A while back I did a blog post about my experience playing The Warriors. The blogsphere being what it is, someone working for a viral marketing firm saw it and wanted to know if I'd review another game if she sent it to me. "Sure," I said, and why not? Seems like the thing to do. A few weeks and emails later I got a copy of Spartan: Total Warrior from Sega. Here are my impressions.
Overall Rating: The Gentleman's B
In a nutshell, Spartan: Total Warrior has a very playable combat system, decent graphics and sound, and some interesting effects, but suffers badly from a lack of depth. It's good, clean hack'n'slash fun, and the levels which contain more complex objectives -- lending an element of puzzle-solving or battle management to things -- are especially engaging, but as the game rolls on it wears a little thin. The story doesn't provide much juice, and the only novel developments in gameplay come from unlocking new weapons, which are few and far between. In the end, it starts to feel like work to battle your way through.
The battle system is the game's heart and soul, and it's a good one. You have standard attacks, blocking and ranged (arrow) attacks. There are individual and sweeping/group variations for all these, which provides a good foundation for combat. Additionally, you can build up bloodlust to execute special melee attacks, and collect the souls of those you've slain to execute various magic effects. The magic attack is determined by your choice of weapon, and also has both individual and group/area varieties.
All this adds up to a pretty complex control system, but it's one which mostly works. There's a strong rhythmic component to the action; it's all about getting on a good roll. When you succeed in getting a good run, you can launch regular bloodlust attacks, and making lots of kill means collecting lots of souls which lets you unleash your magic as well. Aries God of War will give you some verbal encouragement if you give him enough carnage, which is a nice touch.
There are also a decent variety of opponents. Though they seem to come in a standard series of classes, there's enough variety to make you learn to use your shield, with the additional feature that you can use it both offensively as well as defensively. Sophisticated opponents will use their own shields, so especially in later levels it becomes necessary to shield-bump defensive enemies to open them up for your attacks.
There are some points where the maps feel a little bit blocky -- "shouldn't I be able to jump over that?" -- and the camera can occasionally get locked in a position that makes combat tough, but overall it's a good engine with great potential for gameplay.
Which it's unfortunate that the game doesn't go much beyond the core combat engine. There are no other significant elements. All that the game's "secrets" unlock are concept art (concept art?) and additional elements for the arena mini-game, which doesn't offer anything over the regular game experience. The "ability system" is so simple it's practically pointless. There is no two-player mode or ability to call tactics for your in-game allies. There isn't even an item system.
It seems like the folks who designed this game have missed out on most of the innovations of the past few years. It's almost anachronistic. The story isn't interwoven into the mission structure very deeply. There is no skill tree to ascend, no strategic element at all. While new enemies and weapons are added with each act, they can't alone provide enough to make the game a real winner down the stretch.
When you look at leading titles in the genre, they're all bringing something extra to the table. The Warriors has all the action, but it's also built around a strong narrative story and a cast of characters that keep things interesting and moving forward. X-Men Legends has a similar hack'n'slash style, but has such depth in terms of character development to qualify as a genre-crosser in the RPG category. The Dynasty Warriors franchise, which helped break open this kind of gameplay in the first place, is built around a strategic simulation/management game.
In spite of it's top-tier combat engine, Spartan Total Warrior lacks any of these additional facets, which is why it gets only the gentleman's B.
Now, I don't know if this means I'll get any other games to review, and I don't know if anyone will buy this game as a result of this blog, but it's an interesting experiment in marketing. In aggregate, it's definitely better for the health of the industry to diversify the sources of opinion on what's playable and what's not. I'm happy to contribute to that in my own small way.