Kept under wraps with a wink and a smirk, Sacrifice is a welcome hybrid of genres melding real-time strategy (RTS) conventions with intense action and, believe it or not, a little Magic: The Gathering on the side. As with their earlier titles Earthworm Jim and MDK 2, Shiny Entertainment's game seems as self-indulgent as it is welcoming.
While the game's premise (wizard must figure out portents of world doom by aiding the right gods) may seem simple on the surface, it's really the fusion of expectations that puts the game over the top. You control a wizard who, with a little help from mana fountains, can create and control an entire army of various and bizarre creatures, all in the hopes of destroying the enemy's temple and banishing them from the land.
The execution, however, is where it gets good. Mana helps to cast spells, but you can only create a unit if you have available souls. In order to gain that commodity, you either have to find a friendly soul nearby (rare) or kill an enemy's unit and convert its soul. This lends the game an immediate tug-of-war tension. Both in single- and multiplayer modes, this soul-based system can constantly change the ranks of winners and losers with no "gradually build-up then obliterate" tricks of past RTS games.
The non-linear setup of the single-player campaigns makes the game even more appealing. You are free to aid or infuriate each of the five gods between levels and, depending on which one you choose to help, acquire different units and spells. It's this aspect that prompts the Magic: The Gathering parallels. Each god has particular traits (e.g., Stratos excels in hit-and-run, Pyro is formidable in a slow but powerful way) and, depending on your preferences, this allows you the freedom to choose which types of units/spells to earn as the campaign progresses.
Even so, not everything is as impressive. The narrative winding through this non-linear setup is surprisingly predictable with spotty voice acting ranging from hilarious to obnoxious. Additionally, much like Battlezone II: Combat Commander, the in-the-field interface often leads to a clumsy grasp of unit maneuvers and spell execution (a terrific instant-bind command helps alleviate some of this trouble, but not enough).
Unfortunately, other unimpressive aspects are evident as well. Even though the completely malleable landscapes are gorgeous, especially when you summon volcanoes or, better yet, giant catapulting cows ("Bovine Intervention"), the creatures have that fuzzy, "bubbly" look of badly textured models.
In any case, Sacrifice is a delightfully fun first stab at combining a handful of different games and most of the game's creaky experiments don't irritate as much as you'd think. Shiny Entertainment's particular humor comes through most of the time, while the strategically satisfying scope creates a sense of anticipation on where titles such as this can possibly go in the future. The sequel should be amazing.
Graphics: The creature modeling could have been vastly improved but the startling skylines and changeable landscapes are superb.
Sound: Ranges from first-rate (spell casting) to awful (voice acting).
Enjoyment: The humor and non-linearity coupled with a true sense of a "god game" makes for many addictive late-night sessions.
Replay Value: Open campaigns might not tell the best stories but multiplayer and the vast array of spells and creatures to try out on each new game offer rewarding replay value.
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Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends, StarCraft, Populous: The Beginning, Rise of Nations, Settlers 4, The, Rival Realms, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood
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