A routine beating.
If mediocrity needed a video game poster child, I’d nominate Sacred Citadel for the position. Everything about this three-player side-scrolling beat-’em-up exemplifies the word: the combat, the overall presentation, and the dialogue. It neither disappoints nor inspires, and serves as a middling diversion best kept for co-op nights when it doesn’t particularly matter what you’re playing.
Like the neighborhood dive bar, Sacred Citadel provides many of the essentials but little else. There are four acts to work through, a villain to foil, four characters to outfit with levels and loot, titles to collect, achievements to complete, a few genuinely spectacular boss battles, and the requisite herd of enemies to cull. It’s the whole nine yards, and that’s also one of its biggest problems: it’s only nine yards, and it could’ve really used a few more.
The most telling thing, perhaps, is the approach Sacred Citadel took with the quartet of characters. You’ll never mistake the Shaman for the decolletage-baring Mage, but the cast still feels utterly bland despite their colorful cel-shaded art style. No attempt has been made here at providing some semblance of personality to their gameplay. It doesn’t help that everyone is, for no apparent reason, a dual-wielding dervish or that, outside of the off-hand weapon abilities, their basic moves are visually different but effectively nigh-identical, and the standard assortment of equippable swords, maces, giant hammer, unisex armor and what-have-yous barely does anything to mix it up.
Though limited and vaguely unsatisfying to perform, the repository of moves is both easy to execute and decently animated; you’ll be hard-pressed to not maintain a maxed-out combo tally. Having said that, however, the combat is another example of what went not-quite-right with Sacred Citadel. It isn’t terrible, it’s just kind of humdrum. There’s enough to it that you won’t immediately quit in exasperation, but little beyond that.
Over bland the four-act story you’ll cut through wave after wave of acid-spitting dragonets, wolf-creatures, miners, ghouls, and more. To their credit, they all come with their own attack patterns, but the enemy A.I is suicidally atrocious. It’s distressingly easy to stun-lock them into annihilation or to crowd them into a corner where they can be slowly pulverized. Most of my playthrough consisted of repeatedly mashing the knockback combo and, from time to time, diversifying with an uppercut. It’s a cheap tactic, but an effective one, and the fact that you’re also vulnerable to the same stun-lock death makes it often necessary.
At least, at first. Getting through the first act was a slog, but things began opening up around the time I encountered the first boss, a gargantuan creature that had me waking up from my ennui in delight. Like some sped-up reenactment of a raid encounter from World of Warcraft, the boss battles had me spamming that dodge-roll button and scrambling to keep ahead, ever-hounded by the seemingly endless supply of common rabble and the boss’ attacks.
It’s a toss up as to whether the boss fights or the vehicles are the most appealing aspect. Enormous in every respect, the drivable war machines and mounts will let you wreck localized apocalypse on your surroundings. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as crunching across Grimmocs with one of their own tank-like contraptions.
Sacred Citadel remains one of those games that just could have been more, you know? Much like the underachieving student who is happy to coast by on just-passing grades, it seems content at being satisfactory, and nothing more.
A dispirited attempt at marrying the best of old-school brawlers like Streets of Rage with the obsession-inducing trappings of an action-RPG, Sacred Citadel had the potential to be so much more than it is. Plagued by a ho-hum delivery and combat occasionally interrupted by redeeming boss fights, it fails to distinguish itself.