While most game developers weave their magic from plush, air-conditioned offices or filth-strewn hovels, Shiny Entertainment seems to exist almost on another planet. Against the plethora of games theirs have to compete with, Shiny's clutch of games (Messiah, MDK, Earthworm Jim) have always held a dark and comic charm that seems always to appeal to a certain type of player. Sacrifice is no different. Equally, it has always been difficult to categorise Shiny's games. Since Earthworm Jim, whose roots were entrenched in platform action, Shiny has trod a path through a shadowy underworld and while Sacrifice could be summarised as a fantasy realtime strategy game, the fantasy is light years away from the goblin-infested realms we all too often have to plod through and as a real-time strategy game it sits nearer the likes of Quake than it does Commands, Conquer. From the twisted minions you conjure and command, to the alien world your creations must traverse, Sacrifice succeeds in taking you to another dimension and while it is humorous, original in feel and look and uncommonly pleasing to watch, as a singleplayer game it lacks serious tactical depth, but where it really comes into its own is as a multiplayer game.
Which is why after feeling more than a little disappointed when we reviewed the game a couple of months back, we thought we'd give it a chance and take it on online. Perhaps there is something worth salvaging from this incredibly beautiful yet criminally vacant title after all.
Immediately we find Sacrifice picking up lost points. With the story and unforgiving AI dropped the simple ideals shine. In essence the gameplay is no different from Chaos or Magic & Mayhem, you have a wizard and through controlling Manaliths and harvesting souls you make your way across the map until your opponent's altar is destroyed. Unlike Chaos and its more modern remakes, however, your wizard is always in the thick of things, which adds a real immediacy that action fans will love. Unfortunately the graphics are so colourful and busy and the control method so complex that to get anywhere against anyone even half-decent takes serious practice. I personally haven't played a game with such a steep learning curve in ages, thanks mostly to having so much on onscreen. Watching Sacrifice over someone's shoulder the game is truly beautiful, playing it for the first few hours just gives you a headache.
What helps Sacrifice as a multiplayer game is human opposition. The AI wizards obviously don't have to worry about control systems and aren't impressed by graphics - they're all-seeing and all-knowing, so Shiny has made the AI tactically inept. Bad form chaps. No such problems online, of course, there may be plenty of simpletons out there, but at least they have personality.
Sacrifice as a multiplayer experience is bloody hard work, though. Once you get used to things (after about 20 hours) though it really is fantastic fun, but the simple fact remains that rather than being a true strategy game, Sacrifice is really about action. The ones who will often win are those who can turn around their orders quicker rather than those who know how to make use of terrain and the creatures under their control.
Put the work in and if it your eyes don't burst, you'll probably have a lot of fun.
Human history is splashed, practically drenched, with blood. Not only that spilled by egomaniacs playing Risk with real-world maps, but mostly that sprayed straight into the sky in a beautiful arc of claret in the name of god(s). The Shiny brain of Dave Perry has come up with a game which allows you to play a religious fanatic wizard, feeding gory offerings to the divine forces and gaining the power to strike down your enemies in return. What the hell are we talking about? Sacrifice, of course.
A fully 3D real-time strategy, with a passing resemblance to the highly anticipated WarCraft III, Sacrifice promises to melt your eyes into a Dali-esque landscape of warped weirdness.
The sacrifices from the title are performed on a special altar that links directly to your god. Each wizard in the game (yes, that's right, wizard) has his own altar which he must protect at all costs. But it's not as simple as all that, since you can also perform sacrifices on your enemies' altars (in fact, this is one of your main objectives), turning their gods to your side in the process.
Being a wizard, you can imagine that spells will be playing a big part in the whole thing. The more sacrifices you perform, the more powerful your spells become, and when other gods are converted to your cause you'll get a whole new set. The game will also use the mana fountain system that worked so well in Magic & Mayhem, strengthening your powers the closer you are to them and allowing you to create creatures out of thin air. When enemies are killed in battle, their souls float around waiting for you to cull them for your own purposes. The engine is looking incredible, with no detail spared despite the high frame rate, and uses some of the flashiest technology from Messiah, making sure the game runs at optimum speed no matter how hectic the on-screen action gets.
One of the other features Shiny is bragging about, and it looks like the team has good reason to do so, is the control interface. Although you are a wizard on the map, you can also control all the other units on your side in normal RTS fashion via a set of icons that appear when you select them.
The developers are also making a big deal about the multiplayer mode and the fact that the game is shipping with a level editor, ensuring a long life with online fans. Many of them will no doubt sacrifice themselves on Dave Perry's altar, and make Shiny an even more powerful name on the gaming firmament. We'll have to wait until at least October to see whether it still deserves to be there.
Whenever a game from Shiny Entertainment lands in the office, we cast aside whatever slack-jawed interactive pursuit we're currently engaged with and saunter over to the lucky reviewer's desk for a long, lingering look. Usually, we're not disappointed - after all, the developer that gave us Messiah and MDK is renowned for knowing exactly what makes a gamer tick. So, it came as quite a surprise to find that in the case of the latest epic blockbuster from Laguna Beach, California, office opinion is divided.
There's no denying that when it comes to visual titillation, Sacrifices superiority over virtually everything else around is clear. The vast, undulating landscapes are pure works of art, some of the effects for the spells outdo the explosive glory of even Quake III and Unreal Tournament, and the sheer graphical diversity of enemies available (there are more than 50) is outrageous.
If you have the latest graphics card and a desire to show it off in a hurry, Sacrifice is the game you need, although you're going to need a monster system to get it running properly. If, on the other hand, you're looking for something with a bit of depth and lasting appeal you may not find what you're looking for here. You see, this is a game that is apparently a wholesome eclectic mix of real-time strategy, RPG and raw shoot 'em-up action (according to the Website and various press releases anyway). The truth is very different. There are slight hints of RTS and RPG, but in reality Sacrifice is a glorified third-person shooter and nothing else.
Oh My God
You play the part of a wizard who finds himself stranded on a new world after inadvertently destroying his own. Ruling over this newfound dominion are five very different gods. There's Pyro, God of Fire; Persephone, God of Life; James, God of Earth; Stratos, God of Air; and, finally, Charnel, God of Death.
Residing in their lofty kennels high above the chaos of the world below, the gods bicker constantly about the best way to run the planet. Your arrival adds a new dimension to their thoughts and so they decide to use your skills for their own sly gain.
At first you can accept missions from any god you like. During these early tests you are given a myriad of choices in order for the Gods to work out what kind of a being you are; destroy a village or save the village; chase a rogue wizard or leave him alone, for example. We're talking basic good/evil dilemmas that affect your alignment and ultimately, the outcome of the whole game.
As things progress and you gradually veer towards the philosophies of one particular god, access to the others is denied as war between the five divinities erupts. A few moral twists and turns are added to make you wonder whether or not you've made the correct divine affinity, and some demons and other characters drop by to keep you on your pointy wizard toes.
The delights of gnomes, fire-breathing phoenixes, basilisks and other AD&D-inspired denizens is bound to appeal to a vast amount of gamers. You can even nurture your own monsters so that they, as well as you, advance levels after reaching a certain amount of kills. It all sounds like a right laugh and to a certain extent it is, for a couple of hours anyway. At that point you realise that regardless of the god you follow or the creatures under your control, all of the missions are virtually identical.
The sequence of events on any level tends to go along these lines: firstly, you convert all mana fountains into manaliths in order to gain power; secondly, you kill all enemies and steal their souls; next you convert the collected souls into new creatures to serve you; and finally, you take your entourage of reincarnated minions to an enemy wizard's altar and desecrate it to win the level. It's then on to the next mission where you repeat the process again.
Another problem is trying to work out who's who during a battle. Creatures tend to mass together in one huge brawling blur of colour. Attempting to select any of your units in the hope of making some kind of tactical play isn't as straightforward as it should be, especially when you can't even find the mouse pointer. The problem is alleviated to an extent by using hotkeys to command your troops, but still, you can't help thinking that there's got to be an easier way. You are eventually reduced to creating monster after monster, and then sitting back and hoping that eventually your minions will win. That's really the limit of Sacrifices real-time strategy. Is that the kind of gameplay that's likely to draw in hardened RTS players, or indeed promote any kind of lasting appeal? Probably not.
Sacrifice can offer long-term excitement in a multiplayer capacity, though. Here you can log on to the Internet or set up a LAN and choose from five different games, which include Allied, Soul Harvest, Slaughter, Domination and Skirmish. There's no denying that playing against a human opponent adds an element of surprise and unpredictability, which you otherwise wouldn't get if you stuck solely with the single-player game.
So there you have it. Sacrifice seems to have it all on the surface: loads of spells, trolls, wizards, gnomes, goblins, dragons, gods, devils, demons... It even boasts the almost unheard of trait of having decent voice-overs. Humour, of course, tends to be evident in most Shiny games, and again, Sacrifice is no exception to that rule. Charnel in particular is master of the one-liner, and James' uncanny resemblance to the legendary Earthworm Jim is bound to put a wry smile on your face. Sacrifice even throws a fair amount of gore into the equation. A lot of your time is spent wading through gibbed body parts and bloodstained valleys. Apres-battle scenes are reminiscent of the Somme, and if you could build trenches, a fearsome recreation of WWI would be complete. Oh yes, Sacrifice throws the lot at you, there's no denying that. Unfortunately, all the frills in the world can't hide the fact that there really isn't much on offer here. There's only a limited amount of fun that can be had from continually creating a gang of monsters and then watching them hurl, boulders, rocks and other stuff at a relentless stream of surreal pixies and goblins. Similarly, once you've desecrated your 20th or so altar, you do start wondering if there are better things you could be doing with your time.
In short, Sacrifice is another top-quality shooter from Shiny Entertainment, but when it comes to getting the RTS and RPG elements right, you need look no further than Interplay's Giants for an example of how it should be done. So, nice try Shiny, but we think your 'epic' is still to come...
Real-time strategy is set to enter a new dimension. Not only is Sacrifice in full spinny-rotatey 3D, but it has been designed specifically for proper wcaring-silly-glasses-3D.
We have seen it with our own eyes, and it's a beautiful thing, the vast expanses stretching into the distance and fully utilising the feeling of depth that the magic glasses provide.
As for the game itself, it's a full-on wizards and trolls affair, with giant dragons and sinister monoliths proliferating across the earth. In the wonderful and frightening world of Sacrifice, there are five gods who can bestow powers upon the good wizard, and the idea is to curry favour with them in order to earn spells. These range from simple creature spells and projectiles to some literally earth-shattering effects, such as tornadoes and volcanoes. Definitely worth a look, especially if you're a wizard.