Spartan: Total Warrior Review
With just a bit more effort, Spartan could have been great. But it's still worth playing if you're especially interested in the subject matter or in hack-and-slash action games in general.
- Fair amount of mission variety in the story campaign
- Multiple weapons let you adjust your strategies on the fly
- Some of the boss battles are pretty cool.
- Blocky character models and fuzzy textures
- The autosave checkpoints can leave you stuck in a tough spot with little health
- Bad voice acting, terrible dialogue, and a misplaced soundtrack weaken the impact of the story
- Combat gets repetitive.
Spartan: Total Warrior is a straightforward action game from Sega and developer Creative Assembly. As you might guess from the title, the game is set during the conflict between the Spartans and the massive Roman Empire. This is pretty familiar territory for Creative Assembly, the team behind last year's PC strategy game Rome: Total War. However, the game itself is a massive departure for a studio best known for its historically authentic and complex strategy games. For the most part, Spartan: Total Warrior is a pretty good action effort. Unfortunately, the high production values and engaging gameplay of the Total War games are nowhere to be found here.
To be fair, Spartan: Total Warrior isn't intended to emulate the complex and in-depth gameplay of a PC strategy game. Spartan isn't a strategy game at all; it's a basic action game with a heavy dose of button mashing and a little bit of task management. You play as a nameless, emotionless, lifeless hero known only as "Spartan." The game takes place during a bitter struggle between the Greek city of Sparta and the ruthless Roman Empire. It's up to you and a few artificial-intelligence-controlled comrades to both claim victory for Sparta and put an end to the spread of the Roman Empire. It isn't quite that simple, though. At the beginning of the game, the God of War, Ares, cuts a deal with you to have you carry out his vengeance while he helps you fulfill your destiny as the savior of Sparta. Basically that just means you have to kill a ton of people. And in doing so you'll receive the favor of the gods, which will make you more powerful. This isn't a historically accurate game by any stretch of the truth, so you can expect to see plenty of skeleton and zombie soldiers, as well as mythical creatures and a bit of sorcery.
The story is divided into three acts, which are then divided further into various multitiered missions. The backdrops for the stages range from the besieged city of Sparta to the ruins of Troy--and the badlands in between. As you'd expect, there are different types of enemies in each stage. You'll fight Roman soldiers, barbarians, and undead armies. Luckily, you're well equipped to take all those foes down. At the start of the game you just have a few attacks at your disposal. You can execute a sweeping attack and a centered attack, and as you land blows, you'll fill up your rage meter in the top left corner of the screen. Once this is full, your weapon will glow red, which means you can unleash a rage attack. As with regular attacks, each weapon has two rage attacks: one that will kill a single enemy and one that hits several enemies for significant--but not necessarily fatal--damage.
Later in the game, as you level up, you'll earn power moves. As you kill enemies, you can collect power. And once you have a full power gauge, you can unleash one of these deadly attacks. Again, these power moves are unique to each weapon in the game, and there are two different power moves for each weapon. So if you're using the Medusa shield, you can temporarily turn all your enemies to stone. Or if you're using the Athena blades, you can radiate electricity to inflict damage and knock back any enemies in your immediate area. By the end of the game, when the enemies become stronger and more numerous, you'll need to make good use of these moves to survive. Plus, they look pretty cool, so you'll want to use them just to jazz up the hack-and-slash routine every once in a while. For the most part, the controls are fairly intuitive. But we did find that the PlayStation 2 version offers the best controls for quickly switching between normal, rage, and power attacks (thanks to the extra shoulder buttons).
Essentially, you'll be running into groups of enemies and mashing the sweep attack button to try to clear out as many of them as possible. Even with the rage moves the combat can get pretty dull after a while. You can switch things up by using different weapons. As you progress through the game, you'll get new weapons, like dual swords, a magical shield, a spear, and a hammer. All the weapons have different reach, speed, and damage characteristics, but you'll still be hitting the same button over and over again regardless of what weapon you use. You can also pick up arrows throughout the game, which you can fire at enemies from a distance. Given the limited supply of arrows, though, you'll usually just end up using them to hit distant triggers or to access unreachable objects. For all the hacking and slashing you do, you're rewarded with a few pretty cool boss fights. Some of the bosses are pulled straight out of other games, like the cliché mirror match between you and an evil version of you and the hydra battle that's taken straight from God of War. Despite the lack of originality, the boss fights are generally fun and challenging, and they provide fitting and satisfying ends to the levels.