What makes a game great?
Good graphics? Stellar voice acting? Easy-to-learn controls? Smooth mechanics?
This is what we ask ourselves all the time here at OPNoobs. With all the different genres and titles we have available at our fingertips, I find it difficult to compare games to each other as they all bring different and unique features to the table - facets that another game may fail to deliver. There’s not a defining feature that makes a title amazing – rather, it is the nuances each game has and what sets them apart from the rest are what I tend to focus on as I write reviews.
Castle Heist: Chapter One seems to illustrate this “each title is a special snowflake” idea perfectly. Developed and published by GoffaGames, Castle Heist is the first chapter in what I assume will be a mutli-chapter installation. Some call it a walking simulator, others a stealth tactical game. As for myself, I don’t really know what to call it, and that’s kind of the fun part; I may be ignorant to other titles that could totally be similar, but I simply haven’t played a game quite like this before. Dare I say it’s…Original?
I’m not sure – feel free to tell me about all the others exactly like this in the comments section. One thing is for certain, though: I found it to be an oddly refreshing experience.
The premise is short and sweet – you play a nondescript man who has received a mysterious letter from an even more mysterious uncle. You’re told to go to his house with the added bonus of being able to keep it if you find it empty. Starting at your grandmother’s grave, you must sneak your way into a medieval-inspired town, avoiding the trigger-happy guards at all costs (but only at night – daytime is best utilized for learning guard routes). Upon entry into the town, you see that your uncle is indeed gone (Sweet. Free house!) and that he may have died trying to obtain something called “The Artifact” in the nearby castle. Your goal then becomes clear – break into the castle, steal “The Artifact,” and make it out; treasure in tow, without being spotted. For anyone that enjoyed the Dark Brotherhood or Thieves’ Guild side quests in Skyrim, this will be a fun, familiar scenario that builds on that difficult to master mechanic.
Controls are simple; WASD to move, shift to crouch, and mouse to jump. The fact that the controls are so simplistic makes it easy to focus on the singular goal of hiding from NPCs, which adds to the overall feel of the game. I found myself much more immersed in the title because it was an exercise in sheer panic – the real possibility of being caught at each and every turn had me a bit anxious. When the controls become second nature, it’s easy to get lost in the game, and that’s one of the strengths Castle Heist: Chapter One had to offer.
Can we just talk about the art style for a second?
I was immediately reminded of Skyrim due to the insane amount of detail and vibrant environments. The settings were also very similar, with the overall aesthetic being much the same. Sleepyville, or the village your missing uncle lived in, is something Straight Outta Whiterun, and Redfort – or the castle you’re jacking “The Artifact” from – is pretty similar to Solitude. My favorite part was all the in-game propaganda that was medieval style, with nasty notes about the opposing faction on parchment, tacked onto wooden beams throughout the town (that definitely got a chuckle out of me). The music is also pleasing, but perhaps a bit “low budget.” Still, it is nicely done and fits well (except for the random jazz number they inserted) so I don’t have too many complaints. I guess I just expected something a bit more medieval-inspired, and the music just didn’t quite meet those expectations.
What I find most interesting about this title is that the developer took a simple mechanic – stealth – and worked an entire storyline around it – much like the retro 80s games. The storyline itself is so simple, but it doesn’t need to be anything too complicated. That’s what makes this title so charming; it was a total nod to the classics, updated for modern times. If this level of graphics existed 30 years ago, you can bet that this game would have been released back then. It was definitely a trip back in time for this reason.
One critique I have would be the voice-acting. I’ve said this in other reviews – Europeans that speak English as a second (or third, fourth, fifth, etc…) language often speak it without an accent, but have intonations that tend to throw native English speakers off. English-speaking natives often don’t understand why the voice-acting sounds bizarre – they just know it does. It can be pretty distracting in some games while just mildly amusing in others; in this case, it was a little grating. I’d say get rid of it altogether, but the guards, through conversations with each other, often unknowingly direct you to the next goal, so it unfortunately can’t be omitted.
Overall, Castle Heist: Chapter One is a nice tribute to retro games like Thief: Deadly Shadows that comes ever so close to feeling like a polished product. It’s that “special snowflake” idea that makes me appreciate the title more than I probably would have otherwise – the notion that a simple mechanic could create an entire storyline, to me, is video game art. It’s taking something that most RPGs just incorporate into their titles without thinking much about it. The fact that stealth can have an entire story extruded from it was certainly interesting, and not something I’ve come across before. With perhaps a bit more polish and a few more updates (voice acting?), I can see this easily finding its way into the Steam library of RPG fans everywhere.