Spartan: Total Warrior Preview
We visit Creative Assembly's UK office to check out near-finished versions of Spartan: Total Warrior on all three of the current-generation consoles.
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Announced in March of this year, Spartan: Total Warrior is a console action game being developed for Sega by UK-based Creative Assembly--a company best known for its Total War series of PC real-time strategy games. Like those games, Spartan: Total Warrior will feature epic battles between historical armies. Unlike those games, Spartan: Total Warrior will afford you control of only a single soldier. During a recent visit to Creative Assembly, we had an opportunity to check out Spartan: Total Warrior on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube, and we're pleased to report that all three versions of the game are looking great and nearing completion.
At first glance, you could easily mistake Spartan: Total Warrior for a mindless button masher of a fighter, but you'll realize your mistake moments later, when the game's optional tutorial hints kick in during the first level. The tutorial amounts to little more than instructions on how to perform certain moves, but it does a great job of familiarizing you with the game's unusual, though intuitive, control scheme. You'll have two melee attack buttons in Spartan: Total Warrior--one used for "direct" attacks on single enemies, the other used for "round" attacks that target any adversaries within range as you swing your arm in a circular motion. You'll be able to modify these attacks by holding down shoulder buttons as you perform them; you can use your shield rather than your weapon, for instance, or unleash a powerful special attack using any "rage" that you've managed to build up. The controls will be identical for all of Spartan's five different melee weapons, although each has a quite different feel and will afford you completely different special and "god power" attacks. We also noticed that very similar controls are used for the Spartan bow that complements your sword and shield at the start of the game, letting you fire either a single arrow at a target, or a volley of arrows in an arc.
The first level of the game, which we were able to play through on both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, sees the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta coming under attack from a Roman army. The Romans are using siege towers to get their soldiers over the sizable city walls, so your first job as one of many Spartans defending the city is to locate and kill the centurions leading the assaults from each of the three towers. The centurions are considerably more challenging to defeat than the regular Roman soldiers, not just because they seem more resilient to your attacks, but because they're smart enough to use the shields they carry and counterattack you if and when the opportunity arises. One of the best ways to defeat the centurions, as far as we could tell, was to use a "shield-breaker" move (jumping in the air and bringing your sword down onto the shield to destroy it) before attempting any kind of frontal attack. To get close to the centurions, you'll have to battle your way through numerous soldiers, who offer little challenge in one-on-one situations but aren't at all shy about attacking you in numbers. We found our shield to be particularly useful when we were confronted by soldiers, since we could swing it around to push back several attackers simultaneously or knock individual enemies onto their behinds, before we moved in to perform an instant fatality attack--stabbing the fallen enemies before they have a chance to get back on their feet. Our shield could also be used to push enemy soldiers off the city walls to their deaths.
After the centurions from each siege tower had been defeated, our next goal was to destroy the towers themselves. Our melee weapons weren't up to the job, so we had to escort bomb-carrying "sappers" to each of the towers in turn and then move a safe distance from the explosions. Because the Romans were intelligent enough to realize what we were up to, the sappers we were escorting came under constant attack, and since neither their health bars nor their armor could take a lot of punishment, we frequently resorted to simply pushing enemies away from them with our shields, rather than trying to finish them off. You'll be far from invincible yourself, by the way, which is why shrines that can be used to replenish both your health and power bars are scattered pretty liberally throughout the early levels. There were also a number of chests containing arrows to be found in Sparta, but we were having so much fun with the melee combat that we rarely used them.
The next sequence that we played was typical of many that we saw during our time with Spartan: Total Warrior, in that it tasked us with dealing with multiple objectives simultaneously. Roman soldiers were scaling the walls of Sparta and threatening to breach a gate into the city, and while defending the gate was our top priority, we also needed to ensure the safety of the king, who had decided to enter the fray on the ramparts. To stand a chance of completing either of the objectives successfully, we had to make regular trips to a second gate where Spartan reinforcements would arrive at regular intervals. The action didn't let up for a second, and the number of soldiers onscreen simultaneously was easily in excess of a hundred at times. This might be a good time for us to point out that the bodies of your enemies don't mysteriously vanish in Spartan: Total Warrior, so after slaughtering an entire army, you'll have an opportunity to step back and admire your bloody handiwork littering the battlefield.
The first level concluded with a boss battle of sorts, when the Roman army summoned Talos--a giant bronze soldier from Greek mythology who stood taller than Sparta's defensive walls. As the statue advanced toward our position, we not only had to use catapults to fire at it whenever our comrades announced that the catapults were ready for use, but we also had to use a cauldron to pour something hot and nasty onto enemy engineers as they attempted to breach the city gates. Roman soldiers were still scaling the walls at this point, so any time we weren't needed to fire catapults or man the cauldron, there was plenty going on to keep us busy.
The next level we played through was quite different from the first, tasking us with infiltrating a Roman camp alongside one other Spartan to retrieve the stolen "Twin Blades of Athena." Given that there were just the two of us attempting to infiltrate the camp, it came as no surprise that areas of the level had a stealthier feel than the previous one. The Spartans' stealthy approach to the mission was evident more through their dialogue than through the actual gameplay, though, and we spent far more time hacking and slashing our way through groups of enemies than we did attempting to avoid confrontations with them.
Our progress through the Roman camp was linear for the most part, but when we took advantage of opportunities to explore, we were invariably rewarded. Secret objectives such as destroying siege engines and contaminating the camp's water supply presented themselves, for example; completing these objectives unlocked concept art viewable in a gallery, as well as bonus items for use in Spartan: Total Warrior's survival-style arena mode. We also gained access to the aforementioned twin swords once we'd retrieved them, of course, and found them to be even more satisfying than the sword-and-shield combo that we started the game with. Our only concern when equipping them was that we'd no longer be able to simply push enemies out of the way or toward hazards, like we could with the shield, so we were pleased when we found that the shield controls still had the desired effect and that the shield bash animation was simply replaced with one of us kicking the enemy. That particular animation saw a lot of action during one of the level's many memorable sequences, when we were hurt after being pushed back into a bonfire and noticed that we could use the same dirty trick to set enemies ablaze.
Other memorable sequences in the Roman camp level included (but were not limited to) having to pick out and kill the individual responsible for calling for reinforcements on a busy battlefield, and trying to protect a large group of unarmed prisoners from Roman soldiers as we made a hasty exit from their camp. Toward the end of the escape sequence, we were able to prevent large numbers of Romans from pursuing our group, using ballista emplacements with a limited amount of explosive ammo. To reach us, the enemy soldiers needed to come through a narrow doorway and cross an even narrower bridge, where we chose to launch groups of them into the air simultaneously (and occasionally quite comically) with every shot.
After playing through both of those levels in their entirety, we had an opportunity to spend a little time checking out other levels from various stages of the game. We were impressed not only with the variety and scale of the locations that we explored, but also with the numerous different types of mission objectives and enemies that we had to deal with. In a quite beautiful re-creation of Athens, for example, we were tasked with protecting a resistance leader named Archimedes from Roman assassins. The assassins were quite different from any of the enemies that we'd faced previously, because they always attacked in pairs and would always position themselves in such a way that it was almost impossible for us to attack them both simultaneously. The assassins were also difficult to locate on occasion, although many of the locals would helpfully point us in the right direction if they spotted them. Most of the Roman enemies that we encountered were just as well organized as the assassins, in fact--just in different ways. The possible exception to that rule would be the Roman "infernus" flamethrower units (that's right, Spartan: Total Warrior is a game, not a history lesson), who could quite easily be coaxed into flaming their colleagues. Other enemies that you'll encounter in Spartan: Total Warrior will include barbarians, who'll attack in a totally disorganized and gung-ho fashion, and undead soldiers, who won't truly die until you beat them to the floor and stomp on their heads.
In addition to enemies that you can stand toe-to-toe with, there are plenty of other dangers waiting for you in Spartan: Total Warrior. A Medusa-powered cannon, featured in one of the larger battle sequences, can turn entire armies to stone, for example. Another level had us attempting to storm an enemy castle while being bombarded with fireballs and arrows that were almost impossible to avoid unless we paid close attention to our commander's cries of "incoming!" and "charge!"
To tell you any more specifics about our time with Spartan: Total Warrior at this point would be to risk spoiling the game for you. We can tell you, however, that all three versions of the game look great on their respective systems, and although the Xbox version is the only one that supports 480p, the games aren't nearly as different, in terms of the quality of their visuals, as you might expect. We can also report that, although all three versions of the game currently feature some significant (but not irritating) load times between levels, there are absolutely no load times once the action gets under way--which is no small achievement, given the sheer scale of some of the environments.
Spartan: Total Warrior is currently scheduled for release in both North America and Europe in September. We'll bring you more information on the game as soon as it becomes available.
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