Gauntlet Review

Gauntlet is the classic action RPG. But in the era of Diablo and Trine, is the series' newest installment relevant?

Release Date: September 23, 2014Platform: PCDeveloper: Arrowhead Game StudioPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentGenre: Action RPG

I wrote last week about how the original Gauntlet from 1985 and its sequels had a great deal of influence on some of the modern dungeon crawlers that we play today. Without the original tale of the Warrior, Wizard, Valkyrie, and Elf, the story of characters like the Barbarian in Diablo 3 may have never come to pass. But I also wrote last week that the central question surrounding Arrowhead Games 2014 remake of Gauntlet is whether the old franchise could still make an impact in a genre now dominated by franchises that it helped create.

The answer is, yes it can, but only for a few hours. Once the initial excitement of destroying turkey legs for the first time in three decades wears off, you’re left with a very basic action RPG that can only hide behind nostalgia for so long before you start to see its flaws.

The best part of Gauntlet is its gameplay – to a point. At first, I loved what Arrowhead did to try and update the game for modern sensibilities. Gone are the two arcade buttons that cause every “class” to perform the same basic attacks. Each of the game’s four classes now behave in a way that makes sense for their archetype. The Warrior can charge into battle and take down waves of foes with its overpowering melee attacks, the Wizard can cook up a variety of ranged spells and so on.

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Quick note: this game supports console-like controllers and they are highly recommended. The wizard in particular uses a complex combo system where you have to hit multiple buttons in succession to create specific spells. Plenty of players are struggling with this Magicka-like system as it is. I can’t even fathom doing it without the controller.

But while the updated gameplay for the game’s four classes is nice, this system also creates some problems: sometimes there’s just too much happening at once. When I jumped into multiplayer, which is really what makes it “Gauntlet,” the camera will zoom out to accommodate players both ranged and melee, and it can be hard to keep track of everything that is going on. If you get a particularly bad troll in your group, they can keep you from progressing by running to an opposing corner of the screen from the direction you are heading. To be fair, a lot of the people liked the original Gauntlet games because of the kind of controlled chaos that could occur from room to room. Shooting food and “accidentally” hurting your teammates with friendly fire is as fun as it ever was. You can prevent your teammates from getting healed and then pilfer their corpse after they inevitably die. But I often ended up feeling more annoyed than excited, as I struggled to keep my character alive on the harder difficulties while navigating the insanity.

Part of this is because a lot of the game’s enemies feel over-tuned and can quickly become damage sponges when you have 3 or 4 characters in the mix. You know that awesome feeling you get in Diablo when you dramatically overpower most of the mobs and can take them all out in one huge attack? That doesn’t really happen here for the most part. You do have some crowd control mechanisms and the ability to get yourself out of trouble, but that thrill of just absolutely destroying a ton of monsters in one blow, the heart and soul of a good dungeon crawler in my opinion, never really happens.

A note on the online play: Gauntlet might be best played with people on your real life friends list. That way, you can still try to get each other killed just for fun, but at a certain point, everyone can come together and knock off the nonsense and do what is needed to beat the game. Contrast this with the game’s random matchmaker, where it sometimes feels like the only objective is to be as big a dick as possible, progression be damned. At least in the old days, you could threaten to beat the crap out of the other guy at the arcade cabinet that kept shooting your food. I’m not sure adding the total anonymity of the Internet is what this game needed.

I have to give Arrowhead credit when it comes to the game’s graphics and sound, though. It really does look like a much prettier version of the Gauntlet we used to love, and the “announcer” for this game invokes memories of old. Some of the best sound comes from the banter between the characters as they travel through the levels.

Arrowhead is known for the strength of its writing and humor in the Magicka series and they were successful in bringing their own brand of fun to this old classic. I do wish the different levels stood out from each other a bit more. After a while, everything just kind of blends together.

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The game itself isn’t terribly long, and once you make it through the 5 or 6 hours, there isn’t a ton of incentive to keep playing. There’s no traditional leveling, but you can buy new gear for vanity purposes and there’s a mastery system to pimp out your abilities. For example, the more you kill a specific type of enemy, the more you will deal a specific type of damage. It mostly ends up feeling like a long grind through the same areas, despite some procedurally generated levels. For $19.99, I guess the amount of content isn’t terrible for the price tag. Just understand that aside from playing the campaign once on each of the four classes, there isn’t much reason to keep going.

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3.5 out of 5