The original 1985 version of Gauntlet is heralded as being one of the first multiplayer dungeon crawlers, which spawned a sequel as well as various console ports. With four classes to choose from—Warrior, Wizard, Valkyrie and Elf (seriously, since when was Elf a class?)—players trawled their way through hundreds of enemies, taking advantage of the various buffs afforded by a particular class: Warrior was strongest; Wizard most powerful with magic; Elf fastest; and the Valkyrie had the highest armour rating.
Fast-forward to more recent times and Warner Bros. has tasked Magicka creators Arrowhead Game Studios with reimagining the top-down action-RPG as a digital download for PC gamers. It boasts both local and online multiplayer, and I had a chance to take an in-progress build for a spin at GDC with three other players in a couch co-op match.
While the devs confirmed content was still being tweaked and balanced—specifically the proficiency weightings of each class and the Wizard’s spells—it was still a hell of a lot of fun to play a shared-screen brawler again. Both Warrior and Valkyrie are the perfect starting points for newcomers, each with a great balance of melee, ranged and magic attacks. For instance, Warrior’s magic attack throws him into a devastating spin, converting him into a veritable death tornado for enemies and friendlies alike.
Friendly fire is off, for the most part, except when it comes to magic attacks, which adds a tactical element to using the power-up attacks if you don’t want to piss off your teammates. As with the original game, health is regained by finding randomly placed hunks of meat, but these pick-ups can also be destroyed, which requires more carefully planned combat in rooms where enemies swarm around the venison medkits.
To avoid damage, Valkyrie has the unique ability to perpetually hold up her shield to ward off incoming attacks, but she will automatically strike nearby enemies to deter perpetual turtling. Her charge attack is particularly effective as a combat opener, and I found her to be at her best when surrounded by bad guys. Of course, you’re rarely fighting enemies alone, as my time with the game frequently descended into a race to see who could kill the most enemies in every room.
The melee-based duo need to get into the thick of it fast, though, especially considering how easy it is for Elf and Wizard to pick off foes from afar. Elf plays it Legolas, with semi-automatic arrow proficiency, as well as a deadly powered shot that carves through everything in its path. Wizard was off limits during my first play-through due to his entry-level complexity, but I had a chance to take him for a spin at the end of the day. He plays differently to the other classes, in that his main proficiency is in setting spells before casting them in battle.
There is a basic ranged attack to keep swarming goons at bay, but the real fun is casting spells to control large groups. One spell created a massive explosion, which I rarely used because of aforementioned friendly fire concerns, but another created a black-hole implosion that pulled everyone in to its epicentre. The devs also assured me that the Wizard will be able to combine spells for the final release so, say, the black-hole implosion can be combined with a magical explosion which, at least conceptually, makes the Wizard sound like the most fun to play. He certainly was in my play-through.
Keys are scattered throughout the dungeon that open particular doors, and plunder can be horded into a shared treasure trove, which is assumedly used for upgrades, but was most practically used for reviving fallen comrades. Relics can also be chanced upon and afford individual players specific buffs, such as faster movement. The demo came to an end just before a boss encounter—something that wasn’t a part of the original—and left me eager to play more when the game’s digitally released later this year.
The Gauntlet remake may be a simple concept, but it’s pretty, frantic and perfectly suited for the push for PC games to return to the couch with its full support for SteamOS and Steam Machines. If you were fond of the original, there’s plenty of fan service here, while newcomers can look forward to a fun dungeon-crawling experience that’s best played with others.