Developer: Creative Assembly
Release Date: October 25, 2005
I'm going to be honest here. Even now, I'm not sure what to think about Spartan: Total Warrior. Every time I think I do, it does something to make me change my mind.
We've had a lot of games centering around Centurions and Romans and Greeks and Spartans lately. (For example, that Master Chief guy? Yeah, he's awesome.) It's probably due to God of War's relative success, but usually the "me too" games tend to be quite horrible. That hasn't proven so with this current trend. Odd, that.
Spartan isn't a me-too game, though. It's got just enough coolness and technique in it to be different. This fact works both for and against the game.
The plot centers around the impending conquest of Greece; apparently, they're doing a darned good job, and the city of Sparta is the last defense of the entire territory. It's up to its warriors, a few others (an Amazon among them) and weapons forged with the powers of the gods to defeat Romans, Barbarians, and later on, the undead. Let's face it, though — you're not here for the plot. You're here for the action, and let me tell you, there's plenty of that stuff to go around.
I'll tell you now: this is a game worth playing (Ha! I used this site's name in a creative pun! Go me!). However, you're not going to think so right off the bat. The first stage drops you into the thick of things without remorse. Literally a hundred people, both from your army and Rome's, will be running around the screen, hacking and slashing away at each other. It's a sight to behold, to be sure, but then you realize that you're controlling only one of these guys, and you have no idea where he is, until you see him swinging his sword awkwardly and getting slashed in the face because of it. To top it off, in-game tutorial measures are sparse and only seem to pop up long after you could have used their help.
If you stick with it, though, you'll figure it out, and you'll end up being able to keep track of where you are. Keep the instruction booklet handy with you, however, or make sure to try everything in the Command List screen. You'll need every single edge you can get. Near the end of the second stage, you'll get your first godly weapon, the Athena Blades, which make you cut like a madman at everything in your path, and that's when this game truly begins.
Suddenly, in the following sequence, one realizes the full potential of the game. You are an almost (more on the "almost" later) unstoppable killing machine, capable of cutting through hundreds upon hundreds (no, I'm not exaggerating with that number) of competent attackers as if they were so much slabs of meat. Blood is everywhere, and you can get your kill-count into the thousands if you do it right. Odds are that you'll fail the protection mission you're on, but it's one of those moments where you won't care.
Dynasty Warriors wishes it could have moments like this. Omega Force has been trying for years to generate the kind of you-against-them rush that the latter half of the second stage of Spartan generates. It's darn near gaming nirvana when you first experience it...
...then the game immediately goes about giving your enemies twice as many shields as before. Shield-carrying enemies are frustrating things. Said shields need to be kicked aside via a special command for your enemies carrying them to become vulnerable in any way. The problem is that your kicks are very slow, and by the time you recover from them, your enemies have recovered as well, putting you back at square one. To top things off, you are vulnerable while recovering from your kicks, which lets you get picked off by enemies from all sides. Not fun.
Fortunately, the game still redeems itself with some cool powers in the form of the aforementioned godly weapons. The Athena Blades from before turn you into a human Blender and gives you the power of lightning. If you want to forego that, later on, you'll get the Medusa Shield, whose special power lets you temporarily turn entire armies to stone, waiting to be shattered. Want to destroy enemies from afar? You start with a basic bow and arrow set, and can sometimes pick up flaming arrows, but the Bow of Power, acquired afterward, lets you put massive sniping hurt on either one or several enemies at once. Magical halberds and axes await you, with powers that I won't spoil to turn you into a killing machine once again. The ability to switch between arms in the heat of battle adds to the game's situational strategy. There's even a small bit of RPG-esque leveling up at the end of each stage; you're given points to distribute amongst your warrior's attributes (Health, Damage and Power) as you see fit.
There are a few other gameplay elements in Spartan — some switch-finding here, some stealth there, and some protection missions, the latter of which I'm currently petitioning to be abolished from all video games, because they are passé, often needlessly and unfairly tough, and their time has come. Another "feature" whose time has come that this game sports is "concept art" as unlockables. No more, please. I'm honestly not interested in seeing the art that you didn't end up using in the game. Fortunately, none of these other gameplay elements, save for the protection stuff, take place of the core fighting.
Should you tire of the main story, a nifty Arena Mode is included that's a godsend to us action fans. It's a series of battles between you and an army of enemies, with no muss, no fuss, and no stories or stealth to get in the way. Your mission is to best the other army, and that's it. You can do it by your lonesome, or with backup, or with any support you like, such as health shrines, or power-ups. All you have to do is find these in the main game. Arena Mode is wonderful, and I hope to see it in future games.
The graphics, especially on the PS2, aren't exactly the most high-poly, textured and detailed things in the world, and you know why — to get so many people battling on the screen at once, certain… corners had to be cut. Thus, most characters here look just the smallest cut above your average Lego man. Fortunately, their animations are solid, and they do their jobs as well as any high-polygon wonder. By now it is common knowledge that the Xbox has more graphical power, so if you own both systems, you might want to consider getting the latter for its slightly better visuals.
Like many of games in this genre, the music isn't much to write home about, and the voice acting ranges from well-done to downright horrible. The Amazon, in particular, grates on my ears. The sounds of combat, however, are all represented in top form, and you'll hear tens of them at once. It really draws you into the grand-scale battles that permeate this title.
If you're looking for a great way to knock some heads, you could honestly do a heck of a lot worse than Spartan: Total Warrior. It tends to shift between greatness and mediocrity with the frequency of your average rollercoaster ride, but the great parts are easily worth a look by anyone who enjoys beat-'em-ups. This stands side-by-side with Genji as Rental of the Year, but due to the Arena Mode, as well as the thrill of playing through older missions with newfound skills, buying it's not a bad idea, either.
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