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Sacrifice
Corey Tamas

3D acceleration:Yes
Sound acceleration:No
Demo:No

System Requirements
Power Macintosh G3 350 MHz
Mac OS 9.2 or later
128 MB RAM
Mac OS X 10.0.4 or later
(note: No mention of video hardware)
Machine Tested On:
G4 400 MHz
Mac OS 9.2.2
192 MB RAM
Mac OS X 10.1.2
Radeon AGP 3d card

ESRB Advisory: Mature

I have not, for a long, long time, looked forward to reviewing a game like I looked forward to Sacrifice. It's truly a step away from what the other kids are doing and an successful effort to take gaming to a new place. As a guy who is saddled with the job (ok, who's kidding whom? I should say "the pleasure") of reviewing games on a regular basis, I often find myself begging for a chance to take a look at something fresh and different. Though the execution of the Mac version has more than its fair share of flaws, this game is one of a kind. The buyer should beware, but that same buyer should also know what a fantastic concept Sacrifice is.

Shiny Entertainment is the company that brought the world Earthworm Jim, MDK, MDK 2 and Messiah. They're known for comical games set in a surreal world with strange rules and peculiar creatures. Sacrifice is their latest and, arguably, strangest work to date. The story on the box tells the tale of the time in which you find yourself as a character with a clouded past in a ruined world overshadowed by powerful gods, each wanting supremacy:
"The Holy War is over. The Demons of Golgotha have been banished, yet the cost has been terribly high. The Creator, God of the Fyllid, has been defeated and the faith of the people has begun to wane. Petty squabbles among the five remaining Gods has caused the land to split into five mystical territories -- each at war with one another. Into this divided land steps a wizard, a man haunted by his past, whose choices will shape the future. Which God will he choose? Will he sacrifice himself to change this world for the btter, or will what remains of this world be sacrificed for one God's glory?"
These five gods each have use for one with skills such as yours, and each wants to see you either serve his cause or perish without a trace. The first of the lot is the goddess Persephone, who espouses the virtue of truth, mercy and justice. James, ruler of the earth and soil, is a simpler god with humbler ambitions, but still in possession of great power. The arrogant Stratos is the deity of air and all that is therein bestows knowledge upon his minions. Pyro is the aggressive and surly god of fire and flame. Lastly, Charnel is the lord of death, conflict and suffering; his motives and plans are as vile as the visage of his patchwork flesh face.



As the game progresses you will pick and choose which god you will serve and which you will shun. Choose carefully, however: Each time you serve one god you may win his or her favor but also inspire the ire and jealousy of the other four -- a fact that can both work for you and against you as the game progresses. Each god gives you roughly ten missions in their own unique styling where you weild your influence, but one of the beautiful things about Sacrifice is that you can replay the game again and again, serving different gods, executing different missions and only after many, many hours of gameplay exhausting the vast range of quests that the player can enjoy. No labor was spared by Shiny on the single player game of Sacrifice: It's a remarkably varied, fresh and engrossing journey through an in-depth universe of characters, storylines and battles.

Gameplay
Though Sacrifice is a real time strategy game, it's really unlike any other real time strategy game available. While most titles in this genre steal liberally from Blizzard's Wacraft series, Sacrifice eschews building of structures and methodical management of economy in favor of putting the player right into the battle. At first it resembles another icon of excellence in real time strategy, the Myth series, but the resemblance ends quickly, as obvious differences of unit management, design and basic philosophy all become obvious. Sacrifice puts the player into the battle rather than using a bird's-eye view of the action; thus making it impossible to scan areas of the world which you aren't currently in (as most real time strategy games allow you to do). The player is a master wizard named Eldred who possesses awesome magical powers with which he not only attacks and defends, but also summons minions to assist him in his missions. Eldred uses mana to transform his collection of souls-in-limbo into fresh, new servants, all of which are managed and commanded by him. Without having to go through a prologned "build-up" phase (as one must do in games like Warcraft), Sacrifice plunges the gamer quickly into the frenzied pace of battle, thus making it a faster, more hands-on strategy war game.



There is still a degree of resource management that must be done, however; your wizard must keep a fresh supply of souls and mana if he is to perform his mystical duties. Mana fuels his magical power, enabling him to cast spells of various kinds, and can be acquired either by keeping close proximity to a Mana fountain (found here and there throughout the world itself) or by creating "Manahoars", who follow him faithfully and slowly recharge his mana through the process of radiation and osmosis. Souls are a little more challenging to come by, but are essential materials for creating new beasts and servants (throughout the game you have a choice of over 50 creatures to serve you). Only after a death has occurred (other than your own) will you find a soul hovering over the deceased body. If it is blue then the soul is already faithful to you and can be gathered simply by walking over it. If the soul is red then you are met with a "heathen" soul, which must be extracted, converted and returned to your altar before it can be used in the same way. This job is done by "Sac doctors" who are summoned by the player if a soul needs working over.

The altar itself is the focal point of your power. If you die, you journey back to your altar and return your spirit to it in order to be recreated and rejoin the gameplay again. If the enemy should, however, get close to your altar and desecrate it then the game is over for you and you are banished for good... but the same is true for your enemy as well, so the battle is waged accordingly. Sacrifice, again, is unlike Warcraft in the sense that resources are harder to come by and the margin for error is very slim, as the player does not generate hoardes of minions, but rather a select, powerful few. Battle is bone-jarring and very in-your-face, and losses are felt keenly. It's very difficult to manage the heat of battle; you are expected to issue orders to your warriors, give them formations to attack in, monitor for vulnerable souls on the battlefiend, heal your ailing creatures and protect your altar all while you yourself may be under direct assault. Getting to know your commands and controls are absolutely essential to surviving Sacrifice, but as they become second nature you issue orders with the precision of a field general and will astonish yourself with how the game makes it easy to do what you need to do as quickly as possible.





Graphics, Sound and Other Stuff
To be frank, Sacrifice is simply gorgeous in every way. It takes the best elements of Myth, Majesty, Giants and Warcraft while at the same time remaining fresh and brilliant. Mike Pollard describes Sacrifice in MacGamer's preview as "...a candy-colored archipelago floating on a sea of clouds. Even if Sacrifice lacked interesting gameplay, it would still be entertaining as a kind of demented zoological garden". Aside from the technical elements alone, Sacrifice is outstanding as an artistic achievement as well. Most games succeed in the technical aspect of achieving great visuals (colored lights, animated textures, shaders and so on), but often fail miserably when it comes to the artwork, which often uses that fantastic potential in a corny or stilted way. Sacrifice not only brings across an absolutely incredible range of visual potential, but the artwork is darkly bizzarre and brilliant. Each world is host to an amazing astral vista of strange flora, rolling hills and undulating skies. The creatures themselves are scary, terrible, exotic, curious and completely original. Each god (and his/her respective realm) has a theme, and commensurately gorgeous artwork. This game is such a great combination of graphical power and lustrous artwork that simply thumbing through screenshots is nearly as much fun as playing the game itself.





One of the most important elements of a game that gets the least amount of consideration is sound, and Sacrifice has a lot to boast about. Whether you're using the tiny speaker that's housed in your desktop or a full 4.1 sound setup with a powerful subwoofer, you'll appreciate the lush, creative sound work in Sacrifice. It's hard to know where to start in praising Sacrifice's audio; from the thronging sounds of spells being cast to the realistic clamor of battle the sounds are fresh, appropriate and beautiful. Even the sounds in the options menu as your mouse browses the various buttons is a treat to the ears. Perhaps most remarkable about Sacrifice's audio is the fantastic voice acting: To hear your wizard reciting incantations as spells are being cast, gods who argue among themselves or your faithful minions acknowledging your orders is a very satisfying experience. Unlike most games where voice acting is teeth-grindingly corny, Sacrifice furthers the atmosphere of a mystical, enchanted universe with rock-solid vocal talent.

Problems
It's a shame that our look at Sacrifice can't be finished with the generous accolades we've heaped upon it, but unfortunately it's a game with some very obvious problems. MacPlay, astonishingly, has shipped a game which, on the PC, enjoys a vibrant multiplayer element -- yet on the Mac this feature is missing completely and is thus incomplete. This is not the first time MacPlay has done this; Giants: Citizen Kabuto also lacks the multiplayer feature that is enjoyed by PC users. In both cases, MacPlay has promised a patch after the fact that is supposed to add multiplayer, but at the time of this writing, MacPlay has not managed to get these patches finished. They do seem to be able to find enough manpower to continue shipping games, however, so a lot of game buyers are scratching their heads in bewilderment.




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