Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows Hands-On

We get our hack-and-slash on with Midway's update of the arcade classic.


Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows

We've been anxious to get our hands on Midway's Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows since our initial look at the game earlier this year. The latest entry in the long-running series aims to revive the franchise, which went quiet after 2002's Gauntlet Dark Legacy offered a fresh story and deeper gameplay. We've finally had the chance to get our hands on an early work-in-progress version of the game that's set to debut at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles next week. While the limited demo offered a small sampling of what to expect from the final game, what we saw shows a good amount of promise.

The playable demo of Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows offered a stripped-down experience that was heavy on action and light on new story elements, which is one of the new aspects that will figure prominently in this latest entry in the series. Though the demo on display featured four playable characters, the only two ready for prime time were the old-school standbys the warrior and the valkyrie. The playable level was a truncated run through one of the areas in the game that showed off the character's unique moves, the variety of locales, and some puzzles. It then ended with a boss fight.

The demo's structure basically amounted to a greatest hits of what to expect from a level in the final game. The early part found us doing what a valkyrie and warrior do best--a whole lot of killing--against a modest number of foes. The initial mobs the game threw at us weren't much of a threat, although they did look menacing. As in previous games, we came across generators that spit out foes that required some bashing. A little later in the demo, things got more complicated when we came across one of the puzzles you'll face on the adventure: set points that require you to stand on them so you can absorb their energy until they are drained. Once this is done, a new path will open up so you can proceed.

The level ended with a boss fight against an enthusiastic golem who turned out to be his own worst enemy. Your rocky foe is essentially invincible, courtesy of a shield that's cast around him by mystics standing on floating platforms around the battle area. The key is to lure stone-for-brains over so you can have him swipe at you when you're near the floating spellcasters. If you're in the right postion, his blows will cause his spellcasting buddies to fall to the ground, a prime location for you to do some fatal stabbing. Once you've dispatched all the mystics, your stony foe's shield is gone. Then you can go to town.

Seven Sorrows will emphasize storyline much more so than in the previous (and somewhat mindless) action games.
Seven Sorrows will emphasize storyline much more so than in the previous (and somewhat mindless) action games.

Control in the demo was very accessible, although it wasn't quite as responsive as we were hoping. Each fighter will have two basic attacks, weak and powerful, that you'll be able to switch up to create powerful combos. In addition, you'll be able to perform powerful class skills that dole out sizable damage to your foes. The warrior's skill, retribution, lets him dole out damage against anyone attacking him for a short period of time. The valkyrie's flock skill unleashes a flurry of ravens against foes around her. The new twist to flock is that you can increase the amount of damage caused by your winged minions by mashing the face buttons on the controller.

As solid as all this was, the limited demo didn't scratch the surface of the combat system that Seven Sorrows will end up offering. Namely, characters will have the ability to wield and swap out different weapons. The game will ultimately feature six weapon types for you to choose from, and you can decide to specialize in a set number of specific types.

The visuals in the work-in-progress demo were looking good overall, although there were the expected rough spots inherent to an early-version game. The environments are the most striking element at this point. The swaying grassy plains of the early part of the demo, as well as the rocky areas, showcased an impressive level of detail thanks to crisp textures. The effects used for the various magic attacks and whatnot look good, even in the game's early state. The character models are nicely done and offer fresh new takes on the game's old-school appearance. The only rough elements in the graphics we've seen so far are tied to the animation and camera. Character animation runs a little stiff during combat. However, we expect it to be smoothed out through the addition of some transitional animation. The game camera is obviously still a work in progress, so it occasionally wound up in some awkward angles, which made combat difficult.

Seven Sorrows' audio is still coming along, but it offered a solid enough accompaniment to the demo's action. The decent array of audio clips and tunes got the job done, but it was far from final. What we heard certainly had us anxious to hear the game's final soundtrack to see if it's able to match the epic scope of the story and the exotic locales you'll be going through.

All told, our first experience with Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows made a fairly positive first impression. The visuals appear to be shaping up nicely on the whole, despite the rough animation, and they do a good job of creating a rich world for you to run around in while slashing the hell out of everything. The gameplay is following suit, although there's more room for improvement due to the issues we noted with responsiveness. That said, we like the more tactical feel of the special attacks (such as the button mashing needed when performing the valkyrie's bird flurry) and the always-solid multiplayer aspect of the game.

As in past versions, cooperative play will surely be one of the new Gauntlet's greatest selling points.
As in past versions, cooperative play will surely be one of the new Gauntlet's greatest selling points.

Though the demo was a good appetizer, Gauntlet's main course should be a satisfying buffet for fans. The final game's story will be an intergral part of the single-player offering, with each of the playable character's motivations for joining the quest finally revealed. More significantly, the online multiplayer component, complete with item exchanges and all other sorts of community-related features, should add a lot to the experience. Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows is currently slated to ship later this year for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, so look for more on the game in the coming months.

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