At first glance Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance looks promising as far as hack’n’slash games go. But before the game gets to a point of greatness it takes a turn for the worse. Gladiator puts you in the role of Thrax, a gladiator of honor and all that fruity stuff. To make a long story short Thrax dies when the emperor Trajan is murdered and the bloodthirsty Arruntius takes his place. But before Thrax is able to get comfortable in the afterlife Romulus and Remus, the guys with the happy and sad faces, send him back to avenge Trajan and restore the glory of Rome.
As you will soon find out gameplay is much simpler then it first appears. Over the course of the game Thrax will wield three different weapons, a sword, an axe, and a gauntlet. Each one has about half a dozen or so combos to go with it but they are all quite basic. After the first level, when you can be wounded and die, the game makes a steep difficulty curve. With a small amount of health and hordes of enemies who actually know how to block, even the most skilled gamers will find themselves dying often. This leads to another problem. Save points are few and far apart and with no manual saving you’ll find yourself playing the same half hour of gameplay over and over until your lucky enough to beat it.
Certain parts of Gladiator look great, like most of the characters and environments where you fight. If you forget how angry you are while playing and just start watching what’s happening on your TV screen its half way presentable. The constant process of Thrax rolling behind enemies, quickly slashing them with a weapon of your choosing, and then the massive spilling of their blood is quite the eye candy. Not to say it is as good as a choreographed fight scene staring Russell Crowe, but it’s quite entertaining. And with all the shiny metal one can’t expect anything less then great lighting effects. There are however other parts that don’t look so good like the hideous looking grass desperately trying to sway in the breeze. In the end the only impression it leaves you with is the picture of a blood-covered arena.
If the total anarchy happening on the screen isn’t enough to make the feel of gladiators real the sound will. In the first level more then any other you will instantly become aware of the audience’s screams which are louder then a Giants-Jets game. As you run through the arena Arruntius will shout “Open the gates” followed by the sound of heavy footsteps quickly getting louder. And to top off the Roman experience is the sound of the trumpets blasting away as you slice through your enemies.
The control scheme can best be described as over simplistic. There are two attack buttons, an evade button, a button to activate spells, and another one to perform finishing moves. The triggers are used to lock onto different enemies. The restricted amount of options adds to an already difficult game. The control is the big factor, which in the end ruins a game with a lot of potential.
Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance is one of those games that gives you the illusion your enjoying it. For a while you will think you are actually having quality fun. Then the game gets to the point where you realize staring at a blank screen while randomly bashing your controller would please you just as much. The game isn’t unbearably horrible but it certainly gives the term a run for its money. What it comes down to is the very limited array of attacks available to Thrax becomes too repetitive too quickly. And even if you push through the anger you’ll find no reason to keep playing once you beat the game. One could argue that the first half hour or so is worth a small fee to rent, but after that its really isn’t worth your well-earned money.
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