E3 2008: Age of Booty Hands-On

We check out a near-finished version of the game formerly known as Plunder during a meeting with Capcom.

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Earlier today, during a meeting with Capcom, we had an opportunity to play a near-finished Xbox 360 version of Age of Booty, the downloadable pirate-themed game formerly known as Plunder (and almost renamed Call of Booty). Teaming up with a Capcom representative to pit our skill against two of his colleagues back at the company's HQ, we managed to get a couple of games in while quizzing our teammate about some of the game's online features.

As we've reported previously, Age of Booty is an accessible real-time strategy game of sorts in which teams of pirates compete for control of island towns while doing battle with each other. The maps are hex-based, which might seem a little intimidating at first, but moving around really couldn't be easier because all you have to do is click on the tile where you want to move. Landmarks on the maps include the towns that you need to capture, native villages that can be destroyed, and a base for each team where you can dock and get your ship repaired much more quickly than at the towns you control.

Another thing to look out for as you sail the hexagonal seas are crates containing resources (wood, gold, or rum) that can be used to fortify controlled towns or to upgrade your vessel with better sails, cannons, and armor. Patrolling merchant ships are arguably an even better find because, although they put up more of a fight than the aforementioned wooden boxes, they drop special "curse crates" containing power-ups. There appear to be four different power-ups in the game, including a bomb that can be dropped onto any empty tile on the map to cause damage to adjacent ones, a whirlpool that sucks boats in and spews them out elsewhere on the map, a "ghost ship" ability that makes you invisible for a time, and a one-time chance to pilfer resources from your opposition.

When Age of Booty is released later this year for Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network, and (later) the PC, you'll be able to play against a varied roster of AI characters or up to seven other players. The console versions support up to four players in split-screen mode, and if you manage to get a group like that together, you can all go online against any configuration of up to four other players. Halo 3-style party support will give you an opportunity to stick with people who you enjoy playing with across multiple maps sorted into playlists.

Age of Booty will launch with around 25 maps and, via a series of free updates, at least another 20 maps are planned for release at a rate of two every three weeks. Furthermore, only three multiplayer modes will be included with the game on day one, but another three or four will be made available in the same free updates as the maps. It hasn't yet been decided how soon or how frequently the new modes will be made available, but the plan is clearly to keep the game fresh for fans while also attracting new players and ensuring that it's never difficult to find a match.

Those of you with creative tendencies will have an opportunity to craft your own maps with the extraordinarily simple editing tool that will be released with the game. We've covered that previously, but what you might not know is that any maps that you create will be distributed virally to other players that you encounter online. More specifically, if you choose to use one of your maps in an online game, then everyone you play with will have the option to add it to their own library. When hosting a game, you'll be able to choose from any of the official maps, any maps that you've created yourself, and up to 100 maps that you've played recently but haven't yet opted to add to your library. It's an elegant-looking system, and it'll be interesting to see how Capcom and developer Certain Affinity's online plans play out after Age of Booty's release.

We're looking forward to getting our hands on Age of Booty later this year, and in the meantime we'll be sure to pass on any further information about it that comes our way.

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