Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Reviewed by Jonathan Bester
WARNING: This review may contain some references to sex, violence and strong language and is thus NSFW. You have been warned.
The ancient Roman Empire was an empire filled with visceral, unadulterated violence, sex and other vulgarities that would put even the hardiest people to unease. The television series Spartacus shed a lot of light on this society and its unfortunate shortcomings. Politics and slavery was the flavour of the day and bloody fights to the death in the arena was as common as a WWE wrestling match is today. To celebrate the success of the Starz original series, Kung Fu Factory have taken it upon themselves to create a video game in the vein of the gladiatorial offerings as they are depicted in the first season of Spartacus. But will their game stand victorious in the center of the arena, or will it see head severed from shoulders in the most violent manner possible? The gods shows us.
If you have an Xbox Live Gold Membership or simply a PlayStation 3 with an internet connection, you can now download Spartacus Legends free of charge. Spartacus Legends (about 2 GB in download size) is not for the faint of heart. For several years the television series, following the brutal life of gladiator turned warmonger, Spartacus, has enthralled viewers with its over the top violence, language and sex. The focus of the first series, titled Blood and Sand, throws the Thracian warrior Spartacus into the arena to face off against the odds in a brutal fight for his freedom. He trains under the guidance of Oenomaus alongside several other gladiators to become hardened, dangerous fighting machines who, when they enter the arena, will fight for not only their lives; but for the entertainment and satisfaction of an audience whose blood lust knows no limits. They endure a hardship that knows no match and only victory assures them fame, money and women. Win enough times and the ever alluring freedom that is dangled in front of their noses like you would dangle a carrot in front of a donkey. But few ever gather enough victories in order to progress to the rank of Champion, much less receive the ceremonial Gladius, a sword which is a symbol or badge of their freedom.
“One day Rome shall fade and crumble. Yet you shall always be remembered in the hearts of all that yearn for freedom.” – Agron
In Spartacus Legends, which takes place after the events of Blood and Sand, you assume control of the Ludus once belonging to Quintus Batiatus. You are set to task to train new gladiators. There are several gladiators available for purchase at the market. Each specialising in their own skill. Of the skills available there are Sword and Shield, Dual Swords, Dual Daggers, Two-handed Hammer, Tw0-handed Sword, Trident, Spear and Shield and lastly, unarmed combat. Each skill offers varying play styles, including quick and agile for those wielding dual weapons, to slow and precise movements with the two-handed weapons. For those who prefer to fight from a distance, the trident and spear and shield styles might be better suited to you. Of course as with other fighting titles, your gladiators are controlled with a light and heavy attack, a short jab, kick or shield bash and a grab movement, which varies for each different fighting style. What makes the combat fun in this game is the ability to roll the left stick to perform various fighting moves with both the light and heavy attack buttons. You can also accomplish sidesteps using the left control stick in order to avoid enemy attacks.
Progress in the game is made through improvement of your gladiators’ rankings, which ultimately contributes to your overall XP. In order to improve your gladiator’s ranking you must return to the market and buy better weapons and armour for their battles in the arena. Gladiators and their equipment costs money, and money is collected through means of bouts with other gladiators. Whether it is AI- or human controlled (which we’ll get to later), each match increases in difficulty, depending on what the opponent’s ranking is and what weapon style they are. You will find that pitting certain styles against others might not be as effective as you expected, as was the case with a short-range two-handed dagger assault versus a trident-wielding opponent. The trident-wielding opponent has a much further reach and this can get quite problematic especially if their rank is much higher than yours.
“Death comes to us all. Press me again, and you shall find yours.” – Spartacus
Gladiatorial bouts takes place across several areas including the Extremus, your ludus training grounds, Mercatus, or the market place, Domus Nobilium, a street-like area, Insulae, which is the underground fighting area also known as The Pit and several other arena areas all leading up to the Speculata, which is the grand arena where you will face off against the most dangerous gladiators. Each area contains a number of standard fights which is meant to garner your coin and fame, and then there are several mini-boss bouts to complete before moving on to the area’s Champion, which once beaten becomes available to purchased in the marketplace. After each successful mini-boss victory you are given a perk for the specific gladiator you used when doing battle with the mini-boss. There are numerous perks available that will enhance your fame earned, your combat prowess along with the amount of coin earned in battle. The only problem I had with the perk system was the fact that you need to pay to remove an old perk, and the removal comes at quite a high price too. It costs 2 Gold in order to remove an old perk and replace it with the new one just earned in combat. The Champions are of course main characters from the Spartacus television series including Oenomaus, Pollux, Ixon, Crixus and finally Spartacus himself.
Speaking of currency in the game. With the game being free-to-play, there was bound to be a catch somewhere, right? Well I wouldn’t so much call it a catch as a means to an end. Whereas making your way through the battles the good old way is the fun way to do it. You might find yourself becoming impatient with the overall progress made during the game. This is where the ability to buy in-game currency with real-world currency comes into play. Should you wish you speed up the purchasing process of buying slaves and equipment you can buy in-game currency with your MS Points or real currency on PSN.
The graphics in Spartacus Legends are fantastically well rendered and I would even venture to say well balanced, especially in the way the onscreen violence is depicted, whereas the fatality or finishing sections still remain tasteful and not as gory as you would expect. The characters are well designed and move with the fluidity that you would expect from a gladiator. You can clearly see that a lot of time and thought went into not only the creation of the gladiators depicted in this game, but in the world itself.
From a sound perspective, Legends follows suit in the heels of it’s successful older brother. And by that I mean, Kung Fu Factory have taken what made the sound department of the Spartacus series so great and kept with the themes, altering nothing. And to be quite honest, I wouldn’t have changed anything myself as the sound from the series just works. The music is brilliant and adds the right kind of atmosphere, whereas the sound effects for the weapons and voice work for the grunts and shouts during combat is well executed. I see no fault in this game’s execution of sound and music.
In order to play Spartacus Legends, an internet connection is unfortunately required on both Xbox Live and PSN as the game needs to be connected to the servers in order for its features to function. Most predominantly of which is the online versus mode. How that works is simple. Once you have ranked up your gladiator enough you can then enter him into the queue to pit him against other players who have done the same. The rewards of course are much higher should you best your online opponent. Whereas the concept for the multiplayer versus is a sound one, the execution however is not. In my personal experience I found the matchmaking to be especially tedious. It took unnecessarily long to find an opponent and even when I did find one, the match was exceptionally laggy even on my 2Mbps ADSL line which is not a problem on another fighting title, namely Mortal Kombat which I have played with little to no lag with other friends online.
Spartacus Legends isn’t the best fighting title that I have played, but it is well put together and incredibly addictive. The various fight styles available to the player lends a large amount of different approaches to how the game can be played and this is definately something that has been sorely lacking in fighting games. The introduction of the historical setting of the world of Spartacus has only served to increase to quality of this title. It’s shortcomings however lessens that quality somewhat. The shortcomings I refer to are of course the perk system and the poorly executed multiplayer versus portion. All in all, Spartacus Legends is a good title if you are a fan of the show and of the idea of gladiatorial combat. However if the idea of gratuitous violence, foul language and references to sexual conduct is off-putting to you, steer clear.
Lasting Appeal: 8/10