GAMECUBE REVIEW: SPARTAN: TOTAL WARRIOR

Before you even turn on Spartan: Total Warrior you're going to have suspend belief as any history buff will tell you that the Romans never fought the Greeks...nor did the Romans create a giant robot warrior. Armed with that knowledge you can enjoy Spartan: Total Warrior as a kind of mindless hack and slash "what if" story that will put your thumbs, fingers and oftentimes patience to the ultimate test.

Playing the role as anonymous kick ass warrior #348 (kidding) your character could be best described as the Spartan ancestor of Marvel's Wolverine. At the start of the game you'll be tearing into hordes of Roman warriors with nary a shirt on, nevermind protective headgear or armor. While your comrades stand around and look busy thanks to some perplexing teammate AI, you'll have to shoulder the fate of Sparta yourself.

While you attempt to go from zero to hero, upgrading your characters attributes through 14 levels of total chaos and destruction, Total Warrior's money shot is instantly recognizable. Thanks to some creative programming you'll be almost constantly surrounded by dozens upon dozens of enemy soldiers. Cutting a swathe of mayhem through a hundred + enemies is definitely invigorating and pretty much what gaming is all about. To this end, The Creative Assembly absolutely nailed it. It is supremely satisfying to run head-on into a gaggle of oncoming Romans while everyone else is running in the opposite direction. What a great stress relief after work. Actually since reviewing games like this IS my work, I prefer to needlepoint as a stress relief, but you don't need to know that.

You start each level with a fairly simplisitic objective and will often be given multiple new objectives even before you've arrived at or completed the first one. This is where your effective time management skills come into play. Are you going to save your comrade or stop the Roman army from some other terrible deed? Chances are you'll fail miserably more than a few times as you attempt to save Sparta. Sometimes your failure will be due to making the wrong choices while other times it may have to do with a few of the games rather infuriating problems which I will touch on momentarily.

Gamers of any skill level will be able to instantly pick up and play Spartan: Total Warrior but even with three difficulty levels offered, only a smattering of gamers will see the end of the game. You'll start the game with a small smattering of attacks and a pretty meager health bar. Health can be replenished on the battlefield by praying at specific kiosks littering the landscape, but you'll be prone to attack as the ritual takes a couple of seconds to complete. I'm assuming the delay is caused by a bad PING from Greece to Mount Olympus... Some enemies will also drop small amounts of magic and health when they die which are identified as green or blue orbs. As you improve and upgrade your abilities, you'll earn armor, new weapons and magic which can really turn the tides of battle. New weapons include wielding Athena's duel blades, The Hammer of Beowulf , Medusa's Shield, and an upgraded version of your original sword. The weapons work on a three tiered system of destruction. In their basic form, you'll have a couple of attacks that will enable you to take on one or two opponents. If you build up into your Rage zone, the weapons will triple your attack damage - if you take it to the third level and unleash your magic attacks, you will see some incredibly cool and devestating powers unleashed. The magic which will allow you to turn enemies to stone, turn yourself into a flaming maniac of pain, slice and dice through a group of soldiers or pound dozens of them into the air (when the corresponding mythical weapon has been selected with the d-pad) can only be used sparingly per level as these special attacks use a lot of juice which doesn't regenerate itself. Magic is replenished at magic kiosks in the identical manner as the health kiosks.

Unfortunately Spartan: Total Warrior is mired with a few odd quirks of design which had they been eliminated would have made the experience far more enjoyable overall. The previously mentioned delay at the health kiosks is a major annoyance - perhaps not on the easy level - but it sure is tough to get some much needed health when you're being shot by arrows and stabbed in the back by hordes of enemies. Secondly, the reason there are attacking hordes is because the teammate AI is almost nil. They stand around and do nothing while you're working your fingers to the bone. Had The Creative Assembly placed a water cooler on the battlefield for your comrades to gather around it would have been almost more acceptable...and funny. This way, it's just frustrating. If you're going to make the rest of the Greek army brain-dead at least allow me to bring in a player 2 to help out. Unfortunately Spartan: Total Warrior is a one player affair and I believe it would have been a much more rewarding experience had co-op play been a factor. Lastly the bow and arrow control is extremely wonky and I found myself avoiding it for almost the entire game. I just didn't feel as though I had any proper control over it.

As you might guess many of these 'historic' battles culminate with a boss encounter, generally ripped out of the pages of mythology rather than history. Some of these battles will drive you insane as not only are you responsible for recognizing the boss pattern and exploiting its weakness, but you must also destroy dozens of enthusiastic kiss ass Romans who naturally want to protect the head honcho so they get a bonus at the end of the month. It's overwhelming to say the least. One in particular that I just referenced actually takes place early on and I found it to be one of the hardest in the game.

Storywise The Creative Assembly managed to effectively flesh out the game events and turn it into three chapter story which has a definite beginning, middle and end. It might not be the equivalent to a Final Fantasy epic, but for the hack and slash genre it certainly attempts to slap more meat on what could have been a bare bones event considering your ultimate goal is to stab everything that moves.

Visually the game is certainly impressive when you take into consideration the number of characters onscreen at one time - with only very infrequent episodes of slowdown - and the draw distance. The enemies are obviously cookie cutter and don't have that Dead Or Alive Team Ninja quality to them but to expect anything more is absolutely unrealistic. Considering this is probably pushing the envelope on the aging Xbox (as well as the PS2 & GameCube), you almost wonder why the Xbox 360 is on its way. I'm sure there's a helluva lot of life left in the old Box and Spartan: Total Warrior is proof of that. The lighting effects of the various magic attacks, the explosions and damage to the surroundings and the animation of the main character is excellent.

The voice acting isn't all that bad either, although I'll pretend not to notice that the good guys are Americans and the bad guys aren't. The announcer at the beginning of the game sounds a bit too much like Frank Zappa for me to take seriously. I found his voice to reminiscent of Sega arcade game announcers and I didn't care for the goofiness of it. The sound effects are extremely well done with the metallic clash of sword against shield, booming explosions and thunderous special attacks. Orchestal flourishes pump up the excitement while the low level crowd noise creates the illusion of being in a large area with filled with people.

As I said in my preview of Spartan: Total Warrior I wouldn't be surprised to see this series continue on the next gen consoles, although it can't be ignored that next gen technology wouldn't have eliminated the mistakes made in this one; careful programming would have. With some attention to the games weaker spots, I have no doubts that this could be a valuable future franchise. As it is though, only the hardcore will see the end of this one due to the overwhelming odds and kinks in the foundation. If you're up for a challange and don't mind taking on the entire Roman empire yourself, Spartan: Total Warrior is waiting.

Preview by Vaughn

Remember when your teacher would slam their ruler down on your desk and say "Now have I got your attention Mr. Smith?" I bet you hated that, especially if you didn't have the same last name as me. Think of Spartan: Total Warrior as a 500-lb ruler and your gaming system as your puny desk. All I can say is "Holy crap! This game looks like a punch in the face with brass knuckles and a barbwire pinky ring!" I don't even know what that's supposed to mean but that won't stop me from milking it in every preview and review until someone blows my brains out. Which around here, will be sooner rather than later I'm sure. These folks I work with aren't exactly tolerant.

The Creative Assembly, developers behind the much appreciated Rome: Total War comes Spartan: Total Warrior and it's got everything you want. That is, if you indeed want a game that features battles which total 160 characters onscreen at once and all in real time. How does one man fighting against legions of armies and monsters? How about taking ancient Rome and tossing in reality and fantasy to create one incredible experience? We're pretty sure Spartan has all of that in spades. All you'll be able to say once you load the game is "Kratos who?"

Okay we're not really knocking Sony's tight God of War, but think of Spartan as a cross between God of War, Dynasty Warriors, Gladiator and the upcoming Xbox 360 title Ninety-Nine Nights and you'll have a pretty good idea at what to expect.

From what we've seen at E3 and in screens The Creative Assembly is on to something big and we're expecting Spartan: Total Warrior to be the birth of a new franchise that will - Zeus willing - continue on the next gen systems. With the sheer amount of onscreen characters (rumored to be 160) pushing the hardware of the current gen consoles to their limits, we can't imagine what this series would throw at gamers on the PS3 or Xbox 360.

From what we remember during our time spent in ancient Rome (our thanks to Mr. Peabody and Sherman for the use of their Wayback Machine) those dudes were particularly nasty. Everything ended in violence, even birthday parties; especially when Zorthos received a Starbucks gift card and he realized it wouldn't be valid for at least another 2000 years. What can I say? That was definitely my bad. How was I to know that those greedy bastard coffee moguls hadn't already infiltrated the year 5 AD? I mean, where else can they go? There's already one Starbucks per person in the present time isn't there? Going back in time and littering ancient history with your overpriced swill just makes good fiscal sense.

As I love to end all previews with good news, how about this for a tasty nugget: Spartan: Total Warrior is due out in just over a month. That's right. September 27, 2005 is the shipping date as far as we know so mark your calendars, polish your platinum codpiece and get ready for the battle of your life. Remember Rome wasn't built in one day, but that shouldn't stop you from trying to knock it to the ground in a few short hours.


Features:

  • Epic Battles feature hundreds of on-screen combatants simultaneously.
  • Beautiful Cinematic Environments feature a wide variety of sweeping vistas, weapons and foes that push the power of the console, specifically the PS2.
  • A Wide Variety of Units include Roman soldiers, skeleton armies and classic mythological creatures.
  • A Variety of Moves including spectacular power moves, acquire new more powerful weapons and armor and earn favor and powers from the gods.
  • Varying Mission Structure with multiple objectives including escorting, capturing, destruction, discovery, and survival, keeping the game play fresh.
  • Arena Mode Experience pure combat action with friends.
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System: Xbox, PS2 (shown), GC
Dev: The Creative Assembly
Pub: Sega
Release: Oct 2005
Players: 1
Review by Vaughn
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
4.0
GRAPHICS
4.5
CONTROL
3.5
MUSIC/FX
4.0
VALUE
3.5