Ahh, Stronghold... A slice of nostalgia, and a damn fun game to boot. I'm going to go on a bit of a rant here, to be perfectly honest, so for anyone remotely interested in this game I'll give you a quick overview right now. Stronghold is a classic real time strategy game with a focus on replayability, base building/management and careful positioning over the micromanaging tactics that tend to dominate many RTS games today. If that sounds up your street, I'd buy it at full price. The game is WELL worth £3.50 and I must have sunk at least 40 hours into creating new and interesting siege maps and swapping them with my friends to challenge one another alone.
Onto the more detailed rundown...
Ummm... Yeah, this isn't why you should be playing this game. It was made back in the early 2000's, and it looks like it. This 'HD remake' does little to help it there. There's no reworking of the graphics or anything like that, and the opening cinematic still plays in a hilariously tiny box in the middle of a great big black void. Fortunately, in-game itself is treated very nicely indeed with the new resolutions... There's definitely a charm to the animations, and the little details like the cinematics that play out on your minimap when you select certain buildings or to mark events are welcome... But there's not much here to recommend beyond the rustic medieval design of the game's interface as a whole, which still stands up to some degree despite the game's age. I suppose one bonus of this is that you certainly won't have to worry about upgrading your rig to meet any requirements...
So we're talking about the campaign then! Honestly, the campaign isn't why I ever played this game... But it helps. Particularly on returning to it, I'm surprised at how good the campaign story gets once you get into later sections. This is a simple story of revenge and honour in a historically ambigious version of England. And yet the game does manage to go beyond a simple framework that leads your nameless character from point A to point B to fight Lord C because... Well because Daddy issues. No, it actually manages to create something that you can invest in to an odd degree. Mostly though it's use of larger than life, fun characters.
Your two main advisors are a fun pair of Lords that bounce off each other in a way that's mildly amusing, but it's primarily the villains of the game that get the best moments. The four lords, The Rat, The Snake, The Pig and The Wolf (going by their nicknames) are each clearly defined, given backgrounds and range from freaking hilarious to pathetic to loathsome. The game does a great job throughout of giving you great reason to want to crush these four villains both in and out of gameplay itself, with the dialogue not stopping once your in-game itself. (Apparently medieval Skype calls were a thing. Who knew?)
The voice acting for these parts is... Well, this is going to be the divisive bit. It works for me, in an odd way. But if you've got any kind of ear for actors, you're quickly going to pick up on the fact that there's basically one, maybe two (three at a push) guys voicing EVERYTHING IN THE GAME. And yes, I said guys quite intentionally, as this includes the women. The game, however, appears to be well aware of this deficiency and plays it up for all it's worth (Most notably in the case of the mother's wondering around your keep who let you know how lovely the morning is in their best Monty Python impersonation) with some success. It's a matter of taste, but I find it pretty entertaining, and within the campaign itself it does add a kind of charm to the whole proceedings in regards to the storytelling nature of it's plot.
7/10 (6/10 if you don't appreciate hilarious voice acting.)
Ah. Here we go. This is what it's all about. Simply put, Stronghold is a fantasticly fun RTS. There are a variety of units that serve basic purposes, but the game knows not to go too far with it. When the time of a siege is approaching fast and you only have limited moments to decide whether to split your resources between your economy, your castle walls or your military, it's important that you know exactly what every soldier is there to do. The game does an excellent job of setting up a simple, but useful roster of troops to choose from. Without going into extreme detail here, just be aware that this is one game where zerg swarming the weakest units isn't going to get you very far if you're trying to siege anything beyond a very basic wooden set-up... Not if the defender is at all smart with their pitch and engineer set up, that is...
There are counters to pretty much any unit type, and as of such this often becomes a game of out manouvering your opponent or careful planning rather than sudden quick decisions. The siege mode which is entirely focused on the combat and a single siege (obviously) is certainly more exciting in that sense, but even during battles the game is not a fast-paced affair. It is exciting primarily in the scale and degree of strategy you must deploy to break through seemingly impregnable sets of walls and defences, or ensure that those damn trebutchet don't get set up out of your archers and crossbowmen's range... And if they do, whether it's worth sacrificing your precious few knights in a charge to try and destroy them this early on. All in all, Stronghold is an oddly relaxing game inbetween battles. Every decision matters, but the game's soothing soundtrack and charming graphics, combined with the focus on placement and management over micromanaging and quick reflexes gives it a very laidback feeling compared to a lot of modern RTS installments. If you haven't played a game like this before, this may seem a bit 'off' to begin with, but give it some time and I think you'll soon grow to appreciate it. Unless, of course, you're a twitch gaming junkee that just needs his next fix, in which case why are you even looking at an RTS review? You weirdo. Sheesh.
Oh and I suppose we should talk about replayability. You want to talk about replayability? This game comes out, walks up to most games that talk about replayability and just slaps them across the face and then suplexes them into the corner, screaming like it's Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior's unholy love child. Stronghold's map creator is probably one of it's best features. The base maps themselves within the siege and invasion modes are already great fun, but the map creator allows you to basically do whatever you like, however. It's a standard other RTS games should look to achieve.
If I were to lay any complaints at the floor of Stronghold's gameplay, they would all come from dated limitations. It is possible to flatten the world and look at structure layout by pressing spacebar, which helps make sure that you haven't missed any gaps but camera positioning IS an issue. For the most part, it's fine, but I am now spoilt by modern games that give full use of a camera that allows seemless positioning and zooming. This game allows you to switch between looking at the map from four different directions when you hold down right click and select a compass. And yes, I know that I've been particularly fair on the game given it's age before this point, but this IS the game's one major failing. It's not a big one, honestly, but it's one that should be mentioned. All I can say is, thank god they thought to add in the spacebar option.
Stronghold is a very good game. Have I said that yet? I think I have. Maybe I'll say it again? Yes. Stronghold is a very good game, any limitations it has mostly come down to the game's age, but with this HD remake it's greatest limitations (actually being able to play the damn thing on a modern computer screen) have been fixed. I would HEAVILY recommend it given it's reaonable to the point of criminal price.