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by Interplay

Here’s an E3 memory. I’m walking down the long hallway between the big halls, when all of the sudden an attractive young woman (as if there is any other kind at E3) spies my press badge and asks me if I’ve seen the Interplay booth. Nope, I tell her, but I’ve got an appointment in an hour. She then asks if I’d like to see something really special now, and (no fool me) I say sure. So she leads me to the well-guarded Interplay booth, where I am ushered over to a guy who’s playing a game—well, a game like I’ve never seen before. First of all it’s beautiful—it has amazing lighting effects and stunning creature models and a vast game world. And it’s sort of crazy, too—there’s tons of kinetic combat and spells shooting off everywhere and something is going on about creatures sacrificing other creatures on altars to their gods. What is this? I ask my guide. It’s Sacrifice, I’m told, a new game by Shiny, makers of Earthworm Jim, MDK, and other good things. My God, I say, my jaw agape. Why didn’t anybody tell me about this?

I wasn’t alone in my surprise, either. Shiny held back on telling anyone about Sacrifice until it was just about done; in fact, it should be out this winter. In fact, we’ve got a playable beta. In fact, we love this game.

We’ve been playing our beta for about a week now, and while we’re going to reserve judgment on things like gameplay and balance for the final review, we will unequivocally make this pronouncement: Sacrifice is the most beautiful computer game we’ve ever played. This is not something we’re saying lightly, either; I’ve had people over to the house, watched their jaws drop, and asked them if they’ve ever seen a better-looking game. Nope, they say. I lie awake in bed at night, trying to come up with a more gorgeous title—Unreal? Nope. Quake III? No. Even better, the beta came with a notice that it hadn’t been optimized for speed yet, so we should expect some slowdowns. Well, we’ve been running it on my 733 PIII with a GeForce2 and 128 MB of RAM, and I haven’t seen a slowdown yet.

Sacrifice is a difficult game to pigeonhole. In many ways, the game it plays most like is Myth—in both, you take command of a small army of troops and fight tactical real-time battles. But unlike Myth, you can regenerate your troops in Sacrifice by recovering the souls of your slain troops or converting the souls of your enemies. This adds a very interesting slant to the game, as strategy focuses on not just killing enemies, but being able to summon your “sac doctors” to fetch their souls back to your altar. 

Sacrifice has both a campaign and multi-player game. In the campaign game, you take the role of a wizard who has fled his own world and now finds himself in a land dominated by five powerful and squabbling gods. These include Persephone, a touchy nature goddess; James, a peaceful earth god (who looks a lot like Earthworm Jim); Stratos, balloon-headed seeker after knowledge; Pyro, a stogie-chomping captain of industry; and Charnel, who’s just evil. You can choose to serve any of these gods, and after you complete a mission for one of them, you’ll often be given a chance to serve the others as well. Of course, depending upon whom you serve and whom you fight against, some of the gods might eventually take a dislike to you, but those are the risks. Each of the gods has its own creatures and sets of spells, so there’s plenty of gameplay variety.

In gameplay, you control your wizard from a third-person perspective using the standard WASD Quake controls; you cast spells, command troops, and summon creatures using the mouse and/or hotkeys. Though it takes a while to get the hang of the game, that’s mostly because it’s different. Once you catch on, the interface is remarkably easy to use. Though we’re just getting the feel for the game, play seems to focus on capturing enemy souls without giving any of yours up and seizing “manaliths”, huge fountains of magical energy. Having a bit of tactical savvy helps, too. Some creatures are good at melee, some at ranged combat, some can fly. High ground matters. You can easily group your creatures and arrange them in several formations, including line, circle, guard, and phalanx. There’s also an RPGish element to the game—as you complete missions, you gain new spells and access to more creatures. And what spells. As a wizard, you’ll not be of much use in melee, but your spells are powerful, varied and look incredible. From Rain of Frogs to the Rain of Fire, spells are quite effective and can easily swing the course of combats.

While the campaign game features an intriguing plot and great voice acting and dialogue, we’re really looking forward to the multiplayer game. We’ve only played skirmish so far, but it looks awesome and the AI is pretty good. The game includes 35 multiplayer maps and a powerful editing tool for creating new ones.

Again, we’ve only been playing the game for a week, and it’s only the beta, but we’ve yet to see anything we don’t like. In fact, GF! writer Matt Blackburn was over the other day. We’ve been on his cheap 2D RPG-playing Scottish ass to get an upgrade to his computer, but he’s so far held off. Until he saw Sacrifice.  Now he can’t wait to get up to speed. We predict a lot of folks will feel the same.

 --Rick Fehrenbacher