Reviewed: May 18, 2002
Released: April 23, 2002
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 more powerful consoles and the next generation in the Gauntlet saga. Gauntlet: Dark Legacy for the Xbox is a port of the coin-op version and more recently, the PS2 and GameCube version and of Gauntlet: Dark Legacy. While the the wizards at Midway did an amazing job on the PS2 version, the GameCube version lacked both quality and novelty despite several new GameCube-exclusive features. This new version for the Xbox improves on the PS2 version's quality and combines the new features of the GameCube version to bring you the ultimate and most comprehensive version of this classic button-masher to date.
Here's the features given in the press release as well as on the back of the game box:
Plus these exciting features not found on the PS2 version:
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. And with the new additions to the Xbox version, even those who have played either of the previous home versions will be in for a treat.
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.
After getting seriously burned by the horribly graphics of the GameCube version I was pleasantly surprised to find the Xbox version had been totally remastered and looked fantastic - even better than the PS2. Of all the Gauntlet games I have played on all the systems I have played them on, this is by far the best looking version of them all.
The cutscenes are well-rendered and offer a unique visual mix of game graphics and high-end CGI graphics. The game graphics have never looked better with rich colors and textures. Everything is crisp and clean and presented at silky smooth frame rates. Even with multiple players and lots of monsters on the screen I never saw a dip in the frame rate. Boss encounters, previously known for taking a hit in the animation department come through with flying colors and fluid movement.
The special effects include real-time lighting and particle effects and they all look amazing. Previous versions had some trouble with clipping, but this has all been cleaned up nicely. It appears that considerable time was spent in optimization this game for the Xbox system.
Even though my AV receiver tells me that the game is playing in Dolby Digital 5.1 I really couldn't hear any improvement over the PS2 version. I certainly didn't hear any type of 3D surround mix. It still sounds a bit tinty and hollow, but so did the coin-op that this game is based on.
The sounds are simply adequate and serve their purpose. You still get a chill down your spine when you hear that deep voice doing the opening narration or giving you audible alerts during the game. The music composition is still excellent, and each area has its own theme.
Dark Legacy features eight realms or worlds and over sixty 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 20-30 hours of gameplay with this title to complete the main quest.
By design, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy is a multiplayer game designed for 2-4 players. 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, and the Xbox is prepared to let four players hack and slash right out of the box. No multi-tap is required to turn this arcade hit into a foursome favorite.
Gauntlet: Dark Legacy is one of those games that you want to have on hand when friends are over. It's one of the few games that supports 4-player cooperative play and a great party game that's lots of fun. This is my third time playing this game, and the Xbox has easily been the most enjoyable of all three experiences. The power of the Xbox is fully exploited to deliver great graphics, and all those cool innovations that the GameCube version got a few months ago are included making this the ultimate Gauntlet experience.