I don’t like talking about my age. Not because I don’t think you guys care (in fact, I know you don’t), but I don’t like facing the soul crushing reality that I will never be able to hit on college girls again without it being at least borderline creepy. That being said, I’ll put it this way: I remember arcades. I’m not quite old enough to have been that guy hanging out at one all day, but I do know that a lot of my allowance was thrown into the slots just so I could go for one more round. And while this was a few years past its initial release, I remember very distinctly that a local pizza parlor of all places had a Gauntlet machine, and my friends and I would beg our parents to drive us there so we could blow what little petty cash we had. That was twenty some-odd years ago, and now I have a brand new version of Gauntlet to tear through.
Gauntlet is about as simple as video games can possibly get. You play as one of four heroes hunting through a series of dungeons for gold, relics, and most importantly, food. You’ll be going through three distinct areas broken into four parts each, but the general concept is the same: Kill and destroy everything.
The four new heroes are slight imaginations of the inaugural foursome, but stay true to the the developer’s original intent. Thyra, the Valkyrie, dashes into combat with her spear and shield and has an awesome ability in which she can throw her shield — Captain America style — into hordes of enemies. Conversely, Thor is your more standard warrior, who’s not going to be the fastest, but is able to deal out a massive amount of damage up close.
Your other two heroes play out with a twin-stick shooter type of feel. Questor, the elf, can rapidly shoot arrows or power up for a devastating strike capable of downing all but the largest of baddies. Merlin, on the other hand, is the most unique of all the heroes. While you’ll still be firing spells using the right stick, Merlin includes a Magicka esque approach to spell casting. By mixing and matching three different buttons assigned to fire, ice and electricity, Merlin can fire off a fairly wide array of spells. Everything from dropping a shield to sending a bolt of chain lightning through a crowd. He’s definitely the hardest hero to master, but has a much higher upside than his allies.
While you’re free to try to play the game solo, Gauntlet is meant to be a multiplayer experience. In fact, the higher difficulties and boss battles come just short of demanding that you have a team. The only real issue with this is that your team is locked to one of each hero. This isn’t a problem if you’re playing with some friends and everyone has a different favorite, but trying to put together a group of random players leads to a lot of three person teams unless someone feels like being flexible.
In essence, this is very much the Gauntlet of my childhood, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. The levels are procedurally-generated outside of a few set pieces, and filled to the brim with traps, hidden rooms and loot. The problem is, even with procedurally-generated content, the game becomes predictable fairly quickly. Each of the three zones boil down to the same base formula: The first level is a standard affair, while the second level is a shortened map with a twist of some kind, such as near perfect darkness or being pursued by Death himself. Following that, you’ll have a one room map where you’ll take on a horde of enemies and then a boss.
The bosses are a nice touch, with each requiring a unique tactic to take them out; however they seem to drag on a bit. Once you figure out the pattern, you’ll spend time killing minions and just waiting for your next opportunity to attack. They’re not bad at all, but it feels like more could have been done.
The other major letdown is the fact that character progression is strictly tied to Masteries. Gold you collect can buy cosmetic upgrades or unlock a few gadgets, but true upgrades only come from completing what can largely be menial tasks. Some of them are pretty straightforward — for example, dying so many times allows you to respawn with a period of invincibility — but they largely break down to either killing or collecting for an absurd amount of time.
Moving on, visuals are fine for what they are, but they’re much more subdued than those of recent titles in the series. As a result, you can expect downplayed visuals, offering a very clean and simplistic approach. The only real issue I found is that while the camera zooms out to the point where it’s impossible to really make out details, it’s not enough to contain the chaos on the battlefield. Players will get lost in the mix or even get trapped behind the UI at the bottom of the screen.
When we tried to set our resolution, we realized that 1920 x 1080 wasn’t initially available. Considering this should be the bare minimum for any computer game, we were a bit concerned before we realized that the option was available, just off the screen. In order to select it, you just have to hit down a few more times and stop before you bounce back up to the top. This is a minor glitch but an extremely annoying one, so here’s hoping it can be fixed quickly.
Overall, my buddy and I had a blast playing through Gauntlet the first time, and while it did only clock in at 6 hours or so for a complete run, it felt like a fairly full adventure. However, there’s nothing really calling me back. I’ve been able to put time into all four heroes, and outside of grinding through to get all of the masteries or hunt for achievements, the game is finished for all intents and purposes. Still, if you and a few friends want to tear through hordes of enemies and argue over who gets to take the next turkey, nothing can quite scratch that itch like Gauntlet.
This review is based on a PC version of the game given to us for review purposes.
Gauntlet scratches the nostalgic itch perfectly and does right by its predecessors, but outside of a long slow grind there’s nothing here to demand that you keep coming back once you've completed your quest.