Castle Doctrine Review

castle-doctrine-cover-imagePublisher: Jason Rohrer
Developer: Jason Rohrer
Platforms: Linux, Mac, PC
Released: 1/29/2014

Castle Law, also known as Castle Doctrine or the Defense of Habitation Law, comes from the saying “one’s home is one’s castle.” This principle allows for the use of deadly force against invaders in one’s own property. In other words, if someone comes into your house you have the right to trap them inside of a maze filled with pit bulls, electrified floors and remote controlled doors. At least, that’s what I learned from the game Castle Doctrine, so don’t blame me if my legal knowledge isn’t entirely accurate.
Castle Doctrine is a game in which you try to defend your house from other online players with tricks, traps and angry dogs while simultaneously trying to break into other peoples’ houses and steal their stuff. Everything is online; every house you are attempting to rob is a house someone spent half an hour designing.

The game gives you a lot of tools to work with. You can create simple bottomless pits to trap intruders, electrify the floor, and if you’re feeling crafty you can set up complicated electrical circuits to make every burglar’s life a living hell. On the other hand, if burglary is more your thing, you can purchase tons of items that will help you break into other peoples’ houses. However, Castle Doctrine has a steep difficulty curve. There are no pre-made levels, so you must always go against other online players who have probably played the game a lot more than you and know all the ins and outs. To make matters wores, whenever you fail in an attempt to rob someone, you die and have to start from scratch. If you fail, it means that you just lost your house, your money and all of your items. Death is permanent and can’t be undone. The game is able to remain fair because in order to play, you need to prove that someone can actually beat you. Castle Doctrine makes you break into your own house, without any tools, and reach your own safe before it allows you to play online. Unfortunately, this leads to the game’s biggest flaw:

Anyone can design a house that instead of creating intricate traps and surprises simply offers 50 doors from which the burglar must choose. If you choose the wrong one, you get jumped by a pit bull. The guy who made the house, though, knows which doors will kill you and the one that doesn’t. All he needs to do is pick that one, and the game assumes his house is fair and he moves on to online play. For everyone else who attempts to burglarize this house though, it’s just a 1/50 chance to succeed, and if you fail you lose everything. This is the most common type of house I encountered in the game, and it frustrated me to no end. My solution was to stop trying to rob houses entirely, which brings me to my second issue with this game: boredom.

Castle Doctrine was apparently designed for incredibly patient and unambitious people whose idea of playing a game involves a large amount of not playing a game. You see, every time someone fails to burgle your house, you get a cash reward which you can use to make your house better, or buy more burglary tools. So, I just made a house, minimized the game, and let it run. At one point, I went to Wawa for a sandwich and left the game running. When I came back, roughly an hour later, I had made one thousand dollars by killing a few hapless souls who wandered into my trap. It turns out that I’m better at the game when I don’t play it. Of course, two minutes later some guy walked into my house, cut all of my wiring, shot my dog and stole all my money, leaving me back at square one. It was not a total loss, luckily; the sandwich was excellent. Doing well in the game wins you more in-game money and you can use that money to buy tools that let you do better at the game. After a certain point, you basically can’t lose, and you just start getting more and more money. I know that I’ll never get to that point because the game leaves me with absolutely no incentive to play it again. There is no real reward for success, only harsh penalty for failure. The game has no stat tracking or record keeping, so you’ll never be able to relive your brief moments of success or compare your performance with another player. I played this game less than ten hours before I removed it from my hard drive; there was simply nothing else to see.

Castle Doctrine is less of a game than it is a stock market simulator. You make an investment, forget about it for a while, and return a few hours later to find out someone stole all of your money. And shot your dog. And clubbed your kid to death. Okay, so the metaphor breaks down but I think I’ve made my point clear: Buy a sandwich, not Castle Doctrine. It’s more fun and won’t leave you feeling hollow inside.

By Kevin “I suggest a BBQ chicken sandwich with ranch and lettuce” Grant ’14

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