Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: December 12, 2005
A lot of classic game franchises are still struggling with the transition from 2D to 3D, even with multiple 3D titles under their belts - just look at Sonic Team's recent struggles with Sonic Heroes and Shadow the Hedgehog. Gauntlet has been similarly struggling to find a place in the world of 3D gaming, despite a few successful arcade games. Seven Sorrows is the latest effort, and in a lot of ways does the best job to date of bringing the fun of Gauntlet into the 3D era. Seven Sorrows is a complete, total party game, lots of fun with three other friends to fill out your party and a bit lonely when you try to play it solo. The XBox build this review looked at prominently featured Live support, so fortunately nobody with Live will have to adventure alone.
The storyline concerns the four immortal warriors (Barbarian, Valkyrie, Elf, and Wizard) that are the perennial stars of the Gauntlet games being betrayed by the Emperor they served, after he came to desire their immortality for himself. Instead, his evil advisers used the power to become horrible monsters that tormented the land. The Emperor, consumed with regret, freed the Immortal Warriors from the magic tree they'd been nailed to, and proceeds to narrate their adventures as they rove through the world, looking for Sorrows to kill. As this plot might indicate, the game experience is mostly about combat, interspersed with some light puzzle-solving. Most of the time you fight down hordes of enemies that storm out of monster generators, and sometimes out of thin air, to harass your Immortal. You can destroy the monster generators to shut them down, and then pick up any treasure or life-restoring food left lying around.
Now, in old Gauntlet games, killing monsters consisted of hammering the "kill things" button and shooting death at your enemies. Seven Sorrows takes a new and more subtle approach, by installing a combo-oriented attack system that uses pretty much every button on the controller. You hit A to use Slash, a wide arc that can hit multiple movies. X triggers your Hack, an overhead slash that breaks through a blocking enemy's guard. Y triggers your Launch, a move that throws the enemy into the air and can be used to initiate air-juggle combos. R lets you interact with environmental elements, while L lets you block and the left analog stick lets you dodge quickly away in the indicated direction. B triggers a magic-enhanced long range attack, and tapping the black button triggers a giant burst of magic that damages every enemy onscreen, and is the only move that can possibly damage Death. The right analog stick, of course, lets you move, and the D-Pad triggers some additional super moves. The moves triggered with the D-Pad, and the advanced combos you can do by using certain button presses in sequence, all have to be bought with the gold you find while exploring levels.
The game is balanced such that you can't get too many moves too quickly no matter how many people are playing or what the difficulty level is. So, the farther you go in the game, the more complex the enemy behaviors get, and the more options you have in your arsenal for fighting back. At the same time, you're never in a situation where you can't possibly defend yourself unless you have a particular advanced move. Each Immortal has a list of moves that is ultimately unique to that character, but the controls are similar enough that you can go from one character to another without having to learn the controls all over again.
The Xbox build we played is of course nearly complete, and the game looks very good. The camera does a pretty good job of tracking the party's movements, although you can't actually move your characters so far apart that they don't all fit onscreen. This can be frustrating in multiplayer mode when going through, say, an area that's full of damaging fire-traps, but can also make for some great party game moments as you curse at other players to back up a bit so you can get at a chest or generator. The graphics are nicely detailed, as each Immortal has a wholly unique set of attack animations. Textures and lighting were believable but not extraordinary, and some level layouts felt a bit too repetitive.
Enemies are a bit bland, as most foes only have at most a handful of attack options. We didn't use many of the combat engine's most advanced moves, since it was often easier to just counter with a single-button move. Still, the combos were fun to play around with in later levels, when dozens of monsters can be moving around onscreen at a time and getting lots of kills quickly becomes totally necessary for survival. They aren't an option you need so much as one that's fun to have when you're tired of slashing everything to death. The game's music is pretty weak, something you'll probably cover up with a custom play list, but the voice acting and sound effects were top-notch. It's really fun to hear the narrator grimly intoning "Red Valkyrie needs food, badly" or "Death has appeared."
Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows is shaping up to an excellent party game. Although it's much too long to finish in one sitting, it's definitely something you could probably finish with a group of friends inside of a week if you had plenty of spare time. The controls put the gameplay emphasis on action in a way that's satisfying, but they're also simple enough that playing the game never gets too stressful. Basically, if you want a game where you can play it with friends and then curse at each other for stealing gold and kills, Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows is completely for you. It's goofy fun nicely compressed into DVD disc format.
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