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May 26, 2020

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Game review: Sacrifice

By Andr'e Swartley

Issue #14
Developer: Shiny Entertainment
Publisher: Interplay
Platform: PC
Rating: M for Mature

Several days ago, gamers all over the world cried out in anguish at the news that the Playstation Portable release of Shiny Entertainment's classic platformer Earthworm Jim had been canceled. I don't know how this will affect the downloadable XBLA, PSN, and Wiiware releases, but I'm guessing the news isn't good on those fronts either.

So in honor of the heroic lumbricus terrestris we knew as "Jim," I'd like to devote this week's review to Sacrifice, a relentlessly creative real-time strategy (RTS) and, in my opinion, the best game to come out of Shiny Entertainment.

Sacrifice arrived on PCs in 2000 and, as was the case with Earthworm Jim, gamers had never seen anything quite like it. The lengthy opening scene, rendered in the game's colorful engine, introduces the player to the main character, a deformed wizard huddled on the surface of a destroyed world.

Amid the chaos and destruction, the wizard describes how he summoned a demon called Marduke to help him win a massive war. But Marduke proved too powerful to control, and it slaughtered everyone on both sides of the conflict. Fallen bodies litter the landscape, a hazy red or blue soul hovering over each one. Only the wizard survived the Armageddon, and he has dedicated the remainder of his life to banishing Marduke back to the ether.

Sacrifice immediately distinguishes itself from other strategy games by placing you on the ground with your troops instead of hovering above them, as in Warcraft or Command and Conquer. You begin with your base, or "altar," and a few blue souls with which to summon some creatures to fight for you. Defeating an enemy wizard's creatures leaves red souls behind for you to "convert" and harvest.

If it's not obvious yet, Sacrifice carries some deep religious overtones. In fact, the game's name comes from the only way you can win a level-by sacrificing one of your own creatures at an enemy wizard's altar. Since an altar is the only place in a level where you or the enemy wizard can respawn if killed in battle, desecrating an altar means one side or the other is about to win the realm.

Sacrifice is designed for optimal replay. Before each level, you meet in the realm of the gods, where five gods (one of whom is an earthworm named James...) sit and bicker about your next mission. The gods range in mood and mission from the benevolent Persephone to the happily decadent Charnel. Whichever god you choose to serve for a particular mission dictates which world you will fight in and which new creature you will be able to summon for the rest of the game.

Especially near the end of the game, the missions themselves will be very similar, but the creatures you receive can be vastly different. This is where the replayability comes in; you would have to play through the entire game five times just to try out all of the different creatures.

Lastly, it was obvious that Shiny wanted Sacrifice to look and sound good for a long time. When the game was released, it supported graphical options that did not even exist yet! And instead of having programmers or interns do all of the voice acting, as was common in game development ten years ago, Shiny hired a laundry list of professional actors, including A-listers like Tim Curry and Brad Garrett.

With Shiny's attention to every detail of aesthetics and gameplay, Sacrifice is the most interesting and innovative RTS I have ever played.

Final Grade: A