Friday, November 03, 2006

Gauntlet: Dark Legacy Post-Mortem

I've previously alluded to exactly how rubbish the GameCube version of Gauntlet: Dark Legacy is, but today I'm going to spell out the problems in particular detail.

The lack of effort involved in the creation of Gauntlet: Dark Legacy is a story in and of itself. The game is a GameCube port of the PlayStation 2 expansion of the Dreamcast port of the PlayStation 1 port of the 1998 arcade machine Gauntlet Legends. That makes it, as of this writing, effectively an eight-year old game, and four years old when it was released for the Cube in 2002.

Dark Legacy allegedly contains all the original content of the PlayStation version of this game, plus new material including new levels and character classes. If you loved Gauntlet Legends, goes the logic, then Dark Legacy will be even better.

The logic is bad for a couple of reasons. Firstly, no one loved Gauntlet Legends. While the arcade machine was a decent way to lose a few dollars, it was never a particularly wonderful game, and its booming announcer voices and chunky but brightly-coloured graphics didn't look quite so novel when brought to the home console.

Secondly, almost all of the allegedly "new" material in Dark Legacy is available as bonus unlockables in the Dreamcast version of Legends. Admittedly Dreamcasts are now in the realm of collector pieces and aren't exactly a viable platform to get your daily gaming on, but still, it's a bit rich to slap a new name on the game and suggest it has something that previous versions didn't. Only Hideo Kojima can get away with that kind of tomfoolery.

Thirdly, the GameCube version of Dark Legacy is visually unappealing, has poor controls, a poor interface, is repetitive, sounds awful, is unchallenging, and is riddled with game-crashing bugs.

The gameplay follows the standard for the Gauntlet series. Between one and four players pick from a variety of theoretically different classes, and then begin to proceed through a series of mazes. Along the way they'll defeat monsters, flip switches, unlock gates, and pillage treasure chests. Every so often, there's a boss monster. And that's really all there is to it.

There's a fairly large range of classes available to choose from, including Jesters, Knights, Archers and Dwarves and the old stalwarts of Valkyrie, Warrior and Wizard. There's also a bucketload of extra classes to unlock as you progress through the game. Inexplicably, though, the original game's Elf is nowhere to be seen. In any case, it won't worry you, as all of the classes are for most intents and purposes identical. They play pretty much the same, which is to say you move around and spam the attack button and pretty much ignore the remainder of the special attacks and magics the characters theoretically possess.

There's a plot of sorts, in which some land somewhere is overrun by a generic evil with the appropriately menacing name of Skorne. You're tasked with finding a bunch of shards, and a bunch of runestones, which will unlock the doorway to Wherever, which you can pass through to Defeat Evil in some fasion. The shards are easy enough, as you get one from each boss, but the runestones are a little trickier, as they're hidden in some (but not all) of the ordinary levels. Missing one will mean you need to repeat the level to look for it again, prompting cries of pain and occasionally the consumption of strychnine.

As you journey you'll come across many incredibly varied items, which allow you to do things ranging from breathing fire to transforming into a chicken. Upon finding these items, you'll promptly completely ignore them and never use them, because activating them requires using an asinine control scheme involving the D-pad and involves standing still while enemies are hitting you to scroll through an unordered list of the hundreds of items you have, displayed one at a time at the bottom of the screen. Which is a shame, as those items could have really broken up the monotony of the experience.

The main problem with the game is the core gameplay is unappealing and shallow. Monsters spawn endlessly from monster-generator-things, and you have to use your ranged attack (which all characters have) to kill them off in such numbers that you can shut down the generators. Then you move forward through the maze, and repeat the process. Both monsters and characters make horrible ear-rending sounds in response to the flow of battle, and despite the allegedly large variety of monsters in the game, they all play pretty much identically. There's chests around to be opened, but they mostly contain those items that you weren't going to use anyway, so they're largely an optional feature.

Every few levels you'll get a boss fight. These are far and away the best bits of the game, largely because (a) they occasionally require a small amount of strategy, and (b) you don't have to move forward, open chests, or unlock gates. Seeing as bosses also reward you with the most XP and treasure, you'll likely find yourself repeating these sections a number of times to level up before progressing.

I'd like to say that sharing this experience with three friends makes the game a lot of fun, but that would be a lie. It makes the game bearable, and even that is mostly because you can have a conversation while playing to take your mind off the gameplay.

Speaking of playing with friends, you'll soon be frustrated by the save process. There's no autosave - you have to do it manually, after each level. What's more, you have to save for each character individually. Player 1 saves, then Player 2, et cetera. And it's not a quick process. It goes up there with Ico and Dead Rising as one of the most bizarrely bad save systems I've ever encountered in a game.

The game isn't hard, by the way. Sure, you'll lose a lot of health, and you don't always have enough money to buy it all back, but there's plenty of cheap cash available just by repeatedly thwarting the first boss, so at worst you'll have to repeat some levels. In any case, getting hurt never feels like a punishment for bad play so much as it resembles something that happens regularly, randomly and unavoidably.

I've mentioned that the game looks awful. This isn't just a matter of it being technologically dated. It's that the game has no art in its soul. It has visual design that feels like it was created by particularly unimaginative programmers. Levels are mostly picked out in grungy shades of brown and green, with confusing layouts. Important items or enemies are often concealed by the terrain, and it's easy to get lost as one area looks pretty much like another.

The sound is similarly hideous, especially in the voice work for the characters, who are prone to shouting camp one-liners whenever they acquire treasure, eat food, or generally just feel like being a jerk. Special effort has been gone to in order to make all the women sound like particularly cheap hookers, which probably deserves some kind of award. The monsters likewise make a variety of sounds, mostly derived from the "fingernails on blackboard" school of sound design. Some enemies have death-squeals so ear-gougingly painful that you'll find yourself going out of your way to NOT kill them.

My friends and I finished Dark Legacy as an exercise in masochism, but to everyone else out there, don't play this game. You'll regret it. The only value it holds whatsoever is as a case study of how not to make a video game. It does almost everything wrong that can be done, with a kind of flatulent gusto that will make you want to murder Midway employees, screaming, "Hah! Who needs food badly NOW, bitch?"


that guy said...

Good! You finally put up your post mortem for that crap heap of a game! Now we can finally put it behind us once and for all.

Let us never speak of it again!

Anonymous said...

It's a shame. The original (ORIGINAL) 1986 games was an absolute blast.