Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance


posted 1/26/2004 by Charlie Sinhaseni
other articles by Charlie Sinhaseni
One Page Platforms: Xbox
Gladiator stories seem to all come from the same template. Dude 1 is a high-ranking officer in the Roman army; Dude 1 gets the ire of Evil Emperor 1. Evil Emperor 1 banishes Dude 1. Dude 1 enters tournament in order to get back at Evil Emperor 1. Dude 1 fights plenty of Evil Dude 1s and 2s and eventually takes out Evil Emperor 1, making Rome a better place for all. It’s the main story of every single gladiator movie ever made, an upcoming series on the Discovery channel and now, Acclaim’s hack’n’slash title.

Although the storyline elements are rather clichéd the game deserves a few bonus points for the chances it takes in hopes of originality. Sure, you’ve still got the generic gladiator enters tournament to rid Rome of corrupt emperor plotline, but Gladiator tries to focus more on the mythological side of Rome, leading to a pretty different experience. Whether this is a plus or a negative is really up for debate. When you boot up the game you’ll be thrust into a gladiator arena which really serves as the game’s tutorial. As I progressed through it I really began to hunger for blood as I was chopping up foes left and right. It was a great start to the game and really had me asking for me, but the pacing of the game took a substantial shift for the worse after the initial sequence. When I came upon the emperor I was attacked by some unknown being and then thrust into the fields of Elysium where the game started getting weird on me. I went from beheading men to gabbing away with topless little boys in a grassy field, not exactly my kind of transition.

Things only got worse before they’d get better. I went from fighting humans to doing combat with lousy little skeletons. Call me silly but part of the rush of being a gladiator comes from the fact that you have the ability to maintain and take another human’s life. It sounds kind of wrong for me to say, but there’s just nothing really satisfying about doing combat with a bunch of lifeless skeletons or mythological creatures. The game is inherently violent by nature so I don’t think that the designers were trying to pull any punches. It was just a design decision that may have sounded good on paper but didn’t really pan out too well for the final product.

That’s not to say that actual combat system is all that bad, quite the contrary, actually. Gladiator also features an ingenious combat system that finally allows for intuitive combat when facing multiple opponents. The game assigns targets a primary and secondary designation, with the right trigger you can lock onto the primary while holding down the secondary allows you to target the secondary. This system works well because you can actually cycle back and forth between adversaries with lighting fast speed, even so fast that you can stun one, get a few hits on the other and return to beating the original target. It’s a sweet system and not since the Mark of Kri have I seen a combat system that’s so functional and intuitive. I’ve heard others complain about the system but to me it’s a simple system that allows you to do combat with multiple foes without making things too overtly complicated.

This isn’t to say that the combat system is perfect either. Like most hack’n’slashers the combat gets repetitive fairly quickly, but most other titles throw different factors into the fray to shake things up. Gladiator tries to do this by incorporating special moves and various weapons but the variety is just too paltry. There are only three different types of weapons to wield and they’re all pretty much the same. The magic is essentially just a special move that can be executed when you’ve killed enough enemies. These give you a heavy advantage in the midst of combat and allow you to do mow through multiple enemies. You can pull off a number of combinations via the game’s two attack buttons but nothing too spectacular. I wish that there were more that you could do in combat, incorporating a ranged weapon of some sort would have really worked wonders here.

I’d say that Gladiator is a pretty average looking game with some neat visual elements thrown in for fun. Most of the character designs are pretty average but the designers did an excellent job of utilizing special effects to up the ante on the environments and the overall game. Most of the textures on the main character look very sharp; the armor has a really nice reflective sheen to it. Many of the special effects are appealing too, the blur effect used for the Hercules upgrade in particular. You’ll probably also be impressed with the way that the grass in Elysium is rendered, but the overall package is pretty average at best. Nothing that you wouldn’t expect to see in a 2nd or 3rd year Xbox title.

I would say that the audio is pretty par for the course as well. Most of the clangs and clashes that you’d expect from metal to metal contact have been replicated quite nicely here. The voice acting seems to be done by a bunch of wannabe Shakespearean actors but that’s not so bad for this time of game. Overall you can expect a pleasant aural experience that won’t really grate on your nerves too much.

After a boiling hot start Gladiator cools down to a slight simmer, losing lot of the momentum and panache that it built for itself in the opening minutes. It’s a fun game that’s worth picking up for the weekend but has far too little variety and substance to warrant a serious purchase.
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