Castles. (computer game) (Evaluation)
by David Sears
The age of castles passed centuries ago, but their mystery and romance remain. In the hearts of fantasy role-players everywhere, there lingers the urge to show medieval peasantry what separates the lords from the vassals. Stone fortresses and armies, of course, make all the difference, and Interplay's Castles sets the stage for some memorable days of monarchy.
As king and architect, surveyor and overseer, you determine the course of history. Make the mistakes of an aloof leader or usher in an age of prosperity through your benevolent rule. Either approach teaches that castle building isn't the least bit romantic.
As surveyor, you'll find a suitable castle site soon enough, but your duties as overseer require considerably more perseverance. You'll hire and fire diggers, carpenters, carters, masons, and other laborers. From this pool of personnel, you assign crews to wall sections, towers, and gates. Keep an eye on the treasury, or your underlings will leave the site when the coffers run dry.
Rampaging ogres or berserk Celts raid often. In order to protect your work in progress, you'll need infantry and archers, but to attract them in sufficient numbers, you'll need to design a castle of a certain size. Balance all these factors with the political quandaries facing you as king, and Castles emerges as quite a complex game.
The manual provides considerable historical perspective along with brief sketches of the personalities you're likely to encounter during your noble reign. Confusing, however, is the tutorial on how to construct a castle; it takes the form of a lengthy dialog, and tends to obscure some necessary facts. Much better would be an optional list of itemized dos and don'ts that would have players laying cornerstones much sooner.
The king's encounters with his subjects require you to choose from a very limited number of options. Players are likely to grimace in frustration when obvious actions aren't listed as choices.
With their jerky animation and lack of detail, combat sequences leave much to be desired. As a castle simulator, though, Castles does an admirable job of presenting your growing stone edifice in three-dimensional color. Accompanying music echoes your industriousness, but as with most short, repetitive soundtracks, the Castles theme eventually wears thin.
Castles falls short of being a true Middle Age construction set, however, dealing with nothing more than castles themselves. Villages don't spring up around your fortress, and if you choose to sponsor a combat tourney, you won't see a bit of the action. In short, educational value is primarily limited to the pages of the manual.
Still, those who dream of watching sunsets from towering parapets will play Castles often enough to warrant the purchase price. Raise high your banners, Lords and Ladies; Castles can make monarchs of us all.