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SummaryA promising start and a disappointing end to a potential franchise.
The GoodI have been a fan of Gladiator (starring Russell Crowe) for many years now and I was always flabbergasted that a game was never made to capitalize on the movie license. Well, this is where this game steps in, it feels like it was going to be made with that intention in mind, but something happened and they just basically turned it into a generic rip-off of sorts. I was a bit excited when I first came across this game a while back, until I saw those four letters on the bottom right of the box...KOEI...and I instantly pulled my hand back and cringed for the hundreds of Dynasty Warrior games flashed through my head and thought of it being nothing but a Dynasty Warrior-type game set in Roman times and decided against it.
Well for the longest of times I kept seeing this game setting on the shelves just staring at me, wanting to go home with me but those four letters kept popping up and stopping me from getting it. Finally, with the weaning days of the PS2 and the PS3 still out of reach, I bit the bullet and bought this game used for $20 and I was pleasantly surprised. To start off the graphics are decent, nothing spectacular, but they get the job done. On newer flat screens it does look a little drab and flat, but on older televisions the graphics pop out at you. The sounds are also well done, including the clanging of metal on metal, the sound of swords and clubs smashing into bone and flesh which really put you into the game and gives you the feeling that you are actually hurting somebody.
The game has a nice choice of weapons including a variety of daggers and swords which range from small knifes to these huge swords that would make Shaquille O'Neal look small compared to them. You can also choose from the ever loved spiked maces, ball and chain maces, spears, huge leather clubs and even shields, armor plates and helmets which can protect you in very tough scrapes. Acquiring these weapons range from simply buying them at the local arena's shopkeeper to picking them up during matches from fallen opponents. Thankfully, you can keep a variety of these weapons in your war chest which can hold around 5-6 and can pick up in between fights, but you can also sell these weapons to gain more money to upgrade your current weapons, so that right there won't be a problem.
The BadWell, a good bit of things bothered me about this game, one of which is the half-attempt at the story of the game, it feels more like it was originally going to be a Gladiator-licensed game, but they couldn't afford Russell Crowe's likeness so they rearranged it around. The story has a touch of the movie, but is different in many respects. Whereas the movie the main character was a framed general of the Roman army getting his revenge against an evil tyrant, the game just simply has you as a slave who is caught up in an assassination attempt to relive Rome of an evil tyrant. I do like the attempt at a somewhat original story, but herein lies the problem of the game.
The game is sort of a mix of a career-type game and mixing it with storytelling elements. When you first play the game has you simply train and level up in between fights and fighting for your life in a series of fights in order to survive and gain your freedom, but then the game will kick into the story mode. Originally you will be approached by caesar's sister who is trying to find a fair fight against her brother by finding him an opponent for an upcoming match against him. Now you can agree to do this which then has you fight for a right to face Caesar (which seems an awful lot like Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series). If you fight against Caesar you can either throw the match and make him look good or you could attempt to kill him right there only to fight against a horde of guards in order to kill him and end the game there. You can also follow the game's suggestions and ultimately through a series of events face of against him in his private quarters or you can just basically avoid the entire storyline and just answer "no" to everything and just fight and level up through the rest of the game. However, the game is only set to 50 days and on the 50th day, the game will have you fight for your freedom in a final 30-man battle royal (which seems like an ancient WWE Royal Rumble) and the game will end then.
It's kinda sad that the game couldn't have had just a career mode where the player could just fight and level up and just become known as a legend instead of trying to force a half-assed attempt at a storyline. It wouldn't have been bad if there was consequences for refusing to take part in the assassination plot, but they just basically dismiss you and continue to fight your merry way to the 50th day and take part in the huge battle royal. Now there is a way to get around that and keep fighting to basically infinity in the game, but you have to do so many specific events in the game that it really isn't worth trying and is easier to just restart your game and start over from scratch.
You can also buy your freedom by paying your price that your handler paid for you, but it takes so long to gather money up you can never get it paid off. If you have a good fighter, the price is ridiculously high and if you have a less than average fighter the price will be low enough, but it will take it a while to level up and become a decent enough fighter. Earning money during matches through the crowd is a pain since you are awarded more if the crowd loves the way you fight, but it is very hard to please them. It seems like no matter what you do they never are satisfied even if you go through an entire match without taking a hit, kill each opponent in succession and have a 30 hit chain and they will still not be happy, I feel like Maximus saying "Are you not entertained?". It's very frustrating.
Another problem I have encountered that your allies during certain matches are constantly getting in the way and it doesn't help matters much that there is no semblance of a targeting system. The game isn't exactly hard without it, but most of the time you can hit on the d-pad to indicate the direction you want to strike and it will go the opposite way. Many a times I have hit UP on the d-pad only to have them slash to their left and right or hitting DOWN to slash behind you and going to the back left or right. It gets frustrating and no targeting system wouldn't have been so bad if the controls were in sync with the game. Another thing that bothers me is that lack of a character creator hurts the game as well, now you can "create" them of sorts by choosing their former profession, where the lived and the such and get from one of four characters. Most of the time I keep getting a guy that looks like Triple H and magically turns into Kirk Douglas' version of Spartacus and it gets annoying to keep getting him over and over.
There is also not a lot to this game, the main meat of the game is get up, train, level up and sleep, wake up, fight, sleep, wake up, train, level up...well you get the idea. There are only two arenas (well technically three if you count the desert arena which you only use a couple of times) and it keeps get boring seeing the same scenery over and over and over and over...you get the idea. Also, there isn't a lot of music to it either, there are only a few tracks that covers the training area, the arena and some for the cinematics. You think they could have had just a bit more of a score instead of a few tracks and hoping that no one would notice that the same music just loops constantly.