The new Gauntlet reboot honors the old, but only in the best ways

gauntlet hands on preview 007
Read our full Gauntlet review.

The new Gauntlet isn’t based on the original 1985 arcade game, but rather how the developers at Arrowhead choose to remember that game. It’s an idealized reboot of the series that focuses on the best of the past while ignoring the flaws, making it immediately familiar yet totally fresh.

We had the chance to try out the new game in a recent hands-on demo. Running through an enemy infested floor with three allies, waves of nostalgia washed across those of us old enough to have played the original arcade version. For those new to the franchise, this is a dungeon crawler with the visual style of Diablo and the quick-hit play of an arcade game. It may not resonate as strongly for newcomers, but any fan of co-op games should be interested to see the results when Gauntlet releases on PC sometime in summer 2014. Just remember: whatever you do, do not to shoot the food.

Concept

Gauntlet_004Floor cleaning. Arrowhead isn’t discussing anything regarding story, but if history is any indication, that will be a minor part of the game. Gauntlet is, at heart, a dungeon crawler – one of the pioneers. Even if there’s a story yet to be revealed, it’s clear when you play that the reboot remains true to that simple truth.

Just like the original, Gauntlet is designed to be played cooperatively with four players. Each character features his or her own powers and abilities, and there can only be one of each character in any game. You and your posse are tasked with clearing out a dungeon, floor by floor. Along the way you collect keys, which force you to make some choices. You won’t find enough keys to unlock every door, and some doors offer better treasures than others. You won’t always know until you’ve explored the unlocked area though. There’s no penalty for choosing poorly, and the multiple doors give you a reason to play through again and again.

Random flavor. There are two types of floors in this new take on Gauntlet: Adventure and Random. Adventure Floors feature pre-set layouts, and while some of the loot and enemies may be random, the puzzles, doors, and exits remain the same. The random floors are as advertised; enemies, layouts, and loot make for ever-changing locations. Our demo focused on an Adventure Floor, but the randomized sections sound promising, and should up the replay value.

Gameplay

Gauntlet_005Choices. The new Gauntlet looks to the original for the character classes you can play. The first is the Elf, an archer that uses the left thumbstick to aim and right trigger to shoot. He, like all the characters, also has a more powerful attack that is limited by a cooldown timer between uses. The Valkyrie, the lone female character, uses a spear to attack and can also create a blocking shield (the other characters must dodge enemy attacks). The Warrior is the classic melee tank, with more life and attack but less maneuverability. Finally, the Wizard is the magic user of the bunch, relying on powerful attacks that need to be recharged.

The four characters play very differently, and each requires a different strategy. In theory, they are all balanced with pros and cons, although time and several playthroughs will determine how true that is. From what we saw though, there was no clear dominant character (we played as both the Elf and the Valkyrie, and while the Elf took less damage, the Valkyrie had more kills).

Eat. Pray. Share. Each character has their own health, but the gold you find is shared by all. When someone dies, they need to “buy” their way back to life using that collective gold stash. One or two deaths won’t hurt too badly as long as everyone is actively exploring and looking for more, but if a player is constantly dying, they will end up hurting the team. Arrowhead was quiet about what other uses the gold has, but collecting loot is always a good thing.

There are also several relics located on each floor, and they go to whoever grabs them first. The relics vary, but they all offer a stat boost of some kind, including things like extra speed and more powerful attacks. Once a character does have the relic, they keep it for the rest of the floor, or until they die. These powerful booster items are activated like special abilities, and they can be re-used after a cooldown period elapses.

Likewise, health is first come first serve, so teamwork and sharing resources are vital. Or, you can be an ass and destroy the food/health so no one gets it, either by accident with something like a stray arrow, or just to watch the world burn. Trust us, teammates will not be amused. We can personally attest to this.

Presentation

Gauntlet_006Old school redux. Gauntlet uses a top-down view and a single screen for all characters, even if all four are playing online (which will typically be the case, although our demo featured local play on a Steam Machine). No matter how hard you try, if someone refuses to move, the game comes to a grinding halt. The scale is also reminiscent to the original, with a small hero in a big world. It all sticks with the old school mentality, and apes the original in this sense, but the textures and visuals effects summon up easy comparisons to Diablo III.

Conclusion

Gauntlet isn’t an exact recreation of the original arcade game, nor does it intend to be. It does, however, build off of the beloved original, highlighting the best of the dungeon-crawling classic and reimagining it with the benefit of modern technology. Even if you never played the original, there’s a reason its legacy continues, and the new take on it seems to honor that legacy well.

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