reviews\ Nov 25, 2002 at 7:00 pm

The Gladiators of Rome - PC - Review

OK … anyone who has been in the U.S. for the past two years has probably seen the movie Gladiator. Really, what’s not to like about it? There’s action, drama, violence, and romance all wrapped up in one package. Well, Activision has attempted to capture all of the excitement, drama, and bloodshed that was associated with the brutal Roman spectacle in a nifty little PC game … only that really didn’t turn out to be the case for the most part.


Gladiators of Rome basically puts you in control of being a famous master of gladiators, similar to Proximo in the big box office hit. Playing the role, you will be responsible for buying, selling, training and equipping slaves to do battle in the arenas that you visit throughout Rome so you can get rich and wealthy. Each slave will be proficient in one style of weapon, like blades, maces, or hammers, and will also have a couple of “special moves” to set up allies as well, depending on the type of weapon they are masters of. The hammer wielders, for example, can utilize a slam technique to stun all enemies around, which sets up the blade wielder to fire off a poison shot in the back of one of them. 


The game progresses in a mission based linear style, which has you and your gladiators travel from village to village challenging local heroes and coliseum to coliseum bashing, slamming, and slinging your way through Rome’s greatest death dealers or ravenous beasts. Rather than being a real time fighting game or something like Barbarian, Activision decided to go a little bit of a different direction and set this one up as a RTS style of gameplay … complete with the spacebar pause feature (Icewind Dale) and buttons to select each gladiator individually to perform a variety of attack or walk functions. Yes, it’s unique in a sense … yes it’s interesting … but yes, it does get really old really quick.


Here’s my main issue with this title … when I think of Gladiators, I think of constant weapon fighting, tons of blood, and some scrawny little Caesar giving me a thumbs up or thumbs down after bludgeoning an opponent senseless. On the other hand, Gladiators of Rome has … well … waiting, and waiting for what seems like an eternity in an action game. After issuing a command to one of your fighters, their energy bar has to fill back up so that you can attack again. For straight hitting moves it’s somewhat OK, but waiting for a stronger hit can seem like an hour while you get punished unmercifully by a computer opponent who doesn’t seem to have that problem. Basically, the game starts to feel like hit, sit for a while, and then hit again, … which grows pretty tiresome.


Secondly, this game is supposed to be about strategy … or at least it is in the way that it was set up from a gameplay perspective. Well, trying to maneuver your lethargic warriors around an opponent seems to take a while, and doesn’t seem to get you any farther along than just straight walking up and popping the you know what out of them anyway. After playing a couple of times, I quickly switched from trying to be sneaky or smart to just going toe to toe hack –n- slash style with anyone and everyone that I faced, and did much better and got a lot farther than I did the other way. This wouldn’t be a major factor overall … if not for the fact that everything is just so much slower than hack n slash style and seems more like a chore and a waiting game than it does an action title.


Now, let’s talk graphics for a moment. The box art was a tad iffy, but the way that the game was described to me sounded pretty neat, and I was sure that there would be some nifty graphics to go along with the rumors. Well, even at highest resolution, GoR looked more like an earlier PC title than some of the dazzling things that have come out for the computer as of late, and overall seemed very flat, the arenas and areas looked rather uninspired, and the gladiators themselves all looked pretty much the same except for various pieces of weapons or armor … which was especially aggravating when you toss in some lackluster AI at times and 11 warriors all clump up in the middle randomly hitting and waiting, and it becomes difficult to figure out who is who. Toss in some silly collision detection where body parts blend in with those of other gladiators and choppy animations  … and that’s pretty much the story.


Gladiators of Rome is one of those games that was a great idea, and the great idea did spill into the game here and there, but it really could have benefited from another few months in production. There are way too many issues with somewhat boring, slow, and repetitive gameplay, rough graphics, and forgettable sound to be ignored. If you must buy … buy with caution.


Gameplay: 6.7

A neat idea with below average execution. The RTS side of the game doesn’t really work too well in a title about Gladiators, and ultimately brings the fighting down to “way too slow for an action game”. Most players will probably also throw the strategy part out the window in exchange for straight “who can bludgeon who first” play style. On a brighter note, the gameplay is simple to figure out and jump right in, and there are some neat things like playing the crowd for more money and killing blows … but it probably won’t matter much next to all of the other issues.


Graphics: 6.5 
Blocky, stiff, and overall dull. The backgrounds seem uninspired and repetitive, and the gladiators themselves all look the same. Since AI isn’t that great at times, many battles become a big collision detection mess of chaos as everyone clumps up in the middle of the arena. The animation itself is pretty choppy as well.


Sound: 7.0
Overall dull as well. The music has an older, orchestrated “excitement feel” to it, but quickly grows repetitive. The Gladiators themselves also grunt and groan, but all of them sound the same as well as look the same. The crowd will cheer and boo accordingly, but it’s the same thing over and over again regardless of the coliseum size.


Difficulty: Hard 
GoR gets really difficult as you progress, and the missions up front will take a couple of do overs for some as well. Since a lot of the strategy seems to be “get the most hits off first”, it may just come down to luck in the end.


Concept: 7.1 
This was a great idea, and I definitely think that it could have been a great title had there been a little more work and attention that went into it prior to putting it out on the store shelves. Hopefully a sequel will hit the market in the next couple of years addressing all of the issues.


Multiplayer: N/A 

Online multiplayer ability would have REALLY helped this game out tremendously.


Overall: 6.6
Overall, fans of action / RTS titles like older D & D PC games will probably get the most enjoyment out of this game, even if it will tend to be a little short lived and possibly shelved for a title containing more depth. Fans of RTS titles may also get some entertainment for a little while … but next to titles like Warcraft III or Age of Empires … this probably won’t get more than a days worth of attention. If you plan to buy Gladiators of Rome … make sure to keep the receipt. 

Above Average

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