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Joystiq hands-on: Plunder (XBLA/PSN/PC)

Zack Stern

Certain Affinity is close to finishing Plunder, a downloadable real-time strategy, multiplayer pirate game. The Capcom-published title will be released in late Spring or early Summer for XBLA, PSN, and PCs. Pricing has yet to be announced.

With inspiration from Settlers of Catan, Certain Affinity decided to create a hex-based game but with a real-time twist. Each player -- up to four on one system and eight online -- uses a pointer to guide their own ship. Teams win by capturing a certain number of towns or holding the majority when time runs out.

I played a few test games on an Xbox setup, tapping the A button to issue movement orders. Much of the rest of the game is automated, with ships attacking towns and enemy pirates when within range. Neutral and enemy towns pelted my boat with canon balls until I pummeled them into submission. If I held the defeated town for a moment, I'd claim it, causing it to attack only opposing boats.

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Plunder's strategy comes from teamwork, simple tactics, and upgrades. When two boats attack a single target, they'll overpower it more quickly. But since since vessels can't overlap, players need to work together to fit them next to targets and box-out enemy ships. And upgrades play a role. At the beginning of the game, each ship gets a limited number of upgrades to its speed, offense, and defense. But certain towns gather resources -- rum, wood, and gold -- that can be swapped for additional upgrades. Those bonuses can make towns stronger against raiders or add better powers to players' ships. Plunder felt largely like a multiplayer games, although a single-player mode introduces players to these basics.

All the Game 3.0-rage, Plunder will also include a map-editor. This intuitive tool sprays islands, towns, and other items over the hex-based worlds like a paint program. After a few minutes, we created a brand new map; Certain Affinity says that this is the same tool as the one used to create the 25 included levels. Instead of a universal upload/download system, gamers will virally pass maps to each other through friend lists. So once you play a new map, it'll automatically be saved to your system.

I liked my brief time with Plunder. It's a simple game, but I think that longer play with seven other people will reveal deeper strategies and techniques. Certain Affinity is exploring other ways for players to win games besides the town-capture mode, but plans to ship the game first with that game type. I'm looking forward to seeing how Plunder's maps, strategies, and game modes evolve after its release.

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