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300: March to Glory

Platform(s): PSP
Genre: Action
Publisher: WBIE/ Eidos
Developer: Collision Studios
Release Date: Feb. 27, 2007 (US), March 30, 2007 (EU)


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PSP Review - '300: March to Glory'

by Tim "The Rabbit" Mithee on May 11, 2007 @ 1:44 a.m. PDT

The style and feel of the videogame was influenced by the 300 film, which is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel and directed by Zack Snyder. The film's highly stylized production design, including live-action photography integrated with virtual environments, and unique color treatments create a surreal and amazing world in this retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae in which King Leonidas and 300 Spartans fought to the death against Xerxes and his massive Persian army.
War never changes, I once heard. No matter the time, the place, the setting or whatever else, it's always that struggle to get something done. The weapons, people, sides and goal never really do more than color the particular fight, and video games circling around wars are much the same. For generations now, gamers have sat down and enjoyed the time-honored traditions of war: decapitations, sniping, and mushroom cloud-based annihilation. 300: March to Glory

shares much of that, including a foreboding similarity to things gone by and a general veneer of sameness that it never quite gets over.

300 is the inevitable tie-in game to the movie of mostly the same name and, in turn, to the graphic novel that inspired the film. (Oddly enough, this PSP game is the only tie-in game other than a mobile phone strategy title.) As King Leonidas of the Spartan Legion, you are thrown headfirst into the legendary Battle of Thermopylae Pass. With only 300 Spartan soldiers at your back, it is your duty to push back thousands of Persian invaders, keeping them from breaking through the lines and getting to Athens. They are well-armed, with archers everywhere, war elephants, and a near-endless supply of troops who will kill you and all your men — or die trying. On the other hand, you're a dang Spartan, and it's going to take a lot of work to kill you. Aside from that, the plot is fairly minimal, doled out in conversations between segments. It diminishes little to turn off your brain and simply look at the pretty pictures.

At its core, 300 plays much like God of War Lite. Armed with a small number of weapons, Leonidas runs about in his virtually non-existent armor, stabbing people to death in a wonderfully over-the-top way. Heads will roll, limbs will fly off, and blood will pour like rain. The gameplay strives to be little more than a simple sort of Final Fight clone at its heart, with one button attacking quickly, one button attacking slower but with more damage, another swinging your shield, and a fourth to switch between your available weaponry.

Initially, Leonidas has the only two weapons he needs, with a third provided late in the game: a gladius, which chops up people like a paper shredder but can't do anything against a shield; a spear, which breaks apart shields in a few smacks and can be hurled like a javelin but is awkward to use and doesn't do significant damage; and a pair of gladii that turns Leonidas into a bit of Freddy Kreuger but leaves him wide open, as he can't use his shield in this configuration.

From time to time, Leonidas will break out the ultimate Spartan technique: The Phalanx. For those unfamiliar with this — it was a real tactic! — spearmen would get as close as possible, lock their shields together, and walk forward very slowly while huddled behind the "shield wall." This made them virtually unwoundable while they could still happily stab away with near immunity. In the game, it's pretty much the same scenario, though it plays out as a mini-game, with your troops needing to finish the segment before they lose the strength required to keep up the shield wall. It's kind of dull, involving nothing more than pushing up, hitting the right button to kill someone (shield break or stab), and periodically taking cover or shaking off a soldier who's gotten too close and is pushing back. Thankfully, it doesn't happen too often.

Each kill and level awards King Leonidas with a sort of psuedo-currency called "Kleos." The manual describes this as a sort of tangible measurement of honor or respect, but you, as the player, will simply consider it Greek for "moneys." Combination kills and felling bigger foes earn more of these Kleos, and you'll want as many as possible; by pausing and dropping into a conveniently provided sub-menu, Kleos can be traded for a number of things, such as upgraded weaponry and armor, combos, and Battle Skills.

These skills are a sort of magical affair, allowing Leonidas to use the very power of his anger and rage to do superhuman things, like heal himself or increase his damage rate. They are absolutely essential at times, though they get exploited by the game design at least once (more on that in a bit). At the core, earning enough points to upgrade your equipment and skills is vital to keeping Leonidas running through Persians like a college student runs through cans of cola — an underequipped army is bound to die and die fast.

A strong combat system with a bold flavor of God Of War and lots of mindless killing can be a great way to waste an afternoon, so all of this sounds really great, but the experience is damaged significantly by the game engine. To be very simple, this thing is quite ugly, with a very strong first-gen PS1 feel to it. Textures are big and blocky, with very few simple animations per character. As if that weren't enough, the entire thing feels like it's crawling along at some sort of crippled frame rate, with all the actors moving in a sort of slow motion, dragging their way from place to place. In a game that doesn't change the action very often, this quickly promotes boredom as you plod from enemy to enemy, killing and killing and killing the same Persian troops ad nauseam.

As a prime example of pacing issues, the boss fight I attempted featured a gigantic heaping humanoid that's more than capable of cutting you to pieces, but because of his sluggish speed, you'll be able to walk around him like he's not trying. "What's the catch?" I hear you Jimmy-talks-to-web-site types out there saying. This creature can only be hurt while you are using the Blood Drunk combat skill to increase your damage ability. This skill is very temporary, far too brief to kill the boss without multiple uses, but drains all the power you have instantly. To earn more, you have to attack something. So the fight quickly turns into running up and striking for no damage while hoping to evade and not take damage, as your healing ability uses the very same power meter. It's all very repetitive and unsatisfying.

I do hate getting mixed feelings about a game, despite my tendency to express them: 300: March to Glory has a few things that are quite interesting and even creative, like quickly switching between weapons, javelin-tossing, a defensive shield that actually works the way you expect it to, and a satisfying layer of violence. However, the heart that beats here is rather anemic, and the experience fails to hold up for very long before the realization that this is never going to speed up or change ever, which takes with it the real urge to carry on. This idea may well have worked on the PS2 with the additional horsepower, but not on the PSP.

Score: 5.0/10

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