Reviewed: May 5, 2001
Released: May 2, 2001
A long time ago, back when arcades actually had real games in them other than basketball, skeeball, and that annoying crane game where you try to snag the stuffed animal, there was a really cool game called Gauntlet. It was cool for several reasons. It was based on a Dungeons and Dragons type theme which was very popular back then, it offered great gameplay, and up to four players could play at the same time which was unheard of in that day and age.
There were many successors to Gauntlet but aside from the original I never had the pleasure of playing any of them until about 20 years later when Gauntlet Legends released for the Dreamcast. I was amazed at all the memories this game brought back along with the fun of having up to four players all playing at once - something pretty rare for a console title.
Now another year has passed bringing us a more powerful console and the next generation in the Gauntlet saga. Gauntlet: Dark Legacy for the PlayStation 2 is a port of the coin-op version (yes arcades still exist) and the wizards at Midway have truly done justice to this latest version.
Everything you loved about the previous Gauntlet games is back along with many more exciting features such as:
While many will argue, and rightly so, that Gauntlet is just mindless hacking and slashing, that has been the core of the series since the original. Anyone who has played the previous games will know this going in, but for those new to the series, Midway has spiced things up giving the game more of an adventure feel.
The original Gauntlet was more of a top-down maze game where strategy consisted of getting your characters into key positions to mow down the countless hordes of monsters as you made your way to the monster-spawning generators. You collected treasure, potions, and other items to build-up your character along the way.
Gauntlet: Dark Legacy maintains this fundamental core but shifts the style into the 3D world. The levels are much more rich and alive with huge sprawling outdoor levels. The maze element is still present but is cleverly hidden with walls, fences, and paths that loop back on themselves. Maps seem huge, but if you look carefully you can always see where you have been; it may just be above or below you.
The game features an adequate storyline that gives you motivation to acquire the various collectible items and complete the game, but it eventually boils down to a pure arcade experience where you are required to kill everything that moves and take everything that isn't nailed down.
Developing your character is pretty much an automated process. You earn experience as you play the game and your character will increase in levels thus increasing stats and hit points. You have little to no say in this process other than being able to outfit your character between levels with various items you can purchase with your acquired gold.
Combat has improved immensely over the earlier games. You now have combo attacks, blocking moves, shields, magical attacks and many other skills to master during the course of your quest. Your choice of characters will slightly influence the way you approach combat, but for the most part the various characters are statistically even so it doesn't really matter whom you play as; just how fast you can mash the buttons.
The solo experience can wear thin after awhile. After all this game was meant to be enjoyed with one to three other friends. Fortunately, the designers have included the ability to save your progress between each level which means you can save about every 30 minutes.
Dark Legacy definitely looks better than its arcade counterpart and when stacked up against other recent PS2 releases holds its own quite nicely. The graphics are rich and colorful with detailed textures and vibrant colored lighting. The special effects resulting from the frequent casting of numerous spells is most impressive but can cause some slowdown if you are playing with a full complement of players. In one or two-player games the framerate is smooth and flawless.
There are some excellent humorous twists tossed into the special effects mix. These are sometimes subtle and easily overlooked such as twisted magical spells or random actions by characters or monsters. There are also plenty of environmental animations and details, which bring the levels to life and add to the overall experience.
It is also worth noting that there is a definite improvement in graphic quality when using the S-Video cable for your PS2. While the game looks fine using the standard composite (yellow) cable, everything just becomes crisp and cleaner when played through the S-video.
Dark Legacy has minimal sound effects but what is present is of excellent quality. Some of the effects can get downright creepy like the groans and howling in the haunted cemetery. Those of you familiar with the series will immediately recognize the deep booming voice that narrates portions of the game. It's almost as famous as the voice in Mortal Kombat.
The music fits nicely with each of the levels and adds to the overall tension and excitement of the game. While exploring the cemetery you are treated to some haunting pipe organ music ripped right out of your favorite b/w horror flick. Other levels feature suitable medieval musical accompaniment. My only complaint is that the music tracks are rather short which becomes noticeable when they start looping the same track during a level.
Dark Legacy features eight realms or worlds and each of these have five levels giving you forty rather large maps to explore. You will also have to revisit some of these maps to find certain mission-critical items later in the game. You can easily expect 30-40 hours of gameplay with this title.
By design, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy is a multiplayer game designed for 2-4 players. While the PS2 offers support for up to four adventurers using the multi-tap, those of you without this peripheral will be limited to two players. For this reason alone the Dreamcast could be considered the better version out of the box, but in all fairness I cannot fault the game for a poor hardware design decision on Sony's part.
Playing with three or four players can also get frustrating at times. The level of zoom in Dark Legacy is much tighter than in previous games, which means your players have to stick close together. It is all too easy to find yourself in need of that piece of meat or magic potion just out of your reach until your friend moves their character closer so you can scroll the screen. Despite these infrequent glitches in the flow of the game, Dark Legacy is an experience best shared with as many people as you can crowd around your console.
Gauntlet: Dark Legacy is one of those few ports from the arcade that actually exceeds the coin-op original. The sheer fact of saving all those quarters is a big plus, but the visual splendor of this game along with its fast paced monster slashing gameplay is the core element of this game's success.
As a solo experience, Dark Legacy has the potential to become repetitious rather quickly, but if taken in small doses you can make your way through the 40 levels and maintain your sanity. To get the most out of this title you are going to have to invite at least one friend over, and if there was ever a game that was going to make you spring for that multi-tap, this is it.