Spartan: Total Warrior
Creative Assembly have enjoyed innumerable successes with their Total War series on the PC, which has become something of a strategic institution on the platform. Following on from this, the UK developer (recently acquired by Sega) has now released Spartan: Total Warrior on the Xbox, GameCube and PS2: a God of War meets Dynasty Warriors game. Or the more simple formula, Gladiator the game, minus Russell Crowe, if you prefer.
Placed in control of the man-god 'Spartan' and set in Rome, you must fight Emperor Tiberius' Roman Empire, who (in their hundreds nay thousands) are banging on the gates of Sparta, home to the warrior race whose city is one of the few remaining beyond Tiberius' rule. Although the main aim is to slaughter several hundred Romans time-after-time to complete each level, Creative Assembly have added more complicated objectives which impact greatly the success or failure of each skirmish. Objectives range from simple manoeuvres; i.e. chop the heads of 25 Romans to lead the way (in the 'hack-n-slash' classic 'tradition') to lighting bombs to blow up the bridges which the Romans are entering the city via, and lowering bridges to allow your troops to manoeuvre, all simple objectives, but more interesting than just slaughtering the Empire's soldiers (though you'll be doing a fair bit of that too).
Throughout the game you'll have help from your allies who include your general soldiers (who generally fall to the Romans), as well as Spartan's 'trusted friend' Castor, one of the twins who stands firm for the city. Castor's twin Pollox is also present, and is much more confident, wanting to take the 'bigger' enemies on - a true Spartan. Other characters (all of which are uncontrollable, including the twins) featuring in the game's plot include King Leonidas who is the fearless leader of the Spartans, and has won many wars, but faces his biggest threat in the Roman Empire. The only female of the allies is Electra, a fierce fighter who is skilled in all weapons, and favourite in sword-to-sword combat.
When in battle you have a variety of weapons available, and once you've progressed, you get more damaging arms too. Starting out with the inevitable 'basic weapon' (a sword), you can also get your mitts on the bow in the first level. The first two weapons are basic, yet very effective, though the 'button-bashing' action with the sword can be constant, as can holding the L-trigger to have your shield raised. Hitting the B button pushes opponents aside allowing you to unleash your almighty (button-bashing) skills once the L-trigger is released. Using the shield is fairly easy, as is using the sword, but the bow is tricky to get used to at first, as the camera constantly sticks to Spartan like a cat to cream. Other weapons available during the game consist of double swords, hammer and a spear, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages, such as the hammer which is a powerful but very slow tool of death.
The heart of the game lies in the Story mode in which Spartan and co. go into fierce battles and complete level after level, killing the Roman Empire in their hundreds in each battle, fighting to save Sparta from the clutches of 'evil'. This mode may not be the most original prospect for players, but it certainly is well-crafted and very entertaining for a time. Other modes include Arena Challenge, set in one of many stadia, this mode puts you in a 1 (the Spartan) v 50(ish) (Roman soldiers) situation with each level complete, the next one gets harder with more soldiers attacking you. As well as this, as you progress through the Story mode, you can collect arena power-ups which do become useful later on. Single Mission Replay is a very straight forward replicate of missions you have completed allowing you to replay them, but in any order you like, or just play the ones you enjoyed. Another mode is 'Extras' where all the side-diversions within the game are yours to reassess, unexpected perhaps?
The enemies you come across in the game vary greatly. From hundreds of Roman Empire soldiers running at you, to the end of level bosses which are mythical beasts. Ranging from the 'turn-you-to-stone' Medusa (the one with all the snakes in her hair for those of you who slept through High School), to the Minotaur (half-bull, half-man) waiting inside his 'den' for the next victim to devour. Other mythological characters include Talos, Gigantes and Beowulf, and there are even 'Legendary Men' such as Crassius.
With so many things happening on-screen in Spartan: Total Warrior, there are very few complaints to be made about the consistently impressive visuals; one-hundred plus characters all on screen and little if any slowdown while the action is progressing. The locations replicate the Mediterranean in 300BC beautifully, and the FMV cut-scenes look good too. When it comes to the audio of the game, it is a somewhat poorer experience all in all. Lip sync is really off-putting as the voices of the actors tend to slip from deep-to-high and vice-versa. Most noticeable of the voices has to be the downright oddness of Ares, listen out for that one.
To conclude, Spartan: Total Warrior is a satisfying game, but not one that will occupy gamers for 'epic' periods of time (despite the theme). It is a simplistic hack-n-slash title with an interesting storyline and a well-balanced experience thrown-in. It's an entertaining game however, and a good example of the genre, competing admirably with the Dynasty Warrior franchise if not quite scalping God of War. Creative Assembly have delivered an enjoyable title then despite wandering from their usual genre, and Spartan shamelessly targets 'mainstream' gamers, where past Total War outings have not.
Spartan: An accomplished and well-crafted battle-axe wielding warrior of a game. Just don't expect anything classic, historically speaking.