Stronghold, by MacSoft/Infogrames
Posted: 4-Dec-2002

3 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: MacSoft Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: GAMES

Description
Stronghold is a unique "Castle Simulation" game, where you establish a settlement, build your castle, and engage in siege warfare to defend your people. It combines aspects from city building simulation with Real-Time Strategy (RTS) game features.

Requirements

  • G3/350 Mhz or better (500 Mhz for on-line play)
  • Mac OS 8.6 or better (includes Carbon version for OS X)
  • Rate 128 graphics card or better
  • 128 MB RAM
  • 750 MB free hard disk space
  • Internet or LAN connection for multiplayer games


Review System

  • G4/867 Mhz
  • Mac OS 9.2.2
  • 256 MB RAM

NOTE: Before I began playing, I went to the support web site, and downloaded and installed the Stronghold 1.2 patch.

Game Play
Upon first starting up Stronghold, you are presented with a menu for combat options, economic options, map editor, or loading a saved game. You also can choose to play a Tutorial which walks you through some of the basics of starting up a settlement. I played the tutorial, and it was extremely basic. It guided me through the production of a settlement, granary and a few other buildings, but nothing too exciting (no combat buildings).

After getting a feel for the game through the tutorial, I went into the Combat options, and this provides you choice playing a 21-mission campaign, a multipayer game, a siege mission, or an invasion. The economic options are similar, although the campaign is much shorter (it features a 5-mission economic campaign that takes place after the combat campaign).

I chose to play the 21-mission campaign. The basics of the combat missions are to start off your settlement, and build some defenses. The very first mission is to simply stockpile some food and wood. Once that goal is reached, you then need to build a wall to protect your settlement. In order to build anything, you need wood. Each mission starts you off with enough wood to build a Keep and a Granary, which is good, because you aren't allowed to build anything else until you have these. From there, you build up your resources by creating special huts, such as the woodcutters hut for collecting wood, and the hunters hut for collecting food. Food is stockpiled in the granary, and wood and other resources are stockpiled on a platform next to the keep (called a "stockpile"). You start off with a population of your "Lordship" and 8 peasants. The peasants sit around the Keep campfire until a job opens up (e.g., you build a woodcutters hut, and one of the peasants becomes a woodcutter, etc.). When all your peasants are working, you can build huts to expand your population to get more workers and soldiers.

It isn't until the third mission where you get to build a military force. Before you can create military troops, you need to have weapons to give them, and that requires a Fletcher shop (or for later, a Poleturner, Blacksmith, Tanner and Armorer). You also need to build an armory to store the completed weapons in. After that, you build the barracks where you recruit your peasants to become archers, spearmen, swordsmen, and so on.

As the game progresses, you are confronted with small battles, such as attacking wolves, or a band of archers. This is why it is good to have your town fenced in, along with gates and ramparts and towers. On the ramparts and towers you position archers and bowman to fight off unwanted visitors.

Eventually you want to have your wooden walls upgraded to stone, and all your buildings and military units upgraded until you have the best castle in the land. Using your military, you lay siege to other castles using knights, tunnelers, ladderman, and so forth. You also want to defend your castle from attacks from other kingdoms.

I found Stronghold to be a mixture of Age of Empires and Tropico, having some uniqueness to itself, but also missing some of the strong features of these other games. For instance, I enjoyed the interface in both Age of Empires and Tropico moreso than in Stronghold. To perform some navigations, such as zoom in and out and rotate map, you control-click to get a menu (pops up wherever you right click on the map), and then choose an option. I found this to be cumbersome, and a bit distracting. You place buildings and fences on the map similar to other games by clicking on the item to build, and then clicking where on the map to build it. However, unlike Tropico and Age of Empires where peasants start working on the building (i.e., you cannot use it until it is built), in Stronghold the building is completely built after the click.

For castle fans, there's a lot of good castle building stuff to be had in this game, such as creating battering rams, building siege towers, catapults and trebuchets, digging moats, and boiling oil. The graphics are very nice as well, and the feature to be able to "reveal" areas by pressing a key to visually hide all tall items (such as trees, walls and buildings) is pretty neat. The sense of creating your own kingdom is further enhanced by the personalities that eventually spring up in your towns, such as hunters, farmers, mothers and babies, and even a jester.

Stronghold has its addictive qualities, but it has its down sides too. I would rate the user interface as okay; I've seen worse, but I've seen better. Rotating the map is tedious, and some of the other interface functions just didn't feel intuitive to me. I like that each personality counted, and the simulation on character movement was great, but I also found it awkward trying to control military forces in battle. In one game I desparately tried to get the Lordship to flee from attacking wolves, but the fool insisted on staying and fighting them, until he died (and I had to start the mission over).

Interface issues aside, there are also some bugs in this software. When I first started playing the combat campaign, I went from the first mission to the second mission quite seamlessly, but at some point the game got confused and I was unable to build any structures. At first I was just trying to build a fence, as this was the first fence building mission, but no matter how hard I tried, the fence would never get placed on the map. I thought it might be a supply issue, but I let the wood stockpile until my stockpile was full, and it still didn't work. In fact, I wasn't able to build anything, including a needed 2nd stockpile. The build function just broke. I attempted to save the game in hopes that reloading it would fix the quirk, but the save game option was disabled in the game menu. I finally just quit, and when I came back in, the game knew that I completed the first mission, so I did get to start the 2nd mission; unfortunately, it was a template start rather than continuing off from where I left.

The bug that annoyed me the most was something I discovered after I quit the game. Stronghold does not restore the desktop properly (at least not in OS 9). My desktop is organized in a specific way, kind of like my garage, full of stuff, and only I know where everything is and why it's there. The effect of Stronghold on my desktop is like my garage getting hit by a tornado; everything is scattered and condensed in a smaller area with icons overlaying other icons. With as far as technology is these days, it is really inexcusable for any software product to not properly restore the desktop. For many of us, that is sacred territory, and others may be more unforgiving than I am.

Summary
Stronghold sports some pretty neats features for a combination simulation and RTS game, and I really enjoyed the feeling of building up my own castle environment. The castle simulation is fun to guide and watch, and the combat and economic strategizing can be quite addicting. However, due to some of the awkwardness in the interface, the bugs I encountered in the game, and the way it hosed my desktop on exit, I find myself on the border with this game. If the resolution of your screen already matches the Stronghold game resolution, the desktop desecration may not be an issue for you, but the bugs may still bite you. Stronghold provides a great castle simulation adventure, and sports enough cool features to hint at a lot of potential, but it wasn't tested enough before being released to really hit that potential.


Pros:

  • Great castle simulation environment
  • Addicting combat and economic strategizing
  • Wonderful character simulation and tracking

Cons:

  • Some quirky interface issues
  • Bug disabling the build function
  • Does not properly restore desktop on exit


Overall Rating:

3 out of 5 Mice