Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows First Look

We get an early look at Midway's upcoming reimagining of the Gauntlet franchise.

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Ever since the rumors began swirling around Midway's upcoming Gauntlet title, expectations have run high for the game. The classic arcade franchise was successfully revived seven years ago with Gauntlet Legends, an arcade release that found its way to home consoles. However, the revival missed the online phase of this generation's platforms, and the subsequent Gauntlet titles that appeared remained strictly offline experiences. As word of a new Gauntlet title has made the rounds, anticipation has grown for it following the revelation that the development team currently working on it at Midway's San Diego studio is being led by industry vets John Romero and Josh Sawyer.

When there's trouble, you need to call in the experts.
When there's trouble, you need to call in the experts.

With Quake and Doom on Romero's resume, and with Icewind Dale and other beloved role-playing games crafted by Black Isle Studios on Sawyer's resume, the pair brings an impressive amount of experience to the project. To add to the growing anticipation, the last Gauntlet game, 2002's Gauntlet Dark Legacy, didn't live up to expectations, which has resulted in fans of the series anxiously hoping for a console Gauntlet game that will take advantage of the current generation of consoles. Midway will try to make that hope a reality for fans with its upcoming Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

The Gauntlet series first captivated players in 1985 as an arcade game that featured a simple but addictive formula that mixed hack-and-slash gameplay with the exploration and item collection found in RPGs. The basic formula has stayed at the core of the various entries in the franchise that have come since, but more-traditional RPG elements were invariably added, such as character development, for example. This approach to growing the franchise continues in Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows, which retains the gameplay mechanics of the previous games but adds some fresh new elements to the mix.

The game's story, which has become deeper since its simple arcade beginnings, features much more prominently this time and ties into the mythos of the franchise by messing with what we know. The Gauntlet mythos has always revolved around the archetypal tale of four great warriors that team up to take down a great evil. Anyone who's up on his heroic narratives knows exactly how that kind of story is supposed to end: Evil is vanquished, peace returns to the land, and more. However, Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows heads off into darker and less predictable territory. The premise still revolves around four immortal heroes who set out to kill the most powerful and evil emperor their age had ever known. But things didn't end up quite as sunny as you'd expect. The four brave warriors failed. To pay for their crime, they were all crucified to a tree at the bottom of the world and left there for the past two centuries.

Fortunately, the quartet is mysteriously freed from its woodsy site of crucifixion to prepare to try the whole "save the world" thing once more...though this time with feeling. But their quest isn't quite that cut and dried, because their foe, the evil and powerful emperor, is in a pretty weird mental place. Driven to grief by seven acts of deep cruelty and selfishness, the emperor isn't entirely sane these days and is hoping for some redemption. Of the six heinous acts that have him in his current situation, the biggie is the murder of his lover, Cusirimay. While the emperor's quest for redemption sounds good in theory, he's being a little heavy-handed about it by wreaking havoc on the land. So, for better or for worse, the heroes set out to help their enemy to save the world.

The gang's all here!
The gang's all here!

As we've mentioned, Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows' gameplay is shaping up to offer the mix of old and new you'd expect from an update of the series. The "old" grounds the title with a number of familiar trappings. As a result, you'll be able to play as the franchise's signature quartet of heroes, which includes: the burly warrior, the buxom valkyrie, the mighty wizard, and the food-needing elf. Each will have his or her own unique strengths and weaknesses that will lend themselves to different styles of play. The game's structure is also a returning staple that will require you to guide your hero through a variety of locales by slashing the heck out of anything that gets in your way. You'll collect items, earn experience, and search for hidden areas as you make your way through to the next area. The core multiplayer mechanics will be back as well, letting you and up to three friends plow through the game.

Elf Needs Online Play Badly!

Fresh additions to the game include two new playable heroes, though which classes they belong to remains a mystery. All six of the playable heroes will have their own unique backstory, complete with emotional baggage to sort, that will figure into the quest. A tweaked leveling system will let you buff up your hero's weapons, equipment, and magic via what's being termed "weapon, class, and iconic skills." The characters will also have access to "junction skills," which appear to be team attacks that let you work with your fellow players to unleash hefty attacks on clumps of foes. The basic combat system, traditionally a button-mashing fest of cramp-inducing proportions, is being expanded to both be deeper and offer two levels of play. From the sound of it, less-seasoned gamers will be able to get by with old-school button mashing, while vets will be rewarded with more-complex layers of moves and attacks to add depth to combat.

The Gauntlet series will go online with Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows.
The Gauntlet series will go online with Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows.

As cool as all that sounds, the most significant addition to the experience for many will likely be the tweaks and expansions to the multiplayer component of the game. Besides the expected offline multiplayer modes, Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows is set to offer some meaty online options as well. The game will support up to four players online for co-op play, which is just what the doctor ordered for many fans of the series. In addition, Midway is aiming to create a community for players with the inclusion of a trade and barter system that will let you make enterprising use of the items you collect.

The visuals are shaping up well, from what we've seen, and they showcase a rich new overall look that's a far cry from the initial 3dfx-powered upgrade the game got for its arcade makeover in 1998. Character models are all nicely detailed and feature some good old-fashioned sword-and-sorcery-style designs that work well with the darker tone. Animation appears to be a bit stiff right now, but the game is still very much a work in progress. (We're hoping that will be fixed as development continues.) The environments feature some fresh designs and inspirations, such as the Persian-influenced courtyard seen in the trailer. At the same time, you can plan on seeing old-school environments, such as open plains and elemental areas, on the receiving end of visual updates.

Fresh looks also extend to the characters' special attacks, which retain the basic looks of the ones we've seen before but feature generous helpings of special effects to give them extra bits of oomph. The most eye-catching aspect of the visuals at the moment regards the camera. While it's hard to get an exact sense of how the camera's going to work in the game, we're intrigued by the cinematic aesthetic we're seeing. If the team can balance a smart and functional 3D camera with some slick cinematic angles, we'll be pleased.

The visuals are a far cry from the old-school, top-down, 2D sprite days.
The visuals are a far cry from the old-school, top-down, 2D sprite days.

We haven't heard much of the audio, but it seems to be sticking closely to the collection of weapon clashes, groans, and shrieks (punctuated by a deep-voiced announcer) that we've come to expect from the series. Hopefully the game will also feature a soundtrack that will match its audio style.

Based on what we've seen so far, Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows is shaping up to be the next step in the franchise that fans have been hoping for. The updated look has an undeniable charm that's a welcome improvement over the last console Gauntlet game. The gameplay appears to be following suit thanks to tweaks made to the core systems, as well as the overdue addition of online multiplayer. All told, we're excited to see how this game turns out. There's a lot of promise here that we're hoping is fulfilled when it ships this winter for the PC, PS2, and Xbox.

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