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I was never that big on Gauntlet back in the ’80s and early ’90s, being more of a Ninja Turtles/X-Men player in the arcades of my youth. My first serious encounter with Gauntlet was Gauntlet Legends for Nintendo 64, which I loved. Now, almost a decade and a half after wasting days with that N64 classic, Gauntlet is back for PC. The question is, is it as memorable and addictive as the series’ history would suggest, or should Gauntlet have stayed just a good memory?

As is Gauntlet tradition, you can play as one of four classes – Valkyrie, elf, wizard and warrior – and your choice amounts to more than your character skin and voice. Each class plays differently, with the warrior being the closest to the old Gauntlet with his melee-centric attacks. The Valkyrie combines the warrior’s melee combat with a defensive shield and some ranged attacks. Both of those classes are fairly straight forward – hack and slash combat and wading into battle – but the wizard and elf take completely different angles. The elf uses the right stick on your controller (you can play with a keyboard, but you should really use a controller) to rapid-fire arrows where you point it, and lacks a melee attack, which as a result plays completely unique to the warrior and Valkyrie. The most complex is the wizard, who uses a Magicka-style casting system to attack, wherein you press your face keys to combine two elements and make a spell that you then cast with the right stick. It requires a level of concentration and reactions that I lack, so I spent the least of my time with the wizard, but I imagine in the hands of a skilled player, I imagine it could be potent.

Gauntlet

The levels are very repetitive, even for a Gauntlet game, retreading the same themes level after level. For example, the first act takes place in a series of tombs, and the first floor of each stage was a simple dungeon crawl, the second floor involved a chase sequence, and the third was an arena battle. I don’t care how you dress it up, playing the same basic format over and over was tedious. Future acts aren’t quite as repetitive but still repeat themes ad nauseam. The chase sequences involving Death following you through the level were especially tedious since you had to keep moving forward and dodging Death. There was little strategy or experimentation to it.

The level designs themselves can be pretty creative, and some of the locked doors are placed in tricky formations that tempt you to waste your keys, locking huge treasure caches out of your reach when you run out of keys. My one complaint there is that it is a little too easy to waste a key on accident due to huge collision boxes on the locked doors. The combat is repetitive with the hordes of monsters but feel of slaughtering your foes is oh-so-satisfying at times, reminding me of the combat in Diablo III. Plowing through throngs of baddies has visceral graphical and auditory feedback that makes the monster grinding more tolerable.

Speaking of grinding, there are a number of Masteries that you can unlock for each class. They each convey bonuses upon being reached, but reaching them often involves killing unwieldy numbers of enemies. Dying has Masteries as well, such as decreased spike damage for dying to spikes, encouraging you to die early on in your adventures just to unlock these. The Masteries for each character class are the same, save for a few class-specific attack Masteries, but they do not the totals don’t stack, so if you get the bonus for breaking a ton of environmental objects for the elf, for example, you still have to get it for the other three classes. This is not replay value; it’s redundancy.

Gauntlet

Visually the game looks sharp with nice lighting and shadows cueing you into barred doors and nearby enemies. The models are clean and solid but the mobs of enemies are very generic looking. I like the sparse use of color which makes the color coded players really pop off the screen. There aren’t allot of physics to be had, but the ragdolls of dying enemies are satisfying. The voice work is surprisingly competent with funny quips and remarks from and between the classes. For some reason the warrior exclaiming, “and the crowd goes wild!” after a big hit doesn’t bother me, which normally it would. I think that is a testament to the campy atmosphere the game projects making it not seem as out of place as it probably should.

If I was comparing this to the old-school Gauntlet, I would probably be more down on it, but for me it brings back memories of my N64 days. There’s a lot of repetition and some irritating design choices but there’s fun to be had. I won’t keep playing specifically to unlock all of the Masteries, but it’s nice that they’re there as goals for when I get the urge to cathartically kill hundreds of monsters. The fact that the characters play as differently as they do is enough to get me to come back and replay levels, at least a few times. Without long-term replay value (or the prospect of future DLC) you will burn through Gauntlet in a few hours, but thankfully they’re a decent few hours.

Final Score

6.0

Pluses:

Minuses:

+ Character playstyle variety

+ Decent visuals

– Gets repetitive quickly

– Not much level variety

– Could use more content

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