Posted by Female Gamers on Jan 19, 2010
Spartan: Total Warrior – Review

Spartan: Total Warrior – Review

Post Rating

Generally speaking, hack-and-slash videogames quickly devolve into mindless level-by-level button-mashing frenzies, which are made all the more apparent by shallow connective storylines and weak characterizations. However, with Spartan: Total Warrior, developers Creative Assembly and publishers Sega hope drawing upon established Total War roots and tangible ancient mythology will successfully complement their focused yet frenetically charged hack-and-slash adventure.

The Roman Empire chases along its path of conquest, and all fall before the might of Emperor Tiberius. Yet proud Sparta refuses to yield against the Roman onslaught, and one man—yes, you guessed it—might still lead the Spartans to victory. Infused with the will of Ares, Greek god of war, and simply know as ‘Spartan’ throughout the story, our muscle-strewn and dreadlock-attired hero soon becomes the man of the hour as the game’s frantic opening levels outline his leadership and gameplay qualities. Faced with the Roman hordes clambering mercilessly at Sparta’s walls via lumbering siege towers, the Spartan’s true worth is swiftly put to the test.

The first thing you’ll notice while rushing to spill Roman blood, repel borders, tip boiling oil, and operate giant catapults, is the astounding lack of slowdown as literally hundreds of fabulously animated Roman and Spartan warriors clash all around you. Of course, individual Roman legionnaires will naturally turn their attentions your way should you venture too close, but otherwise the A.I keeps everyone busy with their own personal survival struggles. It’s truly astonishing to witness the game running so smoothly amid the dwindling thresholds of the PS2, and, furthermore, cosmetic areas of the game are not compromised to afford access to the required power. That said, when placed alongside the overwhelmingly intense nature of the fighting, the sheer number of battling warriors, fizzing arrows, and ground-shaking explosions often leads to a momentary sense of dizzying disorientation.

Missions set across Sparta throw the player in at the gameplay deep-end and subsequently demand a swift acclimatisation to surroundings and expectation. Yet, this is war in an authentic sense, and real opponents would rarely wait expectantly while you formulate sword balance, movement fluidity, and attack stance. Beyond Sparta’s borders, other areas and characters of historic note await the Spartan and his quest to overthrow Tiberius. You’ll infiltrate a Roman encampment, battle through the Barbarian lands, experience the wonder and terror of a ransacked Troy, and even adopt a semi-GTA change of pace amid sprawling Athens. All in all, Spartan: Total Warrior offers a considerable amount for the asking price.

While taking massive liberties through historic inaccuracies styled to present a more exciting experience—the inclusion of possessed war machines, Medusa, necromancy, skeleton warriors, and the waking dead—Spartan: Total Warrior manages to admirably pull players in to its compelling narrative structure. This is furthered by the ability to evolve the central character’s attributes and win new weapons of devastation, gain a wide variety of magical power moves, share the fighting glory with a small band of close-knit NPCs, and engage in impressively satisfying boss battles. Existing as pivot points for the plotline, the boss battles strip away blood-soaked swordplay in favour of one-on-one power struggles between Tiberius’ top-ranked henchmen and the ever-fearless Spartan. Beowulf, leader of the barbarians, offers up a particularly testing contest within an uncomfortably confined arena of deadly fire, while the mythical and multi-headed Hydra challenges through a more regimented but no less fulfilling approach.

General gameplay unfolds around set missions of accomplishment that always require battling blindly through masses of seemingly relentless bodies. However, as repetitive as it may sound—and many genre titles suffer with this mechanic—Spartan: Total Warrior exudes a power of execution through its hacking and slashing that never fades in attraction and/or entertainment. Coupled with the varied weapons at your disposal and the separate power moves resplendent within each, the game’s central fighting aspect remains appealing and fresh throughout. Whether using the mighty Spear of Achilles to wade through a sea of the undead, or calling forth a power move to temporarily petrify the screen’s entire contingent of enemies, Spartan: Total Warrior skilfully holds attention through its fabulous array of pure destruction.

Graphically, Spartan: Total Warrior’s PS2 aesthetic may land just the wrong side of blocky, grimy, and edged, but somehow this matter not; environments were decidedly blocky by nature in ancient Greece and Rome, and surface polish was in short supply too. The various cities and outdoor areas are all well realised, and Troy’s sprawling ruins emerge as a definite visual highlight. Although Spartan: Total Warrior never achieves the same atmospheric heights as, say, Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia series, the necessity for ultra subtle lighting, eerie particle effects, and hazy horizons is completely negated by the immediacy of one man against thousands. The visuals are impressive—of that there’s no doubt—but pausing to complement the coders and architects while dismembering countless Romans and returning the restless dead to their shallow graves is simply not an option you’ll ever ponder.

Game sound is wonderfully woven into the experience, and certainly adds a genuine level of authentic observation to proceedings. The musical score mirrors the general time period and swings elegantly between the grandiose swells of battle and the ominous gathering of tension. Battle effects are thick, cloying, layered, and mercilessly real; relieving a Roman legionnaire of his head brings with it a rush of sprayed crimson, an immediate limpness of the body, and a soft slump to the floor—and this is going on around you without end. Weaponry clashes are typically realistic, the piercing reverb of steel on steel always stinging the air with its weighted ferocity. Voiceover work is handled well, and all the performers offer decent and solid turns in their respective roles. The central Spartan is stereotypically fond of smouldering amid his growled exchanges in order to add to his heroic allure—but perhaps this is to be expected. Girl gamers can enjoy the somewhat historically ill-placed Electra as a direct NPC in the Spartan’s small assembly of intermittent battling comrades, though she’s never open for actual control. And players with hearing impairment can follow the game’s story through full-text level preambles and cut scene subtitles—though missing out on the growling isn’t a major loss.

Spartan: Total Warrior is an amazing addition to the hack-and-slash genre, never more so than after watching its glorious achievements on the PS2. Elements of free-roaming mission accomplishment through direct battles, assigned protection, fortuitous propaganda, simple revenge, and ultimate realization all culminate in a gameplay experience that sits proudly atop a towering pyramid of bloodied corpses. The immense level of battle immersion created and sustained throughout Spartan: Total Warrior successfully raises it head and shoulders above the competition. Not only the best game of its kind, but it may yet prove to be a dark-horse contender for game of the year.

Review by Stevie

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