Back in 1985, a certain arcade machine entered the early gaming fray. It was a fantasy COOP slasher that punished its players for playing, as those arcade games often did. However, it had great gameplay, pretty visuals and hooked you up faster than cocaine. Its name was – Gauntlet.

29 years later (ignoring the Gauntlet 2), a PC follow-up is finally released. The Gauntlet we have today has little in common with its predecessor, but is a brilliant revival nonetheless. One of the most defining aspects of its brilliance being the fact that it was developed by Arrowhead – the same guys who created the famous Magicka series, so you better be ready for some off-hand slapstick humour along the way.

Just as it was almost three decades ago, the new Gauntlet game offers four characters to choose from. A small, albeit versatile roster. One can select a spear and shield sporting Valkyrie, the axe-wielding Warrior, the marksman Elf or the (gameplay-wise) suspiciously familiar Wizard. What at first seems like a fairly classical selection, turns out to be quite an interesting band of misfits. Merlin the Wizard, for example, casts spells by combining elements – just like wizards do in a certain fantasy game I mentioned earlier. The Elf is what you’d expect an average dwarf to be. He speaks in Scottish accent, drops puns like they’re nothing and seems like a proper drunk all in all. The Valkyrie can go all Captain America on enemies’ ass and throw both her shield and spear around like they’re nothing. A defensive melee class to back the ranged Elf and Wizard up. Thor the Warrior, however, cares little for defense, focusing on high-damage axe attacks and whirlwinds to beat everything into submission.

Combine all of these classes and you’re in for quite a treat as long as the people playing as these characters know how to combine their skills properly. Each character has four initial skills at the ready, with nothing but cooldowns to worry about. Damage-wise, they’re absolutely devastating, killing even the more powerful enemies in just a few swings/blasts. If the skill in question is not oriented towards dealing damage but performing utility tasks, such as the Elf’s evade, even better! So, even though there’s no real skill point upgrade system to take note of, every character is fun to play with and offers a unique twist on the basic gameplay. As for the skill combinations, Wizard immediately springs to mind with his devastating-but-difficult-to-execute fireballs and lightning arcs, but other characters come with their own, unique combos as well. Use the charge attack with Warrior and press left click as you run into the enemies and you’ll see what I mean. So it’s all balanced nicely and all characters are viable in all situations, even though the Warrior will probably die the most. To offset the inability to directly upgrade the characters, Arrowhead implemented the Mastery system that gradually unlocks new skills for each character to use. Even dying contributes to the Mastery so no failure will ever be too bitter.

Gauntlet is played from an isometric perspective reminiscent of its predecessor. You move around using the WASD keys and aim your attacks with the mouse. Gamepads are also fully supported, and fell a tad bit better suited for this game than an average keyboard. Controlling your character of choice, you run around the dungeons, arenas and such to try and come out alive through this gauntlet, mowing down hordes of critters along the way. Combat is visceral and satisfying, with axes cutting off heads, spears puncturing the enemies, explosions tearing poor things to shreds and all that. It’s very fun, especially in COOP, which is really the highlight of the game.

While playing solo is fun to some extent, multiplayer is what you’ll want to focus on to get the best possible experience out of Gauntlet. There’s loads of gold and healing items scattered around the levels, but since these are shared between all players, there’s also a sense of competitionism to the whole ordeal. You’ll often be racing in front of other heroes to get more gold for Artifacts that unlock additional powers or to eat some of that healing turkey that’s so hard to get by. Artifacts aside, you can also spend your hard earned monster killing money on additional armour pieces and weaponry, but these don’t seem to offer any buffs, other than being a bit cooler and shinier.

Graphics aren’t all that special in Gauntlet, but are crispy smooth – especially concerning the dynamic shadows that look very cool in motion. Strangely enough, the game isn’t all that well optimised, requiring a strangely powerful machine to run at maximum settings. Same deal that happened to Magicka on release, I’d say. Maybe we’re talking about the same engine here, really, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I’m sure of that. Animations work fine too, and the tightly regulated physics engine adds flair to all the killing. Blood looks nice too. Voice-over is of high quality, as one could expect, and the humorous overtone the game nurtures will surely cater to its audience.

Overall, even though Gauntlet’s score defaults to 80, I’d boost the numbers closer to 90 if you enjoy games such as this. It’s a badass COOP hack ‘n’ slash that will surely gain a cult following as time goes by, especially since Arrowhead promised updates and additional content in the upcoming weeks and months. A hearty recommendation from me.