Developer: Southend Interactive
Publisher: Deep Silver
I recently attended a Deep Silver showcase dominated by Saints Row IV, Metro: Last Light and Dead Island: Riptide, but every so often raucous laughter and high-fiving palmslaps mysteriously echoed from around the corner. It turns out that a fourth game had quietly slipped into the building, and while many of my peers did their best to ignore it, I couldn't help but investigate the telltale sounds of gamers having a damn good time.
As it turned out, the culprit was Sacred Citadel, a sidescrolling cooperative brawler in the vein of Guardian Heroes, but packing deep persistent RPG progression and gorgeously colourful art direction. More to point, a hollering crowd of bouncers, catering staff and even the duty manager of the venue spent an entire day crowding around a single screen; dropping in and out of the action, and clearly loving every minute of it. Basically, early impressions don't get any more promising than that.
Keen to know more about Sacred Citadel and its potential for couch cooperative brilliance, I sat down with creative producer Isaac Parakhen for a bit of a session. We still don't know whether there'll be another in-game metal gig, but fans of local co-op are probably in for a bit of a treat.
Acting as a downloadable precursor for Sacred III (the full-scale RPG sequel), Citadel aims to capture the lighthearted spirit of Ascaron's breezy franchise, while endearing itself to fans and newcomers alike. "What's cool about Sacred is that it's such a huge universe with so much backstory," Parakhen explained to me as we browsed through the character select screen. "There's so many things you can draw from. We felt like it was really about the action gameplay, and felt that it would be a perfect fit to do a sidescroller - for guys who maybe aren't into Sacred, they can get into the universe and discover that there's a lot to offer."
Sacred will certainly provide a rich game world to explore, complete with the colourful setting that typifies the irreverent RPG, but its gameplay inspirations come from a very different place. "It was all about looking at great arcade games and coin-op brawlers," continued Parakhen, suggesting that the likes of Golden Axe, Guardian Heroes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and even Castle Crashers formed the basis for the action. Players will leap into brutal side-scrolling combat as either a burly Warrior, tricky Ranger or versatile Shaman, facing off against all manner of sarcastic goblins, irate dwarves and other hilariously-voiced beasties.
As you'd expect, combat takes place on a 2.5D plane, with a familiar selection of light attacks, powerful heavy blows, launches, blocks and evade rolls open to you. The preview build is a fast-paced and responsive affair, pitting us against enormous hordes of bad guys, and numerous environmental hazards such as fire or rolling mine carts to avoid and exploit. Stun-locking and juggling is still very much the aim of the game, and simple to pull off thanks to the approachable controls. However, your choice of character will factor into a range of special charge attacks, including storms of arrows from the ranger or massive staff smashes and party heals courtesy of the Shaman.
It's familiar ground, but slickly done, and brought to life thanks to a vibrant comic book art style. Not quite cel-shaded yet festooned with bright colours and eyecatching detail, it's unsurprising that the project hails from the studio behind Ilomilo.
Citadel may be set to deliver a dose of old-school beat 'em up action, but unlike some of the best brawlers of yesteryear, will also be underpinned by some robust RPG mechanics. Defeating enemies grants you experience to factor into a streamlined collection of persistent character stats, while a constant income can be spent in the local town between levels.
Weapons deal out different special attacks and bonuses depending on their elemental effects, while various armour sets, potions and temporary performance-enhancing crystals are all up for grabs so long as you can afford them. Brilliantly, we'll be able to replay completed levels with various extra challenge criteria for bonus rewards, or work together to complete optional objective. RPG elements aren't everyone's cup of tea, but here, they'll likely deliver an addictive edge.
Sacred Citadel may not be attempting to blaze an entirely new trail, but as both a canonical franchise entry and gleefully enjoyable local multiplayer fun factory, we remain very optimistic ahead of its launch next month on XBLA and Steam. Expect a full review nearer the time.