Reviewed: February 2, 2006
Released: December 12, 2005
If you want to see just how far Midway has taken the Gauntlet franchise one only needs look at any of their recent compilation collections or head over to the Xbox Live Arcade where you can lose yourself in the countless top-down hack-n-slash adventures of the Warrior, Elf, Wizard, and Valkyrie.
Even though that primitive dungeon crawl remains as popular today as it did 25 years ago, Midway has continuously been improving on the concept with the move into 3D, new RPG elements, fantastic worlds, and with Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows, more emphasis on storytelling.
For many years, the four immortal Heroes served the Emperor until, goaded by his advisors, the Emperor betrayed the four, binding them to a tree at the bottom of the world and stealing their immortality for himself. The advisors had plans of their own, however, and in turn stole the Heroes' power themselves. The six betrayers proved unable to handle the power, however, and became horrible, twisted monsters, throwing the world into chaos.
Now the Emperor bears great regret for his seven sorrows, for betraying the Heroes and trusting his advisors. So he sets the Heroes free from their imprisonment and begs them to undo his other sorrows, to set the world right so that he can rest in peace knowing that he did not bring about the destruction of his own empire.
Ask anyone who has ever played a classic Gauntlet game and they will admit that it is primarily a button masher. Gauntlet has always been very accessible, and that basic button-mashing gameplay has led to a lot of the popularity of the series, so Seven Sorrows builds on that core concept and expands it into something a bit more next-gen.
Previous Gauntlet games have been largely about projectile attacks, but Seven Sorrows is more about melee combat. Every character still has a powerful projectile attack, but the ranged combat plays a supporting role to the traditional hack and slash attacks, as well as a launching attack that sends enemies into the air and leaves them susceptible to even more complex attacks. The melee attacks can be chained into combos with different effects, and the game rewards players for using style to defeat their enemies.
The combat is now much more focused on a combo system. As you play the game and gain experience, you will be able to unlock new skills that can change the way your combat strategies work. Different enemies react differently depending on how you attack. Some enemies block anything but the strongest Hack attacks, while others will dodge anything but the fastest Slash attacks. Other enemies will wait for you to be distracted by their allies, then dash in and try to get in a cheap shot. The more powerful combos give you opportunity to trump these attacks.
The game tries to introduce some exploration and puzzle elements but none of these really evolve into any substantial. The game almost always resorts to simply killing everything on the screen at which point the solution to whatever puzzle you might have had reveals itself.
It is entirely possibly to play Seven Sorrows by yourself but you probably won’t have nearly as much fun. The game is obviously designed with multiplayer in mind, even if it’s just two of you, but the best experience is with a full party of four. You can pick your character class, name that character and then build him up in stats and abilities and bring him into any new party later on.
This element can get a bit cumbersome since you have to manage both player profiles and character profiles as well as saved games. If you take a break and come back a month later you might have some trial and error getting everything to match back up. The nice thing is that even if a new group of friends come over and want to join the game they can pick up existing high-level characters and fit in with the rest of the party.
What isn’t so nice is that there is no consideration for putting a low-level character into a high-level party. Typically, in experience-based games this is a great way to quickly level up a character by participating in battles that would otherwise kill you. In Seven Sorrows you will simply find yourself unable to survive and even if you do you won’t be getting any extra experience since the other characters will be doing a majority of the work.
The worlds and levels in Seven Sorrows all bring a heightened realism to the game experience, preserving the epic setting that you might expect from a Gauntlet game, but making it look like a place that could really exist. Previous entries in the series have had a lively and vibrant look, which really gave them a fun feel, but with the more detailed story line comes new visuals that a rooted in fantasy-reality.
Some of the designs are architectural marvels, borrowing heavily on medieval, Norse, and Incan designs. Whether you are fighting on a grassy hillside, crumbling mountains, or majestic city, you can be sure the levels will literally explode with interactive elements, keeping the gameplay fast and frantic.
The character design is superb, not only the wonderful portrait art in the status screens but the in-game models and fluid animation for the various attacks and combos. You’ll actually see subtle changes to your character as they grown and gain new weapons and abilities.
The spellcasting and potion use offers a great chance to showcase some of the mind-blowing special effects in the game. Energy radiates outward, and there are showers are sparks, columns of fire, and all sorts of supernatural events just waiting to dazzle you.
The camera works well zooming out to keep all the characters in view. Naturally, you’ll get a closer angle and better details playing alone, and you still have those “moments” in multiplayer where you are trying to open a chest on the left edge of the screen while the rest of the party is fighting off an army of skeleton on the right.
Midway used several highly talented composers to create an amazing fantasy-action soundtrack worthy of a feature film. The music is heroic and stirring, but also has some real subtlety, matching up with the different cultures represented in the game world.
The awesome-looking game world would seem pale without a rich sound experience, so there is a fantastic Dolby Digital surround mix that brings these worlds alive. Gauntlet sounds as good as it looks, with the heavy sounds of combat mixed with supernatural spell effects and the more subtle environmental effects when things get quiet enough to hear them.
Sadly, I cannot claim to recognize any of the voice actors who turn in some excellent performances as the primary characters, as well as an excellent narrator who voices the opening story sequence. There aren’t many chances for huge portions of dialogue, merely a lot of one-liners and random quotes during gameplay.
It can take you a good 10-12 hours to battle your way through the 15+ levels of Seven Sorrows. If you are playing alone then there may be some appeal to replaying the game as the various characters, perhaps maxing out their stats and abilities, but the gameplay is pretty mindless hack and slash and you’ll probably have had enough after the first pass.
Of course the real staying power is with the multiplayer. I hate split-screen gaming so any game that allows me to join with up to three other people on the same screen is a winner in my book. And now Gauntlet allows you to find those other players online over Xbox Live. It definitely makes it easier to get involved in the multiplayer experience, but Gauntlet requires a lot of teamwork and communication and that doesn’t always work the best with the headset.
Gauntlet has come a long way since the 2D days of the original. With a whole new look, updated characters, RPG elements, and a simple but compelling story, Seven Sorrows is truly a futuristic retelling of a classic franchise that will delight veterans of the series and attract a whole new following of would-be adventures.
As always, this game is targeted for the multiplayer experience and Xbox Live makes that just that much easier. But whether you play alone or with friends on the couch or online, Gauntlet Seven Sorrows is an adventure worth taking.
Now, if you’ll excuse me…RED WARRIOR NEEDS FOOD BADLY.