply stay in port until your health is refilled. The only time you're really pressing buttons is to signal where you want your ship to go and which upgrades to activate. The vast majority of the time, you're simply navigating a map, scouting locations, and talking strategy with a teammate.
In an effort to add replay value, the developers have decided to include a map editor to the game. We're told it's the same one used by the developer, Certain Affinity. Once you've created a map, you can share it online with friends.
Plunder is scheduled for release this summer on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and the PC. While no firm release date has been set, we do know the price will be $9.99 (or 800 Microsoft Points on XBLA).