The Brilliant Strategy Game Sacrifice to Be Forgotten

Sacrifice makes me sad. It’s not that it didn’t have a sequel. It’s not that it sold terribly. It’s not that today, despite innovative game mechanics and technology, it is hardly referenced at all. It’s not even that Shiny is the laughing stock of the various misadventures of the Matrix years after, when they were once so good.

In a strange fantasy world with five angry deities waging debate, you play as a magician. Not a magician with a floppy hat-but a nightmarish magician, distorted by the fever of childhood.

In a way directly inspired by the classic Spectrum chaos, you can not only zap people with thaumaturgical strikes, but also call followers to action for them. You can command them in an RTS way and tell them to strike distant places, protect objects, etc. resource management is tightly integrated into the skirmish: they compete for sources of mana, sources of magical energy for their abilities. The size of your army is limited by the number of souls you have—which can be recycled from the bodies of your own dead or harvested from the corpses of the enemy.

It’s not really a high-level strategy game, but rather group tactics and chaotic scrimmages. Enter your army around you, try to make the difference in hand-to-hand action and call the right soldiers to best defeat the opposition.

When we play now, it’s awesome what we’ve forgotten. It is a game that has been in the PCG Top 100 for years because of its reputation, and not because of our active familiarity with it. Last big brilliant game, looked really weird, blah-blah-blah. Except it’s painfully better than that. Take one obvious thing that is never mentioned among the “Hieronymus Bosch makes Command & Conquer” isms: it’s funny. Really funny.

While his contemporary giants are remembered as full of gags, the brilliantly dubbed and heavily scripted victim receives no recognition. “Of course, I don’t want to finish the world, ” argues the Carnal god of passed away. “This is where all the good action take place.””Haven’t we all had enough of the debate?”asks James, the voice of reason in heaven. “NO!”shoot everyone back in a perfectly synchronized chorus.

Far from puns, it manages the highest caliber of slapstick. One of James’ higher-level spells is an in-gag reference to earthworm Jim, in which the magician shoots a cow weighing several hundred tons into the sky. Thirty seconds after he returns, a single target is obliterated under this ox projectile. The name of the spell? Cattle intervention.

Technologically, this was the first time since Messiah that Shiny successfully got its paving technology up and running, radically adjusting the degree of graphic detail to the distance. Absolutely standard now, but an innovation at the time—and implemented so well that while it’s obvious that you’re considering an aging technology, it’s still a highly acceptable visual experience.

But it’s the mechanics who throw you. Why do we credit Black & White for pushing their gesture control system when Sacrifice had made it a subtle, low-key version a year earlier? Menus are forgotten when you realize that simply tracing a shape in the air is enough to achieve the same effect and seamlessly arrange your followers in defensive positions. Elegantly, it first complements the more traditional system, and then replaces it, rather than just replacing it.

Given his mouse gesture system, his soul-based economy, his radical adoption of the ideas of the STR and his general timbre of unbridled creativity, Darwinia is the most obvious modern parallel to the victim. But even though none have had the commercial success they deserve, thinking about sacrifice makes me sadder than thinking about the introversion game. Darwinia seems to be a game with a future: it’s going somewhere, a role model for a whole generation of underground creators and another step in the introversion plan for everything they want to do.

The victim had no future. It was an end. This was the end of Shiny as a true creative force. This was the end of a certain period of PC gaming, when a budget large enough for actual production values could be spent on something so obviously original. There is the nagging feeling that we will never see this again, just as there will never be a Nietzsche or Bowie or Citizen Kane again. The world that made their creation possible simply disappeared forever. And the future of the game that Sacrifice was trying to predict was more interesting than the one we ended up with.

Perversely, while the clock of the console generation is ticking, Sacrifice feels more than most new games years after its release. Magical powers with maximum level remain extremely impressive. A fully active volcano erupts under them, the ground swells like a tectonic meat boil before it opens, and a hot lava flow shoots defiantly through the air. Let yourself be caught by a whirlwind, spin in the ether, while trying to control your forces. An imposing embodiment of passed away that marches through the earth with great strides and finishs indiscriminately.

Plants with passed away spines pursue everyone, impale the victims and throw them high into the sky. A tornado moves away from its target and cuts a spiral into the ground before the ground itself falls into the infinite void. We’ve seen classic strategy games that crave this kind of devastation, but it’s completely different in this first-person experience. Compared to this poetry of annihilation, a world in which an AK-47 is the culmination of roughness is somewhat depressing. See how the glass breaks when you can use the same technology to tear the mountain slopes.

Sacrifice reminds me exactly how good, resourceful, brilliant a video game can be, and it’s clear that no one will ever spend serious money again to develop a game like this. It doesn’t just make me sad. It makes me desperate.