Like many men of my age and demographic, I am aware of the bloody and raunchy TV series that is Spartacus. One of the bravest tales of courage under adversity ever told, reduced largely to a weekly fest of swearing, blood, and naked sweaty men clutching at naked sweaty men in the sand, or naked sweaty women in the bedsheets.
Luckily, for our stomachs and sanity, the video game adaptation of the series concentrates on the former.
SquareGo got me to play it, and play it hard. Read my review over there, or below the cut in full.
There are some pairs of words which generally go together, Romans and Death, Bread and Circuses, Swords and Gladiators, Microtransactions and Free-to-play games. (That’s five words you ninny -Ed)
And in the recently released free PSN & XBLA game, Spartacus Legends, it’s clear that all of the above will come to mind. Tying in with the popular ‘tits and gore’ laden Starz TV series, the game is a twist on the familiar iOS and Android style of one-on-one combat, seen in everything from Infinity Blade to Blood & Glory.
It’s a familiar routine, if still an enjoyable one. You have a newly recruited Gladiator, who can be outfitted with a variety of weapons, armour and perks, then put up against a series of opponents. Each round wins coin which can be spent on buying new equipment, and fame, which lets you level-up, unlocking new arenas and better kit. Of course the ‘freemium’ aspect of the game means that there is always a tantalising opportunity to fork out real money and buy special Gold coins which unlock items earlier. It’s to the game’s credit that this oddly feels rather like cheating, and isn’t really necessary.
To add insult to this, the price of Gold is ridiculously high, which is to be expected as the ‘free-to-play’ market on console is still in its infancy. But in all likelihood you won’t find yourself forking out for a weapon when playing a couple of easy win fights would already more than pay for it.
Unlike the mobile based predecessors of this style, Spartacus Legends has the added benefit of a full beat-em-up style combat system. As well as the usual blocks, rolls, heavy and light slashes, there is a block-breaker attack and the ability to string various combos together allowing for a decent level of tactics. To the point that a skilled fighter will be able to advance far faster up the ranks than a button-masher. Although button mashing will get you through a lot of the early fights.
You’ll want to learn the moves as well, as the more challenging the game gets, the greater the reward, and the risks. In the more lethal and bigger bouts failure means death, with only a single chance or reviving a dead character. You can unlock slots to buy new gladiators, but it costs a lot of coin, and each one needs to re-do fights to pick up specific perks and bonuses.
There is a lot of game here, with a wide variety of opponents and weapon types to learn and practice against. Cheerfully you can also play against online opponents, but irksomely there is no option to set up challenges against friends, this is a purely random affair. Worse still there are a few notable but not game-breaking lag issues with the online play, where the pause between button-press and reaction onscreen is observable, but luckily not to the point of extreme frustration.
Given that it’s free to download on PSN and XBLA, there really isn’t any excuse for not giving the game a whirl, it’s still a mediocre experience and anyone looking for the polish of a Streetfighter or Mortal Kombat big budget release will probably be disappointed. Fans of the show, who simply want to have a quick bash in the ring and enjoy the minimal management experience of living it up as the head of a Ludus will likely enjoy having a quick scrap in the arena now and again.
Spartacus Legends is available free on PSN & XBLA now.