Fans of the Gauntlet franchise were quite excited when they heard that John Romero was teaming up with Midway to create a new Gauntlet Game. We heard about how the game was going to have an RPG focus to it, giving the franchise some much-need depth. Unfortunately, those plans were put on hold when Romero left the project. Undaunted, Midway forged on, releasing Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows (G:SS) this past holiday season. G:SS an average hack n' slash adventurer that offers up some entertaining co-op gameplay, but ultimately does nothing new.
Gauntlet's story isn't particularly remarkable, but it's still one of the game's strongest aspects, and it's unveiled through cut-scenes between levels. The four heroes were betrayed by a now dead emperor, who at one point was unwittingly tricked by his advisors in a plot to steal the foursome's immortality. The emperor's advisors quickly turned on him, but before he died, he set the four heroes free – begging for their forgiveness before turning them lose to get their revenge on the six evil advisors, who are now causing chaos throughout the land.
At its heart, G:SS is a good old fashioned hack n' slash action game, so there are couple things you can count on. As you'd expect, the warrior is slow and strong, the wizard uses magic, the elf shoots arrows, and the Valkyrie is the "hottie" with a sword. The controls are simple as well; there are two main attacks (square and X), you can block (L1), use projectile weapons (circle), launch enemies into the air (triangle), and dodge/dash with the right analog stick. Combat is pretty basic, but you can learn combos and moves after each level to help mix things up, even though you don't really need the new moves. The controls are responsive, which is a must in a game that's so reliant on combat.
The basic goal of every level is to get to the exit. That might sound easy, but when you've got to trigger switches, collect keys, and fend off hordes and hordes of enemies spawning from all directions; that's easier said than done. You'll basically spend most of your time pounding on the attack button, fighting your way towards the monsters' spawn point, and then smashing it to end the onslaught. Most of the creatures attack the same way, by running up to you and slashing away. A few of them block or attack from afar, but for the most part it's just mindless combat from you and the cpu.
Lack of variety is one of the game's biggest issues. The main characters all pretty much feel the same, despite their different looks. Combat is repetitive, and the level goals are uninteresting. Finding keys to unlock doors while fighting hundred of carbon-copy enemies just isn't that interesting anymore. Even the game's bosses (part of the seven sorrows) aren't particularly interesting, nor are most of them all that challenging. All of this is made worse when you take into account that the game can be beaten in a scant six hours or so. A 40 hour game that gets boring halfway though is one thing, but a six hour game – that's just bad.
One of the game's strengths is its co-op play. You can play with three friends on one system, or you can go online and find people to adventure with. The game is pretty easy when played solo, so you never really feel the need to team up with other people to make progress, but it's nice to have the option to let your friends in on the killing.
The levels look pretty sharp, but they could hardly be called original. There are plenty of special effects, like fire, molten lava, and the like. The character designs are solid, but there simply isn't enough variety to them. Heck, even the main characters, who all are intricately designed play mostly the same. The framerate does manage to stay consistent, and the camera is acceptable as well, though this is probably more from how linear your path through the levels is, and less the result of a great camera.
Seven Sorrows' audio is one of its stronger points. The clanging of swords, whoosh of flames, and grunts of combat fill the air at nearly all times. The orchestral soundtrack is pretty good as well, but it stays far off in the background most of the time. The narration between levels is somber and believable, which is a good thing, considering this is the only way the story unfolds. Fans of the original game will be pleased to hear things like "Red Warrior needs food" from the in-game announcer.
Seven Sorrows isn't a terrible game – in fact you'll probably enjoy it as a rental. The hack n' slash genre has evolved quite a bit over the years, so people have come to expect more out of a game like this. If you can pick it up for under $20 it's worth a look, but otherwise it's just not worth a purchase.