Gauntlet Review (PC)
The remake of the 1980s arcade classic, Gauntlet, has arrived and looks to have players needing food badly and obsessively collecting keys, crowns and potions. The graphics and the characters have gotten a much-needed update, and the gameplay has as well. Still, Gauntlet might feel a bit stale with other dungeon crawlers like Torchlight and Diablo 3 offering more variety in the content.
The Gauntlet series has always been about multiplayer mayhem and the cooperation a group needed to cut swaths through a seemingly endless amount of enemies. In this remake of the original 1985 arcade game, players can embark on a journey online through the different dungeons, all while collecting gold, various pieces of loot and killing as many monsters as they can.
The four original characters return in Gauntlet. We have Thor the Warrior, Merlin the Wizard, Thyra the Valkyrie and Questor the Elf to choose from, each with their own set of skills and learning curves. The easiest character to play with would have to be Questor, given his ability to shoot arrows and bring down foes at range. He plays very much like a character in a twin-stick shooter would, and has bombs available to take out bigger groups of enemies and summoning stones. Though, his abilities have longer cooldowns than the other characters’ special skills. He also has a dodge-roll that’s beneficial for getting out of corners when surrounded by a large group of enemies.
Thyra and Thor are our melee fighters and have skills that can bring down large constructs like summoning stones and hack away at mid-boss lifebars with ease. They somewhat lack mobility, but receive greater attack power and toughness because of it. Thyra, in particular, has a skill in which she raises her shield and can deflect any attack. These two characters are well-suited for intermediate players and those who have experience with this kind of arcade game.
Merlin, however, is quite a challenge to play since he has access to a variety of spells, some of which are on cooldowns. He plays much like a character in Magicka, able to combine two schools of magic (Fire, Lightning or Ice), in order to craft new spells. For example, you can combine Fire + Fire to create standard fireballs that you can launch at enemies. Combining Fire + Lightning allows you to cast fire bombs that arc up and explode in a wide radius. It takes some getting used to in order to learn all of Merlin’s spells, along with which ones are on cooldown, so don’t try him out if you’re just starting the game.
The graphics are serviceable and don’t do much to add or detract from the dungeon crawling action. My only complaint would be that all of the character designs look too hardcore. Thyra looks as if she just got out of a Norse prison for stealing Sleipnir. You can change their looks by buying equipment with gold and playing with their loadouts, but the problem is that they’ll look so small on the screen, any aesthetic tweaking seems rather meaningless unless you had bionic vision. Not only do these customization options cost an exorbitant amount of gold, but you can only unlock certain pieces by completing the campaign on progressing difficulties. No way am I going to suffer through an “Unfair” difficulty setting just for a new helmet.
Of course, that’s not to mention the grueling task of just collecting gold during your dungeon runs. As Gauntlet is a multiplayer affair, playing with others means you’re also competing for food, treasure, gold and potions. Food recovers your health whenever you need it badly. Treasure can be turned in for gold, which you can collect from treasure chests, pots or even just lying around after you kill tough enemies. Potions can be used to activate your relics, which are items imbued with special powers that be activated like consumable spells. These can be anything from speed buffs to pet summons, like a gargoyle that hovers around and zaps enemies.
Upon completing dungeons, you’ll receive and level your masteries, which are basically ranked achievements that give you bonuses, like a five percent chance to find more gold when breaking pots, vases and the like. Fulfill the requirements of your masteries in order to be a more skillful adventurer and to add to your survivability, because Gauntlet can be one very tough game. Thankfully, you can see what the masteries are for each class via a menu on the start screen. You can plan out your playstyle in order to unlock the masteries and bonuses you think will be most beneficial to you.
Even on Normal and with a full group of players, Gauntlet can offer a challenge. Trash mobs seem to generate en masse and even just three to four hits from them will be enough to render your champion a pile of dropped loot and an incorporeal mess. Traps lay everywhere and elite enemies are thrown into the mix to help dust you and your buddies. Teamwork is essential, so that means no stealing or destroying food or potions that your party members desperately need, or you’ll get booted out of the room quicker than Thyra can dash with her spear. Also, don’t AFK and keep them from progressing, because they’ll start sending a volley of projectiles at you and then boot you.
Unfortunately, the dungeons can be boiled down to a quick crawl, a chase sequence involving Death incarnate, an arena-type level in which waves of baddies are fought and then a boss battle. While the action is addictive, the formula can get a little stale and kind of keeps you from wanting to explore all of the dungeons; especially if you can get into a random game online and get saddled with a group that has unlocked the final level already and chooses to jump in to kill the boss.
Perhaps the best thing Gauntlet has going for it is gamepad support. While you can do well using a keyboard and mouse, hooking up a controller to your PC just makes the action way better, as the controls are very intuitive and work well for an arcade action game like this. If you have enough USB ports for it, you can hook up four different gamepads and play locally, just like in the arcade days of old. It’s a beautiful thing. Oh, and the banter that goes on when all four characters are present is pretty entertaining. It will almost have you wanting to outdo the others just to see what they’ll say.
If you want an old-school adventure that will let you hack, slash and steal stuff from your buddies, Gauntlet’s for you. The dungeons may be a bit repetitive and could have more variety, but the fun is there. It’s true that similar games like Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 have more to offer by way of content, but there’s no denying that playing local co-op with three of your buddies in Gauntlet makes for a good time. You only have to decide whether or not you need another multiplayer action role-playing game that badly.
This review was based on a digital copy of Gauntlet for provided by the publisher PC.