Review: Gauntlet – Old School Fun

Some games you play for hours and hours with your pals and then you wrap it up, say your goodbyes, go do something else and then forget about the game all together. Arrowhead’s new Gauntlet reimagining is one of those. It’s a good time when you’re playing, but the experience is fleeting. It’s fun, but there’s not enough substance for it to stick. 

It’s hard for me to look at Gauntlet and complain about what’s there. It’s a bargain title, at $20, so the fact that there isn’t dozens of hours of unique content doesn’t enter the conversation, and its hook is effective and surprisingly similar, and similarly effective, to Destiny’s: It’s a barebones dungeon crawler with four distinct player classes, (two ranged, two melee), and you fight through hordes of enemies while grinding up “masteries” — incidental achievements that boost your character in small chunks — and gold so you can upgrade yourself so as to be better prepared for tougher versions of the same content. But there’s no RNG loot, and there’s more variety in the scenarios than Destiny, making the replays less painful. 

It’s not so much what is there that’s been nagging at the back of my mind over the last week, but what isn’t. What, specifically, does Gauntlet have that sets it apart from, say, Diablo III or Torchlight or any of the other top-down actioners you probably already own? There’s not much there, to be honest. What bothers me even more is the very clear difference between Gauntlet and Arrowhead’s previous hit, Magicka, as well as its upcoming PlayStation-exclusive crawler Helldivers: there is no option for friendly fire. 

Gauntlet is pretty similar to those games, but without their hook. Arrowhead is all about chaos, and the friendly fire serves as a key distinguisher by taking the madness of of the crawl to a new level. I can appreciate to an extent why WB or Arrowhead would choose to not include it in Gauntlet, being an established brand looking for a broader appeal, but it doesn’t really make up for that lack with some other unique hook. The fix that Gauntlet provides, then, is one you can get from many other games.

But that’s not to say there aren’t some occasional flourishes that do excite the senses and provide a taste of the kind of hilarious torture that Arrowhead is known to inflict. One precious design choice in particular involves the automatic unlocking and opening of doors that you touch if you’re in possession of a key, and there are certain areas that are built specifically to capitalize on the mayhem potential of that mechanic. For example, there’s one part of a dungeon that contains 12 small rooms with unlocked doors for walls, and each of the room has one or two keys in it, not to mention lots of bad guys and even baddie summoning structures. The first time I tried this spot everything went straight to hell very quickly, and it was pretty funny.

But those situations are rare, and more often you’ll just find yourself fighting generic battles against lots of minions as you try to destroy the summoners. And it’s fun, to be sure. It’s just a little too familiar if you’re playing as anybody but the wizard. The wizard character, I should note, is a little different than the other three, employing a Magicka-esque combo system for spells, though it’s certainly far less complicated than that game was. Without the potential for accidentally setting your teammates on fire in a panicked moment, though, a big chunk of the novelty of that combo system is lost.

Gauntlet is good and fun, but I don’t think about it much between sessions. And that’s about it. I feel like I’ve said more than is necessary at this point, really. It’s competently made and enjoyable and you might forget you have it if you don’t play it for a week. 

Final Verdict

7 out of 10

Gauntlet was developed by Arrowhead Game Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive. It was released on September 23th, 2014, and is available on PC for $19.99. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for this review.