Sacred 3 review: tackling the gauntlet

The Gauntlet games have always been a good go-to romp for you and friends to team up in, as you take on dungeon after dungeon, battling hundreds of foes while collecting as much gold and food before your character eventually scuttles away into nothingness. In a sense, Deep Silver's Sacred 3 has a lot in common with Atari's series, with four distinct characters battling a horde of goblins and other foes in an effort to save the world. It's not a complete copy, though, as its style and certain elements differentiate from Atari's series. Which is a good thing, since a new Gauntlet game is just weeks away from release on PC.

Questing? More like "killing everything"    

In the game, your character is chosen to face off against Zane Ashen, a brutal piece of work that intends to use the Heart of Ancaria to lay waste to the land and call it his own. As one of four determined warriors (each with their own strengths and techniques), you'll battle his enemy forces both big and small, while leveling up your soldier in your own special way.

Sacred 3 probably won't be confused with more sophisticated "loot and shoot" games like Diablo III, since most of the time all you collect are health orbs and gold pieces. Still, the shop is rich with content, as you can level up your character and give them improved abilities, all of which are useful against some of the stronger enemies in the game. It's basic, but effective, especially considering you're just hacking and slashing.

There are side missions that you can take on, but they're set up differently than the usual Diablo III approach. That's not entirely a bad thing, and it does mean extra loot to spent however you please. However, the game seems to embrace the "follow the main storyline" approach. 

The gameplay in Sacred 3 is vastly entertaining, even with its simple premise. Your warrior is capable of unleashing light and heavy attacks in general, along with two special techniques that really help out when you find yourself surrounded. The controls are tight and responsive, and it's a lot of fun laying waste to hundreds of tiny minions with one swift ground strike. Even the bigger guys are fun to bring down, especially when you're prompted to do an execution. Your warrior leaps into the air and delivers the kind of humiliating finishing blow that should send its peers off and running. 

Bring friends, but prepare for hiccups

Like Gauntlet, Sacred 3 excels when you bring other players into the fray. The game supports two-player local co-op, as well as four player online co-op. There's no question that online is the way to go, since the "more the merrier" rule applies when it comes to unleashing chaos on your foes. Why the local mode is only limited to two players is beyond us, but chances are it's due to technical limitations…which clearly show in the console versions of the game.

That's not to say that Sacred 3 isn't pretty on the PlayStation 3, as it is. The fact it can hold up moderately well with hundreds of enemies on-screen says a lot, too. But there is noticeable slowdown and visual glitches from time to time, a chance of pace from the smooth performance of the PC version. It's still good, just not as good.

The audio design is surprisingly contemporary. The characters that interact throughout the game speak like more modern folks on the street than classic battlers of old, with the villain even going as far as to make puns about how chicks dig him. One would think that doesn't fit in a game like this, but, honestly, it provides a refreshing touch from the usual medieval hyperbole. The music is good too, even if the "adventure" tempo stays about on track throughout.

Conclusion    

While Sacred 3 isn't likely to jar loose Diablo III's tight grip as king of the action/role-playing genre, it's still an enjoyable experience that will remind you of the Gauntlet games of old, but with more modern themes. While the multiplayer options are confusing, it's fun to have some friends along for the ride, even as you fight over the last remaining health orb in a massive boss battle. Hey, at least you won't have to worry about shooting the food, right?

FINAL SCORE: 6 out of 10.

This review is based on a downloadable PlayStation 3 code provided by the publisher. Sacred 3 will be available on August 5th for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game is rated M for mature.