Whenever I get a new review assignment from O.G., the game is usually one that I haven’t heard of, so the first thing I do is hop onto the Internets and do a search on the game name. The results usually consist of reviews from other sites (which I don’t read until I have done mine) and the official websites for the game, its developer and its publisher. I then check out the game site to see what the “company line” is and watch any trailers.
It’s fairly standard stuff, but when I scrolled down the “Gladiator Begins” search results they included “NSFW: ‘Gladiator Begins’ Gets Sexy Time Slip Cover” and “No, ‘Gladiator Begins’ is NOT a porn movie.” Wait, what?
After doing some of research, it would seem that developer Acquire did some creative advertising for the game that caught some attention. Okay, so it wasn’t THAT creative; they dressed up a cute woman in armor (not too much armor, mind you) and made her the centerpiece of their advertising campaign in Japan. Kotaku in particular seemed to be fairly fascinated by her. Now, to be fair, the option of playing as a female gladiator is available.
I would like to address one important point before going into the main portion of the review: there are NO instructions for the downloadable version of this game. The in-game tutorials only cover the main part and the remainder of the game you will have to figure out on your own. While most of it is pretty obvious, there is one important part of the game that is not addressed at all. This is a terrible oversight in my opinion, especially considering the $34.99 that Gladiator Begins is selling for on PSN.
Upon starting the game, I was greeted by a cinematic explaining the story: Marcus Aurelius Antonius Augustus is a good emperor, but is old and he has now fallen ill. The question of his successor is on the lips of Rome. Will it be his son Commodus, co-emperor Lucius Verus, the Governor of Syria, or someone else entirely? In the midst of all this political intrigue, gladiators fought in the Coliseum to entertain the people and sate their bloodlust. I wasn’t sure how my Gladiator was going to fit into this, but I figured all would be explained in time.
After creating your Gladiator’s appearance, you also assign stat points to distribute among three attributes: Vitality, Endurance, and Strength. As you win battles and accumulate AP (experience points) you can use them to buff up your character.
Next I was sent to “Gladiatorial Training School” also known as “The Tutorial” to learn the game controls: analog stick to move, D-pad to pick up weapons, triangle for High Attack, circle for Right Attack, X for Low Attack, and Square for Left Attack. You will later learn that the L button is for blocking and for special attacks, R is for camera control and L+R is to parry. After practicing the basic controls and a quick fight, you are introduced to Magerius, who informs you that he purchased you and your fellow gladiators to replace others that were killed in the Coliseum. You will be able to eventually earn your freedom, but his immediate concern is recouping the money he spent to acquire you.
After that enlightening introduction, you are sent to the Voluptas Arena to begin your gladiatorial career, which consists of outfitting your character with armor and weapons, fighting in the arena, making adjustments and healing, and fighting again. The game’s story is told via cutscenes which feature 3D characters and lots of text. You will be given dialogue choices at times and after gaining enough experience you will even be allowed to choose the arenas you fight in.
Setting up your gladiator is very involving, in addition to your character stats, weapons have stats for attack, defense and weight. There are also three fighting styles to pick from: shield and sword, dual swords, and pugilist. Each fighting style has its own group of special attacks and as you use them in battle you gain experience for that style and unlock more of its special attacks.
There are a wide variety of weapons available, including swords, daggers, axes, hammers and even brass knuckles. Armor can be applied to your gladiator’s arms, legs and head. There is a weight limit that needs to be watched, for an overburdened gladiator will move slowly and easily tire.
Once your warrior is ready for battle, you will select a match from the day’s program. Match types include two-on-two, team battles (you and a partner versus several opponents), survival (you against several opponents), battle royale (last man standing), and one on one battles against ranked opponents. Individual opponents tend to be tougher and will test your mettle. Special matches change the venue on occasion, and battles will occasionally occur as the story dictates.
The fighting in Gladiator Begins is visceral and satisfying. After a brief introduction you are set upon your opponents to unleash hell. The characters control and animate well as they swing their weapons and respond to being struck. The fighting system makes a few nods to realism, which can get frustrating at times, but in ways that make sense. Not all attacks can be blocked, especially if you have a small shield or none at all. It is also possible to bounce off of the fenced walls of the arena, which leaves you open to attack and can prove fatal if you are fighting multiple opponents. Fallen armor and weapons also become obstacles; characters that are falling back will trip over them becoming more open to attack. Errant attacks will also do damage to teammates and it is possible to strike more than one person with an attack.
Once armor has taken enough hits it will come off leaving that portion of a gladiator’s body open to take more damage. Weapons and shields can be dropped so care must be taken to not end up defenseless. It is also possible to make your opponents drop their armaments as well, and the enemy A.I. is smart enough to stop fighting and pick up fallen items. A.I. teammates do a competent job and can defeat weaker opponents without assistance.
Stamina is depleted by performing attacks and special moves and is gradually replenished. Once you completely run out, however, your gladiator has to take a moment to catch their wind which leaves them very open to attack.
The clanging of weapons against armor and the roar of the crowd as blood spills and gladiators fall do a great job of capturing the feeling of being in a fierce battle being waged in front of thousands of spectators. The graphics are well done, the characters look good and even accumulate bloody cuts as the battle rages on. While successful attacks send gushes of blood flying, the game stays grounded in reality and never reaches the over-the-top cartoony mayhem of Mortal Kombat. Music consists of orchestral scores and acoustic pieces that serve to maintain the epic feel the game is trying to project.
This being the Roman Empire, you must also entertain your audience. A bar in the upper right corner of the screen indicates how entertained the crowd is. As you execute combos, special attacks, and opponents, the crowd will cheer their approval and the meter will fill. At the end of the fight you get an evaluation from the crowd, if you reach a mark on the meter you will receive a good evaluation. At the fight’s end you also get to take a few weapons and armor from your fallen opponents.
Weapons and armor can be sold for money or upgraded by the armorer, and this brings us to the most frustrating part of the game because I have no idea how it works because there is no instruction manual, no tutorial and not even any help text. Some weapons have their names in color and there are symbols and you can combine two weapons into a better one if there are enough symbols and they line up in certain places or maybe they don’t and…CRAP! Without a tutorial or guide I ended up just trying all the combinations until I ended up with something better, but it would have been nice to get some guidance to help figure out which weapons were worth holding on to and which ones I should sell.
The core gameplay of Gladiator Begins is solid and entertaining but there is not enough game here to justify its premium price. The venues for the fights change on occasion, but the window dressing does little to hide the repetition. The only replay value is in seeing how the different stories finish, but unless you’re one of those OCD players that need to finish everything 100% you won’t care. That said, if you really want to hack and slash as the Romans do, I recommend waiting for the game’s inevitable trip to the bargain bin.
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article id: 1753 | poster: OG