I'm tempted to cut each star in half at the end of this review. Not that I mean to give it a grade of one, but rather two half-stars. After all, this article should only reflect the truth that Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows is barely half the game that what we were once promised.
Along with Icewind Dale's J.E. Sawyer, John Romero was once again pardoned by God for Daikatana and given lordship over this new game. Major RPG elements, two new character classes, and health replenishment by picking up energy left behind by slain enemies; before mysteriously leaving Midway, the duo were doing everything to throw down the, er, gauntlet and make the series respectable again.
All of that's missing from the version that's in stores, but let's not overlook one important fact: a Gauntlet game's finally able to carry itself from beginning to end. Whether this was part of the design laid down by Sawyer and Romero is moot; we shouldn't be praising someone for finally making a game playable in single-player mode. All you have to do is look at the two previous disappointing Gauntlet releases and do the opposite on everything they did.
Look at the trailer on Seven Sorrows' website and you're treated to something special: cutscenes! In 3D. And color! The trailer suggests a more epic story told through these cinematics, but they're nowhere to be seen in the game. Instead, Gauntlet is narrated to hand-drawn art on sepia-bled parchment screens. They're nice to look at and other games have used sketchy art as stylized storytelling (e.g. the Sly Cooper series, the Mark of Kri series), but here, it's hard to overlook that this was such a rush job, representing another corner Midway obviously had to cut. But this isn't just about petty theatrics. Gauntlet's still all action, and it's better here than recent hard times, but it feels just as brainless and hollow.
Seven Sorrows doesn't feel like a Gauntlet game, and you already know whether that's good or not. Instead, it looks a lot like a bunch of scenes from the Lord of the Rings cobbled together. Not only does much of the game feels Tolkienish in design (or, at least, the Peter Jackson variant of the Tolkien design) but the monsters look like they've crawled out of an animator's workstation. Seven Sorrows is what an action-oriented LotR; the Lord of the Rings games are so obsessed with emulating the high art that Jackson inundated with the movies that they forget to ham it up and have a little fun. And in-between the times you turn your brain off and back on, Gauntlet is fun. Even if there isn't much difference between the characters, the variety of moves keeps the game breezy while the snappy pacing lifts it out of the doldrums. (Some of the previous games weren't just tedious, but mind-numbingly slow.) The game's short length combines will with the arcadey feel and each cleared level can be accessed to play again, if you're so inclined.
But will you be? While I have been readily admitting the game kept my interest the whole way through, it also has absolutely zero effect luring me back to it to play higher difficulty levels. The experience points system is supposed to give the characters a backbone, but that's betrayed by the sheer lack of customization and low character cap: you'll get enough moves to flesh out your character's move list a few levels into the game, making him nearly invincible and boring from that point on. Everything you'll want to ever witness in this game can be seen in your first playthrough, and all of the unique thrills you get from Seven Sorrows arrive in the first twenty minutes. Everything afterwards is hacking through the motions.