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Welcome to the fourth Really Pathetic News Network Game Review, circa 12/24/2004.

Toggled Review
Castle Strike Review
By Eric Allen (Co-creator in Spoof)

I'm bored, so I'm writing a review. Lucky you eh? First up, Castle Strike--a medieval RTS from Germany.

I picked up Castle Strike as an early Christmas gift to myself earlier this week. I’ve played around with it for a while, so here comes another inevitable Prillotashekta Review (pat. Pend.)
This game is from Witt Interactive and Data Becker is European, and it shows. First off, the concept: a real-time strategy game set during the Hundred Years War. The player takes control of forces from the English, French, or Germans. You build, defend, and siege castles, and go to war with armies of medieval troops and led by Heroes (who double as the main characters is the campaigns).
Why do I say it’s obviously European? The graphics? The gameplay? Nope, it’s the manual. Reading through it, it is pretty easy to tell that it has been translated. More (non-Europe related) about the manual: it sucks. It is thin, barely tells you anything. It does not even say how to rotate the camera—I had to figure it out from the brief mention of it in the tutorial mission. Poor documentation as always been a sticking point for me (I liked Homeworld as much for its accompanying materiel as the game itself, and I read the companion books that came with StarSiege more than I actually played the game). This game follows the current trend to less manual.
The graphics are decent, if a little dated. Character models are done with minimal polygons, and as a result the faces look bizarre. On the other hand, the attention to detail in the game world is immense. Buildings look nice, and the landscape is attractive (they even have indigenous animals like rabbits and birds for a little ambiance). You can zoom in extremely close—almost too close. However, the game does not let you zoom out near far enough. It’s so bad, that it’s hard to see an entire tower, much less your keep, on the screen at once.
Now, game-wise. There are three campaigns, one for each nationality. You have to play them in order, and you have to play the missions in order for story purposes (though you can replay missions later, of course). If you can’t beat a mission, the next one is made available after losing twice. The story follows the von Rabenhorst family, especially Thorwald and his armor-wearing, shield-carrying, spear-thrusting sister Svea. Many missions (and skirmish mode) require you to build a fortress, defend it, and then assault an enemy fortress. Gameplay is the same-old-same-old. Hire unarmed Serfs to construct buildings, harvest resources (wood, stone, and iron), and provide a tax base (for gold). Build a Barracks and a Bowmaker and start churning out troops. Research upgrades. Build a workshop to make siege engines. Attack without mercy. Castle building is easy enough, though repairs can be frustrating. Lay a plan, click “build” and the walls and towers magically rise out of the earth (combined with the screen shaking and a rumbling sound effect--really). The catch is, you can only build your castle in the designated “castle” spot—a patch of grey, flat ground. You can ONLY build castle-related buildings (walls, barracks, blacksmiths) on this ground, and you can ONLY build town related buildings (farms, woodcutters, chapels) off this ground. This can make defense of your outlying village difficult, as “town” buildings have no defense, save any troops you have outside the walls and if they are close enough to your walls for your archers to provide cover fire. Furthermore, it drastically restricts the size and shape of castle you can build. There are very few buildings, and you are only allowed to have one of any given building at any given time. Stonemason’s too far from the quarry? You’ll have to tear it down and build a new one. Furthermore, construction of some things require you to have the earlier things first. For example, you have to have a stonemason’s to build walls, so if your stonemason (which is often out away from your castle and thus vulnerable) is destroyed, that means no new fortifications, no repairs, even if you have enough stone stockpiled.
Similarly, unit types is severely limited. Each nationality has essentially the same units: scout, spearman, pikeman, archer, crossbowman, arquebusier (armed with an early musket) and a melee troop (swordsman, hatchetman—all of which are essentially the same thing). National flavor only comes is higher up the tech tree with each having a “specialty unit” (i.e. the German two-handed swordsman). With no variation in units, it really comes down to who has the most. Soldiers are cheap, so you can get a lot quickly, but the population limit does put a cap on things.
The AI flat out sucks. The skirmish AI can build a (pre-defined) castle, but attacks are basically a steady stream of raids with the occasional siege engine thrown in. Your own units are overly aggressive (even in “defensive” stance) and your peasants are really really stupid. Serfs with general orders for construction and repair will not automatically fight fires, for example, and you have to forcefully select a group of serfs and tell them to put out a particular building (only to have them continuously run into the side of the well when they’re done until you tell them to put out another building). Troops (even the heroes) on aggressive will not stop and fight the enemy poking them in the backside while marching. In one mission, I had to fight the controls to keep my archers form spontaneously attacking an enemy garrison I didn’t want to engage yet. Pathfinding is also poor.
One bright spot in this game: the music. The musical score is really great. Also, the attention to detail went so far as the units (excluding heroes) speak in their native language (English, German, French) (never mind that during the time period of this game, none of these languages existed in their modern forms).

Pros: Decent graphics, nice attention to detail, great music, some missions are actually quite clever and fun.
Cons: Highly limited construction, few unit types, stupid AI, can’t zoom out enough.

My Verdict: If you’re looking for a good castle builder, this isn’t it. Go buy Stronghold (or wait for Stronghold 2 this spring). If you want a strategy game, this one will do, but it’s nothing special. More than anything, this game has inspired me to reinstall Stronghold and build some really elaborate castles.

Past Entertainment: Half Life 2 Review

1031 B.C. - 2010 A.D., Really Pathetic, LLC.