Review by Steerpike
Here's the Story
As veteran readers are already doubtless aware, and as newcomers
quickly gather, this site is devoted to games of certain genresspecifically,
the ones we like to play and talk about. There's nothing wrong with
NFL 2002; it's just not the sort of title you're going to
find headlined on a site where story is king. I bring this up because
there was a brief and friendly discussion about whether or not Sacrifice
belonged in our stable of reviews when I offered to do the job.
The truth is, though Shiny Entertainment's Sacrifice was billed
as a real time strategy gamealbeit one very different from
all the others out thereit's a disservice to describe it as
such. With few exceptions, real time strategies are twitchfests
involving little actual strategy or depth. From a story perspective,
for every Hollywood-quality Starcraft there is a written-while-in-the-bathroom
Outlive, and the RTS genre has become much more about technology
than artistrywhich is exactly why Sacrifice is a stranger
in a strange land for an RTS.
Sacrifice is real in the sense that it exists in the physical
world; time will pass while you play it; it requires both the left
and right hemispheres of the brain to be played effectively. And
that is where its shared genealogy with "Real Time Strategy"
(according to the practical definition of the genre) ends. The truth
is that if the game had been marketed as what it isa brilliant
and unique reimagining of nearly every aspect of PC gameplay from
story to execution, it probably would have sold a lot better.
An intensely story-driven game in every sense of the concept, the
Sacrifice campaign tells the tale of Eldred, a powerful conjurer
whose less-than-altruistic experiments led to the utter destruction
of the reality that was his home. With demons of both the literal
and figurative variety in hot pursuit, he sets off through the ether
as the last survivor of his people, eventually finding himself in
a bizarre and starkly beautiful new realm of islands floating on
a sea of astral void.
Lost, frightened, and (presumably) harried by the guilt he carries
as the individual solely responsible for the destruction of his
home and everything living there, Eldred works to right the wrongs
of his past in this new land. Here five gods vie amongst themselves
for power, gleaned from the reverence of mortals. Each god has a
stable of champions, wizards such as Eldred, but a war is brewing
and all are eager to hire on some temporary new help.
Replayability is evident in Sacrifice from the get-go. Though
the game is played from beginning to end in a total of ten missions,
fifty actual and unique scenarios await the playerbecause
at the outset, you have the opportunity to work from whichever god
you choose. Eventually, of course, you must declare your support
for a single deity or alliance thereof, at which time the others
close their doors to you; so in order to experience everything Sacrifice
has to offer, you'll have to play through a few times. For those
who give this beautiful, complex game a chance, however, that's
hardly a burden.
The Haagen-Dasz of video games, Sacrifice finds a perfect
golden mean between strategy and action. It's as ideal for RTS buffs
hungry for something new as for action fans looking for a real challenge.
You'll be asked to keep track of a ton of onscreen action, maintain
a unique spellbook and bestiary with which to smite your enemies,
and, of course, play so late that you get in trouble at work because
And You Thought Your Job Was Tough
Though the gods are at war all the time, their squabbles are largely
petty and mostly bloodless until a grim prophecy about divine betrayal
and a second apocalypse puts everyone on the offensive. How you
as Eldred choose to deal with your own role in the destiny of this
strange land is dependent largely on which god(s) you choose to
serve, and the moral quandaries involved in this decision are rich
The oftentimes infuriatingly superior tree-hugger Life Goddess
Persephone will load you with healing spells and troops bent on
domination through justice. The currently ascendant Pyro, God of
Progress and Advancement (his definition of "progress"
appears to focus largely on the application of explosions and violence,
brutally and often), while appearing theoretically evil, may indeed
simply be a blind servant of futurism. Charnel, God of Slaughter
and Strife, revels in misery and dark forces while still adhering
to a strictif somewhat alienmoral code of his own. Chilly-willy
Stratos, of Air and Knowledge fame, looks for answers to ancient
questions in the unexplored corners of the universe, while invertebrate
James, God of Earth and deification of Shiny's original success,
Earthworm Jim, lays out his openness and honesty for all to see.
Here's the trick. One god is a traitor; one is a terrifying wolf
in sheep's clothing. One cares nothing for the world and is bent
on domination even at the ultimate price; another is deeply honorable
despite protestations of monstrosity. And the fifth may waffle so
long before taking sides that the decision becomes meaningless.
Into this morass you are thrown, and much of Sacrifice is
spent pondering your own moral compass. As available paths dwindle,
you may realize too late that the side you've chosen represents
the very ideology you meant to set yourself against.
If you prefer not to look so deeply into the Black & White-ism
available in Sacrifice, you'll still find a spectacularly
violent and wonderfully thrilling adventure composed of epic, earth-shattering
battles between deities' champions, fought in a dreamlike landscape
as weird and varied as it is beautiful.
Real-Time Strategy Redux
The nuts and bolts of gameplay do bear similarities to the RTS
genre. On the battlefield, Eldred is placed in control of an altar
to the god he has chosen to represent for the mission. Wizards in
the field can be destroyed only when their altar is desecrated by
an enemy; a rather terrifying eventuality that involves the ritual
and bloody sacrifice of an opposing creature. Desecrations are easily
stopped, but this requires you to essentially drop what you're doing
and race back to the starting line, so it's wise to prevent them
from occurring in the first place, rather than trying to halt one
Pure mystical energy sprays high into the air from mana fountains
sprinkled across the landscape. The conjuration of towering manaliths
channel these magical carbohydrates back into your character through
the auspices of floppy-eared Manahoars, helpless creatures who gather
magical energy for their patron wizard. Using this raw power, you
cast spells to devastate your opponent and summon fantastic creatures
from a bestiary that grows and expands based on whom you serve.
Each wizard's spellbook should be slightly different from everyone
else's, as your progression through the game and the gods you serve
determine the powers at your disposal.
The raw material for your armies are souls, either collected from
the corpses of the faithful or brutally converted from fallen enemies.
Souls are the key to a game of Sacrificeyou will spend
most of your time battling enemies and allies alike for control
Blue souls float above the corpses of your own creatures; they
are free for the taking. The souls of enemy creatures glow red,
however, and before you can claim them as your own you must summon
a special minion called a Sac Doctor to gather the soul and rush
it back to your altar, where a painful-looking conversion ritual
is performed on the hapless soul before it's added to your pool.
Of course, the souls that are red to you are blue to someone else
and vice versa; during combat a great portion of your strategy is
forcing your opponent to clear off the battlefield while leaving
some souls behind. In this manner you can chip away at even the
mightiest wizardsas a sorcerer without souls is all but helpless.
You summon an army and dictate its formations and general behavior,
then head off with your menagerie in tow to crush the enemy. There's
not much in gaming today that's more spectacular than watching Eldred
and his mystical army on the move, or climbing a steep hill and
seeing an opponent lumbering across the horizon with a vast cavalcade
of beasts in tight formation. Essentially, therefore, the base structure
of the game is similar to real-time strategiesyou must police
your assets, generate an army, and produce structures. But since
there are no "bases" to speak of in Sacrifice, and
the building of structures has been reduced to an absolute minimum,
management of troops and resources takes on a more expanded role.
Beyond that, the RTS comparison breaks down. RTSers will squawk
that there is "strategy" involved in building massive
armies that come thundering down on enemy bases. That's bull. Real
strategy involves formation, maintenance of supply lines, control
of critical areas in a theater, and so forth; success in Starcraft
(and I don't mean to knock Starcraft, but it's true)
is really a matter of good timing, not good strategy. A clever Sacrifice
player will make use of feinting, diversions, and pincer maneuvers,
all of which would be a waste in classical RTS, in which victory
is determined by sheer numbers.
Since you need at least one soul for every creature you summon
and there is a finite number of souls on the board, you can forget
about huge armies. Also, since your own character is out there with
your army, casting spells and hurrying around running combat-related
errands in the middle of the slugfest, being outnumbered is really
a matter of perception. The best Sacrifice players I know
run around the map alone or with a skeleton crew at most, preferring
instead to shackle their armies to areas that they must keep well-defended.
You Shore Do Have a Purty Mouth
Sacrifice was one of the first games to employ hardware
transform and lighting. It manifests itself in this case not in
the presence of more polygons or unusual environmental effects,
but as a colossally stupendous draw distance and uniformly curved
surfaces covering a polygonal wireframe. Sacrifice stands
out as one of the most beautiful games on the marketI was
recently introducing a friend to it, and she announced that were
it not for Morrowind,
it would, in her opinion, be the best-looking game she'd ever
seen. Considering that this exchange took place more than a year
after Sacrifice's release, gamers who haven't given it a
try yet can be assured that the visuals will not disappoint them.
Those familiar with Shiny's other escapades, from Messiah to
MDK, will certainly be unsurprised by the lethally day-glo
tinting. Each god's little corner of the world is so parti-colored
that you'll think a rainbow vomited on the screen. Strong fog tables
and engine-supported full-screen anti-aliasing are icing on the
cake to Sacrifice's powerful visuals, which will manage an
easy thirty frames a second with today's top-shelf accelerators.
One warning to Radeon ownersgiven ATI's total lack of interest
in providing quality drivers for its products, and its total contempt
for the wishes of its consumers in this area, you may experience
some problems when playing Sacrifice. Nothing so serious
that it will prevent you from running the game, but there are known
performance and feature problems limited to the Radeon. ATI doesn't
care about fixing them and Shiny is no longer patching Sacrifice,
so it may be in your best interest to keep ATI's current driver
release, along with a WHQL certified release and possibly a beta
driver on hand, until you nail down what's best for this game.
Shiny is one of the few studios that places great significance
on the quality of their voice talent; they realize that bad acting
can ruin an otherwise good story and therefore spare no expense
on their voice actors. Sacrifice is no exception. To a character
it is well and subtly acted. The sharpest ears may recognize Tim
Curry as Air God Stratos, and though the rest of the cast may not
be known in Hollywood, it's a veritable who's-who of A-list talent
in the voice industry.
Music, as well, comes straight from the Computer Game Orchestra
First Seat. Though Sacrifice isn't exactly a loud gameit
doesn't feature pounding explosions or earsplitting bass effectsthe
delicacy and power of the score go a long way toward evoking the
mood that the designers appear to have been going for. Music in
Sacrifice is exactly what game music should be: excellent and completely
invisible. This sadly means that Sacrifice did not win any
special achievements in soundtrack, but it certainly makes for a
pleasant experience for the gamers.
My Dog's Name Is "WASD"
Sacrifice could have been a control nightmareimagine
a third-person shooter like Max Payne's controls set in a
real-time strategy game's enginebut in fact they're relatively
graceful so long as you're out of the stone age as far as hardware
is concerned. You're going to need a mouse with a scroll wheel that
doubles as a button and a keyboard you're able to wrap your hands
around (you could play Sacrifice well on a laptop so long
as you used an external mouse).
In fact, I wish Black & White had emulated the control
scheme of Sacrifice, since the two games share many graphical
similarities. Essentially you move Eldred around with WASD and control
your pointer with the mouse. Camera control is achieved by holding
the middle mouse button or by maneuvering the pointer to the edges
of the screen. Beginners will have a hard time with the controls
while they get the hang of it, but veterans are so well-oiled that
they can zoom around the battlefield, picking up souls and casting
spells, all the while knowing precisely what's going on around them.
Creatures are big and brightly colored and, when selected, surrounded
by a huge white bounding box and status icon that can seriously
get in the way when you're trying to pinpoint an object in the play
area. It's the price the designers paid for such large and highly
detailed creature models, but the bounding box was a little more
than was necessary. Complaints as far as the control structure go
are limited to the vague but persistent irritation associated with
wanting to click one object only to find that another is in the
Most levels in the game offer a number of objectives, some optional,
so you won't get stuck in the ho-humness of level after level with
the same objectives. Ultimately your goal is usually the samedestroy
an enemy wizard's (or wizards') altar(s), but the way you go about
it and the challenges you will encounter on the way vary greatly.
Aiding you in this adventure is a highly disrespectful homunculus
named Zyzyx. He will guide you through Sacrifice's three
excellent tutorials and is a critical player in the story itselfhe,
along with more than a dozen other characters, is the backbone of
the story as well as its supporting cast. Zyzyx flies around the
battlefield and calls out advice and situation reports, along with
the occasional catcall, and can generally be relied upon to get
in the way when you need unobstructed vision. Despite his I-quit
attitude and tendency to take cuts in line, however, he's an invaluable
resource that most players can't help but be fond of.
As the game progresses, you're naturally granted access to more
and more powerful spells and creatures until, in the final levels,
you have attained the pinnacle of power, the mack-daddy of magic,
your god's mighty capital creature and capital spell. I always like
games that allow you to deform the terrain of the game world. I
don't mean the crappy you-can-chip-the-rock-where-we-say-you-can
of Red Faction, I mean the bust-up, rumbleicious, crunch-all-you-want,
we'll-make-more-total-freedom-of-a-capital spell in Sacrifice.
Tear off the lid off a mountain and watch lava spew forth, suck
an entire enemy army into the swirling vortex of a tornado, hurl
opponents miles into the air, slice out a Delaware-sized chunk of
the map and watch it fall into the nothingness below ... this is
the glory of the capital spells in Sacrifice. Effects like
this are satisfying graphically and viscerally, and they are the
kind of reward players deserve for progressing toward the end in
a game they've adored.
There Is No Fighting in the War Room
There's plenty of goofiness to go with Sacrifice's chilling
story of demonic incursion and power-mad wizardry. It's obvious
that Shiny has a lot in common with its (former) fellow Interplay
minions Black Isle and Bioware. We all remember Fallout, a
franchise that somehow managed to incorporate laugh-out-loud humor
into a series of games set in a postnuclear world where more than
five billion were already dead and the rest likely to die under
the smoking barrel of your character's zipgun.
In addition to snappy writing, humor is contributed via the creatures.
Take the hideous Phoenix, Pyro's capital creature. It's the opposite
of pretty much everyone's mental image of the mythical beast. It's
fat. It's pink. It's got about nine feathers. It looks like a semiplucked
escapee from a fat farm for chickens merged with a Powerpuff Girl.
And far from being a flaming bird of paradise that rebears itself
through its ashes, it is ungainly when airborne and fires a ruddy
laser beam that tears through legions of foes. Not exactly the glorious
firebird of Archon, a game I consider to be Sacrifice's
spiritual predecessor, but a witness to the creative genius
and incredibly disturbed humor that stokes the furnaces at Shiny.
Sacrifice is such a hectic game that it will probably not
appeal to epileptics, nervous individuals, or people who have a
hard time keeping track of a number of events at one time. The game's
true masters are totally aware of everything going on around them
and can dodge and weave through the middle of combat, gathering
their own souls, converting others, summoning creatures and casting
spells without a break in the action. Beginners should take heart;
Sacrifice is relatively easy to learn and very difficult
to master, but if you give it time you will be rewarded.
Also included is the Scapex level editor, one of the easiest mapmaking
utilities I've ever seen. Scapex allows you to create your own Sacrifice
maps and populate them with scripted events and objectives;
in ease of use it's similar to the editor that Starcraft shipped
with. Instructions on how to use Scapex are included in the printed
documentationa nice toucheven beginners should be whipping
up levels in no time. Sacrifice.net
offers quite a selection of excellent user-made maps and episodes.
There is a very small community of gamers who still play Sacrifice
online. They are few and far between, so if you want to try
your hand at online combat, you'd be better off organizing a game
among your friends than trying to locate some other opponent. Chances
are you won't find many active Sacrifice servers these days,
though it doesn't hurt to look.
Showmanship and Genius (Or, the Inevitable Section That Uses
the Words "Looking" and "Glass")
Despite total critical acclaim (it is one of the highest-rated
games ever) and near-complete adoration from fans, Sacrifice
sold very poorly. It was relegated to the bargain bin at most
stores within a month. This is depressing on a number of levels.
Consider that Shiny is a small studio that, until its recent acquisition
by Infogrames, was at the mercy of its publisher, Interplay. Interplay
has been in desperate financial straits for the last three years,
so the failure at retail of an expensive project like Sacrifice
was disastrous to everyone. The attempt to build sales by squashing
it into a genre into which it doesn't fit made things worse: dyed-in-the-wool
RTSers didn't "get" Sacrifice and didn't commit
the time necessary to master it. Casual gamers were put off by its
bizarre landscapes and complicated storyline. Those parents who
bother keeping track of what their kids do were concerned by the
demon-lord undertones and splatterfest violence in the game. Despite
the lack of human characters, so much blood is spilled in Sacrifice
that Wal-Mart released a "friendly" version of the
title with entire levels stripped out.
Ultimately the pitiful message of Sacrifice's failure is
that it's not a good idea to be innovative. If you make a highly
imaginative game set in a unique world and requiring a very open
mind to appreciate, you're going to get burned. This says bad things
about the industry, implying that the lowest common denominator
is the safest audience to cater to. It does not encourage publishers
to offer financial support to the Shinys of the worlda grim
thought indeed, since studios like Shiny are the creative successors
to Looking Glass, the collapse of which left a scar on our industry
that will never truly heal.
Despite poor performance at retail, there have been noises over
the past half year about a sequel to Sacrifice. Shiny's a
small studio that can only work on one project at a time, and it's
currently focused on a video game adaptation of the Matrix filmsa
dumb idea, in my opinion, since I defy you to name more than three
games-based-on-movies that have been remotely successful. A recent
posting from Dave Perry, Shiny's president, makes a few remarks
about the potential for a Sacrifice 2. Perry's notice
manages to use several hundred words without actually saying anything,
but it nebulously implies that Sacrifice will be a standalone
game and that there will never be a sequel.
That thought is the most depressing of all, because if true, it
means that the Man winsShiny acknowledges that being creative
leads to failure at retail, and it prefers to latch onto potentially
surefire movie franchises rather than be one of the industry's true
artistic movers and shakers. And again Looking Glass turns over
in its grave.
Release Date: 2000
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium II 300, AMD K62 550, K63 450 (II 450, AMD Athlon 450, AMD
Duron 650 recommended)
64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended)
4X CD drive (8X recommended)
650 MB free hard disk space
8 MB D3D DirectX certified video card (16 MB recommended)
DirectX certified sound card
Mac OS 8.6
300 MHz or faster G3 or G4 processor,
128 MB RAM,
8X CDROM or DVD drive,
3D graphics acceleration with 8 MB of video memory