This guy’s wife looks exactly like my wife
The front door slams open, darkness obscures all but the corridor in front of me. Meticulously I scrutinise the walls for other rooms, knowing that behind any of the doors lays certain death. I tentatively enter a room to find a cowering family before me. Mother, daughter and son scramble out , making a break for the front door. A close call; had they owned a gun, I would be dead. I continued further down the hall, peeking through another door; to my dismay, I was face to face with a bloodthirsty pit bull. Hot on my heels, the ravenous beast chased me back through the hallway and out of the house. I returned home, a little worse for wear, but empty-handed. Crossing the threshold, a pool of blood encircled my shoes. While I was out, my wife had been murdered, and my savings stolen. This is brutal. This is The Castle Doctrine.
If you are a fan of Jason Rohrer’s games, you will know that they are visually simplistic, however, thematically and mechanically they can be incredibly complex. This thought immediately struck us as we booted up The Castle Doctrine.The muted tones of the simplistic sprites are nothing to write home about, but the complexity of the game’s mechanics are undeniable.
As you begin the game you are presented with a bare room. The only inhabitants are your wife, two kids, and your safe. Your job is to protect not only your family, but also the money in the safe. You do this by spending money on security features. You start off with $2000 and may use that to buy labyrinthine tunnels, pitfalls, pit bulls, electric grates, and an assortment of items to help you rob other houses. Once you have created security measures you deem sufficient, you must prove that they are, in-fact, flawed. You cannot simply place your safe around 4 pitfalls, you must be able to get to it yourself. Once you have bypassed your own security, you can go out and rob your neighbours.
All other houses in the game belong to other players, looking to protect their families and acquire more money – just like you. You may choose from a list of residents, all with different levels of equity. Generally, a player who has $2000 is going to be a hell of a lot easier to rob than someone with $30,000 in his safe.
Upon entering another player’s house, it is a good idea to survey the area. Electronic gates, pressure plates, power stations, and pitfalls are all bad news. If you have wire cutters on hand you can cut the wires providing power to various traps. If a rabid dog stands in your path, throw him a chunk of drugged meat. Family members causing you hassle? Shoot them dead. In the early stages of the game, however, you may find yourself without these tools, instead opting to bolster your home’s security.
Initially, you will fail. Repeatedly. The Castle Doctrine’s many complex mechanics are not explained all that well. You are instead left to figure these out for yourself. There is also a wiki to help players find their feet, but its information is limited. Wiring up complex traps takes time and patience. Not only must you be able to prove they can be bypassed, but your family must also have a clear path out of your home. Admittedly we haven’t gotten the hang of things quite yet. Whether it is dying at the hands of our own traps, or being mauled by another player’s dog, we weren’t cut out for this rob-a-day lifestyle. We get the feeling that people who enjoyed messing around with redstone in Minecraft, could lose hundreds of hours to The Castle Doctrine.
The game, of course, has some issues. Chief among them is the user interface. Menus are clunky, and a chore to navigate. Selecting a building block involves bringing up another menu, and then flipping through various pages to get to the piece you want. When you are building complex structures, the menus will become annoying. Similarly, to select a house to rob, you will have to scroll through a long list of players, to find one that is an appropriate challenge for your level of play. A more comprehensive filter would be appreciated.
Although visual and audio simplicity are a hallmark for all of Rohrer’s games, more effort in The Castle Doctrine’s appearance and audio design would widen its appeal. Graphics are 8-bit in style, and audio is sparse, with the exception of some “I’m out on the rob” music.
The Castle Doctrine is a niche game. It won’t appeal to the masses. It isn’t meant to, however. This is for the gamer with the cool, calculating mind. Someone who will step away from the keyboard to ruminate on how best they can foil potential thieves. Despite it’s merciless difficulty and our lack of skill, we found ourselves returning to the game, trying to outdo our previous attempts. For $16 The Castle Doctrine is a safe bet, there are potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay here, depending on your skill and patience levels. If you have ever fantasised about robbing your neighbours blind, do yourself a favour and stick to doing it virtually.