by Take 2 Interactive
One of the best strategy games of last year was Stronghold. The game was a kind of castle simulator from the middle ages that encompassed life in the castle with full on siege warfare. This time though the action is focused around the Knights Templar, otherwise know as the Crusaders. The location has switched from Europe to the Holy Lands in the east. Let's take a look and see if it is a worthy successor to Stronghold.
From looking at the screenshots you may think that it looks very similar to Stronghold except for the new architecture and terrain. To be fair in terms of gameplay the differences between Stronghold and Stronghold Crusader are not great. Whilst this may sound a little negative I honestly think that the strengths of Crusader really lie in it's gameplay options rather than simply the gameplay.
In Stronghold the game was split into combat and economic campaigns and missions. In Crusader there are far more options. The Crusader Trail offers a staggering 50 linked games to progress through. This is going to take months of dedicated play to complete. You also have the opportunity to skip any three of these missions by clicking on the chicken icon on the map screen. There is also the option to setup a custom game against AI opposition, something Stronghold lacked. Here you can setup a normal, crusader or deathmatch game. If this wasn't enough there is also four campaigns. The campaigns are as follows:
There is also the multiplayer modes and a map and scenario editor that enable you to create your own maps and scenarios to play in either multiplayer or single player games. There is also the Castle Builder option that allows you to play in isolation. This is also a valuable mode to become accustomed to the resource and weapon development trees, which is something you don't always get the chance to do when you have an enemy breathing down your neck. You can even trigger events in Castle Builder mode to spice things up in the same way as in the Sim City games. All together we are probably talking about a years solid play out of Crusader which is quite simply phenomenal and a massive improvement over the original game.
As we mentioned earlier the graphics are exactly the same as in the original except for the eastern architecture and units. While this may disappoint some who were looking for improvements (bearing in mind that there are some 2D games, like Emperor, which look superior) the graphics are still ideal for this type of game. Of course the system requirements (500MHz CPU recommended) are kept quite low with this type of game engine too and therefore it allows more gamers to enjoy the game which has to be more important at the end of the day.
Like Stronghold, Crusader is absolutely fine for deaf gamers. I found one or two instances where there was some speech that wasn't subtitled but this was trivial and not important. For instance on loading up the game you receive a verbal greeting. Let's say you've called yourself Lord Bob. On loading the game a verbal greeting saying "Greetings Lord Bob" is given but this is not subtitled. As you can see it would have been nice for such verbal snippets to have been subtitled but they're not essential. There is an impressive tutorial with the game which is fully subtitled with click-off dialogue boxes.
Of course it is always difficult to grade a game that is essentially a deluxe version of an earlier product. Whilst the theme has slightly shifted a little in Crusader, the gameplay is essentially the same with it's castle sieges and economic juggling that makes the whole thing so addictive. For those who loved Stronghold then Crusader comes highly recommended as it is a refined, more complete and satisfying version of Stronghold. For those of you who didn't get on with the original then you'll find nothing here to change your mind. In the US a rebate is being given to those who bought Stronghold but here in the UK there is no such luxury and this has to taken into account. Regardless of your standpoint though, Crusader is a very good follow up to Stronghold that will impress fans of the original.
Overall Game Rating: 8.5/10 A more complete game than Stronghold but ultimately it's the gameplay modes/options that make Crusader stand out rather than any differences in the gameplay.
Deaf Gamers comment: Virtually everything (and everything important) is subtitled.