Release Date (Windows): November 17, 2000
Release Date (Mac OS): December 14, 2001
CrossOver Profile: Read Here
WineHQ AppDB entry: Read Here
IMG Review: Read Here
MacBook (Mid-2007/Late-2006; GMA 950, 10.6.8, CX11.03)
Dare to be Different
In my last column, I covered a game which, while excellent in its own right, was doomed to never be given the spot in the limelight that it deserved so much. In thinking of this week's GOG title to write about, I thought it only fitting to cover another case of a computer gaming "could've-should've-would've": Shiny Software's Sacrifice.
Shiny first made its mark on the industry with the Earthworm Jim games. Known for its quirky offbeat humour, the notoriously punishing 2D platformer was one of the more notable examples of its genre of the day. Shiny followed up its success with Earthworm Jim with MDK, a game that was also dripping with sharply distinct aesthetics, excellent gameplay design, and a sense of humour that could only be described as being uniquely Shiny. (I honestly, can't think of any other game featuring enemies that would taunt you by holding targets in front of their faces.) Next came Messiah, a game with an innovative gameplay mechanic involving supernatural possession. Sadly, Messiah suffered from an overinflated amount of hype that led to great stress among Shiny’s developers. Their next game was developed as a secret, almost Skunk Works-like project, unknown outside of the company. Its name was Sacrifice, and it would be arguably one of the most unique and distinctive strategy games of all-time.
"In the Beginning, there was the Creator..."
Sacrifice's design looked as if Shiny was trying to aim for creating a game like no other. Ostensibly, it was partially a third-person action game in the same general vein as Tomb Raider. Instead of a gun-toting grave-robbing archaeologist however, you were a powerful wizard struggling to wrestle with the demons of his past, wielding powerful, and arcane magical abilities. Sacrifice was also a real-time strategy game as well: you had at your command a host of powerful ground and air units with unique abilities to command and control in real-time, á la Command and Conquer, but like Myth, it was strategy on a tactical scale, where the loss or key deployment of units at the right time, at the right place marked a razor-thin line between a glorious victory and a disgraceful defeat. Resources weren't merely minerals or gold sitting around on the map waiting to be mined; they were nothing less than the souls of your vanquished enemies, harvested to feed into your growing army. Victory or defeat rested on reaching and defiling an enemy altar - before your opponent did so to yours. The game even threw in some role-playing elements in that wizards gained experience with their battles, gaining access to more powerful spells. All of this was tied together by a strong plot involving a pantheon of gods embroiled in a struggle for power in the wake of a cataclysmic event - gods which each had their own unique spells and creatures to offer to the player, in exchange for their allegiance. Combined with a colourful, graphically gorgeous graphical style, it was a game that, had it been released today, would have surely been hailed as a masterpiece.
Unfortunately, things didn't quite go as planned for Shiny and their cross-genre creation. While the game was almost unanimously lauded by the press, the frenetic nature of Sacrifice’s gameplay led to divided opinions — despite the depth of the combat and strategy system, wrathful wizards-to-be had to be masters of micromanagement and combat, being able to absorb and manage a dizzying array of tactical information on-the-fly to be successful, on top of the tasks that came with being embroiled in pitched battles. Excelling in the game, especially in multiplayer, demanded memorization of the game’s extensive keyboard commands, and a lightning-quick command of the game’s innovative cross-menu interface. Combined with a difficulty curve which seemed to waver drastically between levels, this led to many gamers being simply unable to enjoy the game to its fullest. On top of that, the game had been written to take advantages of the latest and greatest in graphics card technology, including new developments like Hardware Transform and Lighting (T&L). This in turn meant that only gamers living on the hardware bleeding edge could run Sacrifice at its best. The Mac port arrived one year later, and it was plagued with bugs and performance issues — not the least of which being the lack of online multiplayer, one of the game’s principal strengths. MacPlay did issue a public apology for the lack of multiplayer and promised a patch to fix it later (which it actually did deliver several months later). Still, the game itself was still excessively buggy and poorly optimized, and MacPlay's notoriously underestimated system requirements didn’t make matters any better. Sure, the included Mac OS 9 version ran somewhat faster, but to play it, for some strange, head-scratchingly arcane technical reasons, you had to physically downgrade your system to 512 MB or less of RAM.