Entertaining hack n’ slash fare, with limited lasting appeal.
Gladiator Sword of Vengeance is an old fashioned arcade style button masher, pure and simple.
This reminds one of like-minded titles that did the rounds on Micros from years past, such as classic hack n’ slash romps’ ‘Sword of Sodan’ or Palace’s ‘Barbarian’. Well, at least for this reviewer anyway. Decapitated heads would gleefully roll across the blood strewn pixel painted backdrops much to players’ twisted delight.
It seems Acclaim’s goal here was to reinvigorate this tried and tested theme and coax it back to life with some modern styling, whilst rigorously adhering to the original formulas. I think they succeeded on this level.
How to best put Gladiator in a nutshell, well, it easily evokes movies based on Greek mythology like 'Clash of The Titans', 'Jason and the Argonauts' etc., where here you take control of the lead protagonist, a hardened warrior slave (Conan anyone?) called Thrax, from a quasi third-person overhead kind of perspective, battle myriads of nasties (including skeletons, Ork's, and more besides), while showcasing some obligatory over-the-top blood letting like something from a Monty Python picture, in the form of “Death Blows”, where as the red stuff sprays in abandon like an unattended water hose.
To elaborate on these, when your fighting with the clusters of enemies, there will be a sort of ringleader amongst them, where by when his health gauge turns from yellow to red, there is a short opening to push a button on the controller which will perform a kind of Mortal Kombat-esque fatality sequence.
The game cuts to an animated scene in darkened setting showing Thrax stabbing or dismembering the opposition using various brutal techniques.
Something nice here, and very much unlike the aforementioned game and its sequels, you don’t have to perform a plethora of hand panicked stick and button combinations just to see these things.
When the game begins, you are armed with only a humble broad sword, but as you go on, collect an axe and gauntlets to bring some extra variety to the onslaught. You are obligated to use all of the weapons during your quest at different points, as at times certain enemies can only be defeated with certain weapons.
The combat here is one skirmish after the other, a handful of nasties attacks, you deal with them, migrate a bit, and then repeat the process. Trigger buttons are used for controlling the flow of your attacks, where as one sets up the primary attack target and the other the secondary, and you can alternate for fast switch kills.
You can perform a number of combination attacks, but A - I don’t want to sound as if I am regurgitating the game manual, and B - To be brutally honest, you can get away with just employing the two standard attacks, and when coupled with an auto-fire controller, you can shred through the herds and not destroy your investment in the process.
Along the way you have to face some slightly tougher guardians, which require some sort of specific routine to defeat, but is usually none too taxing to figure out. You are rewarded with a special ability upon defeating such individuals, for example the initial power you receive is that of Hercules, which adds another gauge surrounding your health one, that you can fill up by slaying nasties.
To activate it, you simply push a button on the controller, and flames will proceed to emanate from your body, and your attacks proceed to become much faster, fiercer and deal further, greater damage too all comers. This lasts for a limited time, and is visualised by the red gauge depleting in its circular counterclockwise motion, until it runs to the beginning.
Others include the power of Pluto, which uses the same gauge, but you have to defeat more nasties for the gauge to change colour again, and it fills up in the same manner, and so on. Upon activation, it attaches ghost warriors to opponents you attack and drains their life force, and if you do away with enough enemies this way, it sends their health back to your own, to top you up. This becomes important in the latter stages of the game, when general heath pickups are far less numerous. The visualisation here is rather charged up and exciting.
Finally, there is the power of Titan, which, well . . . isn’t too difficult to imagine the stopping power.
Apart from the slicing and dicing, other play elements include occasionally pulling levers to open up new areas, and the game always draws’ attention to such things. Also at times, you have to destroy enemy generators, sort of like in ‘Gauntlet’ I guess, but the generator will have a marking on it, indicating a power has to be employed to destroy them, e.g. a fist symbol represents Hercules. Failing this, the nasties never stop spawning.
Something interesting worth noting is the environment, while you can freely move around the defined areas, to negotiate jumping, it is done automatically by pressing a button at predefined points. This is also for other situations which see you utilising flying fox type devices to move to new areas.
The ways in which your path is controlled, even though the environments appear to be quite expansive, sort of reminded me of how old games like ‘The Last Ninja’ series presented the flow of action, though this still feels much more free flowing in stark contrast.
Much emphasis has been put in power-ups in this game, and at regular intervals you find “challenges”, which appear as podium-like things which you can interact with, that subsequently takes you to a confined arena for the challenge.
This normally consists of defeating a quota of nasties, or destroying all objects -, e.g. barrels, in a predetermined time limit, and so on. Rewards consist of such things as increasing your health gauge, upgrading weapons, making new helpful items become available etc.
Something worth noting is the “smart” camera behaves itself here, and I can’t recall an occasion when it was intrusive to the play. You also have control over the zoom ratio of the action, which can easily be adjusted with the right thumb-stick at any time during the game.
The audio side of things here is actually quite well done. The British actors which voice over the various character’s are consistently good, and deliver their respective lines with great aplomb. A particular standout - the suitably sinister, yet decidedly sultry Deimos – Goddess of Terror.
Music for me wasn’t really memorable, which means, like a good film, I strictly serve to subtly create the mood and atmosphere, and conversely heighten the tempo when necessary for the fevered violence.
Spot effects include various metallic clangs and bangs, resounding grunts and growls, and some particularly juicy samples during the death blow sequences which rounds out things nicely.
In terms of visuals, this is very solid. Pixel shading means this abounds that lovely soft overtone, and everything from the blades of grass gently swaying in the wind, to warriors composed of shadows is a pleasure to soak up the graphic splendour. Environmental effects from dark cloudy skies to glaring sunshine are effectively realised and employed. The visuals aren’t overly gaudy, but instead strike a good balance between detail and functionality.
Admittedly, this game isn’t dreadfully difficult. Anyone who is not completely ham-fisted with the controller could most likely beat this game in eight to ten hours without too much trouble. Moreover, because the game is somewhat linear, I can’t find any good reason to revisit this myself.
The Bottom Line
Whingeing aside, I really didn’t mind this game. The visuals are easily as smart as ‘Prince of Persia Sands of time’, and the combat here can be considered much the same in truth. Actually a good way of describing this, is Prince without any genuinely deep thought required, where as the focus is almost solely on combat, without any of the platform bits or proper puzzle elements.
I just couldn't find my way to slagging this game off, even though it is rather shallow and unoriginal, I found it to be a decent diversion between keener games, and hacking Ork’s into shish kebabs proves to be almost therapeutic in a way. So, if you can get this game for budget (which I did) it offers some good fun while it lasts, just don’t expect anything in the way of long-term value.