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Sacrifice

Score: 100%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Interplay
Developer: Shiny
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 5
Genre: Real-Time Strategy/ RPG/ Online


Graphics & Sound:

Well, since the score makes it obvious that Iím going to wax rhapsodic over Sacrifice, I may as well start with the graphics. With some of the most unique character designs in gaming history (although that shouldnít be surprising -- ever play Messiah?), Sacrifice aims to please in the graphics department. The worlds are lush and detailed, with lots of pointless graphical stuff just lying around waiting to be seen. The various creatures all have a unique look that can be quickly discerned (well, most -- Persephoneís basic units are rather indistinguishable), and itís a sight to behold when you run across a landscape with 30 creatures of various shapes and sizes following you. The different gods each have units with different themes, and it works very well. You can tell the fiery types of Pyro, the woodsy beings of Persephone, the generally revolting creatures of Charnel, and so on. The art team did a fantastic job, and Iíve seen very, very few games (if any) that are this pretty.

There are amazing special effects, too. Watching the sac doctors converting dragons on your altar is a sight to behold, and almost worth the price of admission. The towering structures, beautiful landscapes, and sweet designs, all conspire to make a fully immersive world. But with all the beauty, thereís plenty of comedy around too. Stratosí character design is quite hilarious (a balloon?), and the sac doctor with the massive syringe is great too. It never feels out of place, though -- the world of Sacrifice is off-kilter, and it all works out.

The sound is good too, if not on the level of the graphics. The music is solid, thumping heavily when battles occur and cooling down when thereís not as much going on. Itís nothing particularly memorable, but itís certainly nothing youíll be turning off either. The voice acting, on the other hand, is fantastic. I love Zyzyxís British accent and the random babble that the various characters engage in when you select them or just let them stand around. Even more importantly, when you group various beasties, you actually hear your wizard say, ďYouíre group 3!Ē or whatever number you picked. Tell them to guard you, and the wizard says ďGuard me!Ē Itís great stuff, and adds to the already-heightened sense of immersion.


Gameplay:

And if the fantastic graphics and good sound arenít enough, Sacrifice has enough gameplay to keep the hardcore gamer going for months. With one of the most unique single player campaign structures ever, solid multiplayer, and a core game experience unlike anything else youíve ever played, Sacrifice is one for the ages.

In the single player campaign, you are Shakti, a vagrant Wizard who appears in the world of Sacrifice with no affiliations. There are five gods in the world -- the healing goddess Persephone, the earth god James, the sky god Stratos, the fire god Pyro, and the god of strife, Charnel. Each god has its own personality, identity, and abilities. As youíd expect, Stratosí units are weak yet fast, whereas Jamesí units are strong as hell, but slow. The thing that Sacrifice does uniquely is that you donít have to follow a single god -- you can jump around between each mission. Of course, you can piss some of the gods off so that they donít want you working for them, but thatís the price you pay for playing the god roulette.

The game itself is a bizarre hybrid of real-time strategy, action, and role playing. Instead of being the all-powerful overlord like you are in most real-time strategy games, in Sacrifice, you are actually in the battles. You can see yourself running around the map, commanding your units. And as I said in the Sound section, you can hear Shakti order the units around as well. It works great, and really helps to make the game feel like more than a game.

Each mission has a goal at the beginning, although itís often updated halfway through (or more often than that). The gameís basic commodities are mana and souls. Mana is an infinite resource, gathered at mana fountains which are usually scattered liberally around the map. But a mana fountain isnít as useful as a Manalith, as the Manalith directs all of the fountís mana directly to you. Building some Manahoars to send that mana your way is one of the (many) keys to playing the game correctly.

Souls are probably more important than mana, and theyíre certainly scarcer. There are a limited number of souls on each map, and every creature that you create takes up a certain number of souls. When a creature dies, their soul floats above their body until they are collected or converted. Souls of your own side are blue, and can be collected by simply running over them. Those who are ďheathenĒ are red, and must be turned into good souls by Conversion. Casting the Convert spell on said soul will summon a sac doctor, who will cart the beastieís soul off to the Altar to sacrifice.

And the Altar is the center of Sacrifice. Lose your altar, and all hope for you is lost. Itís the only way to permanently defeat a Wizard -- otherwise they simply come back to life when they regain health and mana. Youíve got to guard your Altar at all costs, and thereís a wonderful Teleport spell that takes you back to your Altar in a momentís notice in case someoneís trying to destroy it. Itís a great mechanic, both fitting with the storyline of the game and making it tense.

And Sacrifice is filled with tense situations. There are battles with tens of beasts, shots flying everywhere, and creatures dying all the time. And although the game has lots of these fast action scenes where your wizard and its spells can be the difference between winning and losing, the game itself plays like a macabre chess game. Since you can teleport to any building you control, having manaliths in enemy territory is necessary for quick navigation. Youíll see the ebb and flow of battle as Ďliths trade control and you gain and lose souls. Since there are a fixed number of souls in the game, every soul you have is one less soul that your opponent has. So itís important to stay on top of the game if you want to have a chance of winning.

There are tons of spells that you can learn, and they all differ depending on who you learn them from. They generally follow basic themes -- attack, defense, etc. -- but their methodologies and specifics differ. The same goes for the units -- they follow trends, but each has special commands that are unique to that particular unit. And proper utilization of those special commands can be the difference between winning and losing the game.

Since most single-player missions last hours, and there are ten missions in any run-through of the game, the single-player campaign is quite lengthy. And since every time you play, youíll choose different missions to go on, there are hundreds of single-player campaigns that you can enjoy. Thereís little to no chance that youíll ever wear it out.

If you do, though, Sacrifice comes with a wonderful Multiplayer mode. You can do such basic battles as trying to defeat the rest, or you can see who can kill the most beasties, control the most manaliths, or grab the most souls. If you donít have a decent connection to the Internet or a LAN to play with friends, you can play against the A.I. Itís a great change of pace for when youíre looking for something a little lighter, but itís still a deep, involving game.

Itís interesting, really -- Sacrifice is an amalgam of classic RTS ideas, a few new ones, and a crazy game style. It all works fantastically, too.

And if you ever wear all that out, Sacrifice comes with a level editor! Augh! Itís as if Shiny were planning on taking away all of our free time this holiday season.


Difficulty:

Some of the missions in Sacrifice are devilishly hard, whereas others are quite simple. It all depends on which units you control and which objectives you have. The games generally ramp up in difficulty, although there are some easy missions in the later parts of the game and some hard missions early on. It depends on the complement of spells that you have, but thereís never a point where you have an impossible combination of spells and simply canít proceed. It just may be tougher than youíd expect. The A.I. is solid, doing intelligent things most of the time and trying its best to wipe you off the face of the earth. And when you play Multiplayer, of course, the difficulty depends on your human opponentís level of skill. This is a game with a considerable break-in period, though -- itís got a pretty large learning curve -- so itís imperative that new players be given a chance to ďlearn the ropes,Ē so to speak.

Game Mechanics:

As I said before, Sacrifice has got a non-trivial learning curve. It takes some effort to get ďintoĒ the game, to the point where you can actually have a chance against other humans and the later levels of the game. Fortunately, the game itself has three tutorial levels that teach you pretty much everything you need to know. The basic controls of the game are simple to understand, with a right-click menu that may be a touch difficult to navigate in combat, but you shouldnít be using it in heavy combat anyways. You can set hotkeys for many various commands to make your life simpler. The game itself uses a combo of mouse and keyboard, and although I had a few issues with it at first -- scrolling when I didnít want it to -- itís wonderfully simple and intuitive once you know what youíre doing. The main game menus are similarly simple to use, although I wish there were a direct ďQuitĒ option instead of having to Surrender, then quit. Minor gripe, though.

Sacrifice has its small problems, its high system requirements, and its irregularities. But none of this stands in the way of the fact that Shinyís Sacrifice is one of the most original gaming experiences to come around in the last few years. Itís enthralling, exciting, and hellishly addictive. Prepare for wee morning sprees, odd looks from your peers, and much, much fun. If youíre at all into real gaming, you owe it to yourself to pick up Sacrifice. Itís worth every penny, and then some. With enough playability to last months, fantastic graphics, and a great sense of humor, Sacrifice is one that weíll reminisce about in years to come.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



P2 300/K62 550/K63 450, Win9X/2K, 64MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, 650MB HD Space, 8MB D3D Video Card, Sound Card
 

Test System:



AMD K6-III 450 running Windows 98, 256 MB RAM, 6X/24X DVD-ROM, Sound Blaster Live!, Creative Labs TNT2 Ultra w/32 MB RAM

Windows RollerCoaster Tycoon: Loopy Landscapes Windows SWAT 3: Elite Edition

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated