previews\ Jul 16, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Gladius - PS2 - Preview 2

The witches came expecting a female child to be born, one of great power. But the wife of the barbarian king of Nordagh gave birth to a boy, and the king - angered by the intrusion of the witches - sent them away.

Thus, they were not there when a second child was born, a girl. Ursula’s existence was kept a secret and though she did indeed possess mysterious powers, it wasn’t until she stepped into the arena of gladiatorial combat that she became noticed as a fearsome and mighty warrior.


The Imperia gladiatorial school, once home to a legendary warrior, is in disarray after the mighty warrior was murdered. His son, Valens, vows to return the school to the greatness it once had. But in order to run a successful school, one must have the credentials to draw students, and those credentials can only be earned in the arena.

Gladius is a pending release from LucasArts that is more than just a turn-based gladiator combat game. This is a game that is interwoven with characters whom players will come to care about, excellent graphical elements, attitude and a great audio track. was invited to take up the axe and hack into the preview world of Gladius to see if it has what it takes to weather the tempest of combat on the area floor.

This program is an evolving tale that begins with baby steps as the principle characters learn about the league system of combat and work their way to bigger arenas. Popularity is almost as important as skill, and it takes skill to be popular with the crowds.

Though the player interface is extremely simple to use, the game also sports a tutorial in the early stages of the game that will not only walk players through the combat system, but also get them familiar with the league system - the primary scoring system which propels players along the gladiator path to fame and glory. In essence, one must accrue enough points in the League system to qualify for the High Tournaments. There are determining factors for entering the battles, and they may be based on level, popularity, gender, class (Ursula is the daughter of a king, Valens is the son of a prominent family) or other battles won. Once a player wins enough battles or defeats enough leagues in the four lands of Gladius, they may be worthy of drawing the attention of the Emperor.

However, if anything, getting that far is not an easy task.

Combat is turn based. During a particular turn, players may move to within striking range, out of it, case a special skill, attack or pass on their turn to gain back enough skill points to use a special skill on the next turn. Ursula starts out with a skill that empowers her, increasing defense while improving her accuracy. As players move through the league tournament ladders, they will gain experience, which in turn can be traded for new skills. Attacking an opponent from the side or the rear increases damage done. The actual attack’s effectiveness is determined by a swing meter. Players hit the X button to start the meter, then try to time the next stab of the button to stop the rapidly moving button on the red portion of the meter for a critical hit.

Graphically this game is very well done. The characters have attitude, reflected in voice and mannerisms, and the movement is quite fluid. (Game load times were not optimized in this version.) The game features a rotatable camera, as some nice effects.

Your opposition is getting low on hit points, is staggered from the attacks and seems ready to fall when suddenly he or she morphs into a beast, recovering hit points and suddenly doing more damage on the attacks.

While this is a hack ‘n slash game, it is not bloody at all. Shadow and magic effects are also well done.

Actors Michael Rosenbaurm (Lex Luther on Smallville, and the voice of the Flash on the Cartoon Network’s Justice League) and Linda Cardellini (whose film credits include Scooby Doo, Legally Blonde and the television series Freeks and Geeks) voice the two principle characters in the game, and do a wonderful job. LucasArts is renowned for solid audio elements and this title is certainly no different. However, aside from the cutscenes, a lot of the arena chat is text based.

Gladius is a wonderful combination of combat and role-playing. The combat is somewhat reflexive in that you have to time the swing meter, but there is a lot of cerebral, chess-like elements involved as well. Moving your characters into position to optimize attacks while forcing your opponent into a less-than-advantageous attack position is key.

But there is something compelling about this game that is hard to put into words. Perhaps it is the attitude of the central characters, against the backdrop of their individual stories. Maybe it is just that the game looks good and plays well. Whatever the reason, Gladius is an immersive and enjoyable game.

Gladius is slated for release in late August/early September on the PlayStation2, Xbox and GameCube console systems.


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