Hold on a minute, haven’t we been here before? Yes, it’s slowly coming back to us. In 2002 Firefly’s Stronghold Crusader was heralded as one of the finest RTS castle-building games in the business. Now we have Stronghold Crusader Extreme, the same game again, only with an ultra-hardcore campaign and some extreme skirmish levels thrown in for good measure. Who said innovation was dead?
Let’s start with the graphics engine, which has clearly been left untouched since the game’s original release. As a result, units once considered charming and charismatic can now be dismissed as blurred, twitching splodges on a monitor. However, while Old Father Time may not have been kind to the game’s appearance, his withering effects haven’t been quite as debilitating to Stronghold Crusader’s gameplay, which still possesses some beauty.
If you’ve never played a Stronghold game, the premise is simple. Build a castle, a community and a big army, then set out to knock down your enemies’ fortresses while safeguarding your own. A deep, yet intuitive settlement management system ensures that building up your fortress, economy and troop numbers is simplicity squared. Farms, hunting lodges and wells must be constructed to feed your citizens, while stone, wood and ore must be mined and stockpiled before expansion can commence. The array of fortifications that you can tack onto your castle is solid if hardly spectacular, with walls, towers, gates, defensive weapon emplacements and lookout posts composing the majority of options.
However, a major problem arises once the combat kicks off, and it’s here that Stronghold Crusader Extreme betrays its age. When two armies clash they congeal into a giant, mishmash of colours that bear virtually no resemblance to scrapping warriors. Throw in a somewhat cack-handed control interface and you’re left trying to identify and direct your troops in futility, ensuring that any type of on-the-fly tactical tweaking is nigh on impossible. Speaking of virtually impossible, let’s move swiftly onto the new Extreme missions, which, if nothing else, at least live up to their billing.
Rarely have we come across a set of RTS missions as mercilessly unforgiving as these. Missions start sedately enough as you begin to build up your settlement, but within minutes, you’re attacked by massed enemy forces that often wipe you out in the blink of an eye. Unless you’re the kind of person who goes to bed clutching their Stronghold back catalogue in moist adoration, you’ll probably find yourself completely and utterly overwhelmed by these battles and tempted to strap the DVD onto a firework out of sheer frustration. Sure, there’s fun to be had here, but if you don’t consider yourself to be in the top 10 percent of Stronghold players on the planet, chances are you’ll find little or no enjoyment from the new Extreme content. And while the original game may still provide some entertainment, it’s simply too dated to ever truly feel like money well spent.
Jul 11, 2008