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Platform

PC

 

Genre

RTS

 

Publisher

GOD Games

 

Developer

Firefly

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q4 2002

 

 

- Excellent gameplay dynamics

- Interesting historical aspect

- Plenty of engaging play modes

- Challenging

- Epic battles to be had

- Nice minor graphical touches

 

 

- Interface is a little complicated

- Camera control is not easy enough

- No customizable difficulty

- No cheat sheet

 

 

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Stronghold: Crusader

Score: 8.0 / 10

 

A friend of mine went to Scotland a few years ago, and when he came back, he asked me what games were good, as he was gone from the world of computer fun for a good three months.  I suggested the original Stronghold, and when I explained to him that it was a castle building sim, he flipped out saying that he had been wanting such a game for many years.  Also, seeing some of the castles in the UK made him even more interested.  About a week later, I asked him how the game was, and he said it was hard with a capital H.  

 

stronghold-crusader-1.jpg (84873 bytes)         stronghold-crusader-2.jpg (81050 bytes)

 

Well, I can attest to the difficulty in the newest installment of Stronghold, entitled, Crusader.  It's hard!  On the plus side, it is not frustratingly so, as with some dedicated play, most gamers will likely find it to be a rewarding challenge.  Unfortunately, there is no customizing the difficulty 9for the most part) of the single player game.

 

The game is set during the Crusades.  The game takes a neutral stance about the whole subject and merely presents events in the game as history.  I would advise all gamers to go through the tutorial as there are some slight nuances that set Crusader apart from other strategy titles.  The first minor annoyance I found when learning the game in the tutorials was the way in which camera control was handled.  By holding down the right mouse button, a menu of camera options is 

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opened up.  Unfortunately, the way the game is designed it makes it difficult to see behind buildings and objects without first accessing this menu.  My advice would be to learn the hotkeys as there is no cheat sheet provided.

 

Stronghold Crusader is historically focused on the crusades as it's background for bringing gamers to the intriguing world of castle building, and siege warfare.  Gamers have the opportunity to repel 

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attacks on their castles and to lay waste to their enemy's castles.  Moats can be dug, drawbridges can be built, boiling oil can be poured, and battering rams can be used.  There are also lots of creative units such as ladder bearers who place ladders for your soldiers to scale over enemy walls, engineers that build you siege weaponry, and tunnelers that will dig under enemy walls.

 

The game isn't entirely focused on battle though. To recruit soldiers, you need a healthy and growing population.  The way in which the game handles resource collection is fairly standard with the creation of different types of farms and mines.  However population growth is interesting in that you can influence the rate at which your population grows based on your decisions as a ruler.  For instance increasing rations and having low taxes will increase your popularity, thereby increasing the rate at which your population will grow, in turn making it faster for you to recruit units.

 

The inclusion of a ruling dynamic to the game lends a lot of originality to the way the game is played and sets Crusader apart from the formless masses of RTS games. The type of decoration that is placed around your castle can also affect your popularity.  For instance placing many imposing things such as gallows, and rabid dogs will decrease your popularity but will increase the pace of your workers.  On the other hand placing things such as banners, and gardens will increase your popularity, but may slow the production of goods.

 

There are quite a few play modes in Crusader; more than one would normally find in a strategy game.  Most players will likely begin in the campaigns where gamers can replay some of the historical campaigns of the Crusades.  The game slowly eases gamers into the gameplay dynamics with different campaigns allowing players access to different units and buildings.  As a credit to the developers, the campaigns are quite varied in their objectives, and do not always feature the bland task of wiping the enemy off of the map.

 

Another play mode is one with is a trail of 50 missions to complete.  Perhaps the ultimate single player challenge, gamers will have to fight their way through more and more difficult missions featuring tougher and tougher enemies, in order to reach the end of the trail.  

 

stronghold-crusader-3.jpg (72363 bytes)         stronghold-crusader-4.jpg (72224 bytes)

 

Then there is my favorite mode, the castle builder.  Here gamers get to exercise their medieval interior decorating selves.  With no enemy to worry about, gamers are able to build up their ultimate castle, and then trigger custom events, for further challenges.  Finally there is the requisite multiplayer mode that is fairly pedestrian these days.

 

The primary drawback I found to the game was the interface.  The menu buttons for each of the building category types were confusing.  Often times, they would lead to sub-menu items.  This made some buildings and units difficult to find.  Setting governing policies, and trading goods was also conducted in the same window, and this created some confusion as I would have to stop and think at some points about how to get to a building that I wanted to build.

 

Although the interface could have been better, it didn't become so much of a burden that I could not enjoy the game.  With all of the different siege weapons, and interesting units available some huge battles can be created.  The visual feast of these battles is also complemented by some nice graphical touches included in the game.  For instance, when highlighted each building displays a movie of the units working for that building in a small window beside the user interface.

 

Aside from some minor accessibility issues concerning the interface, and camera control Stronghold Crusader is a very good game.  Gamers will find a lot to like about it; I know I did.  Most RTS gamers could do a lot worse, and it pains me to think that this great game may get lost in the shuffle this holiday season.  As always, though, so much gaming to do, so little time.

 

- Mark Leung

(December 15, 2002)

 

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