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Gladius

Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts
Media: GCD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: RPG/ Turn-Based Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

The graphics in Gladius are top-notch. The arenas are varied and extremely cool. You'll fight in everything from regular ancient Roman-type arenas to those carved into dormant dragons. The crowds are different for each arena, and you really get the feel of being in the gladiatorial games of old. Each character model is nicely detailed, and every piece of equipment that is equipped shows up on the character.

The sound is also very good. Each line of spoken dialog is masterfully performed, and the sound effects containing grunts, groans, clashing swords, shields, etc. are also done very well. The music is in a league of its own. It really sets the mood of going out into the gladiatorial ring and bashing some heads in; kinda like what the wrestlers do today. You'll not find a guitar rift here though. Each piece of music is masterfully orchestrated, with what seems like an entire orchestra that, as I said earlier, brings an epic sense to the game.


Gameplay:

The gameplay is good, but it does have some faults. The gladiatorial games are brought to you in turn-based action format. Each different move is done one turn at a time until the gladiators meet up and fight it out. Each time you take a swing at your opponent, a meter comes up, kind of like the golf swing meter, except you're swinging a sword and you must time your button press as the cursor moves across the meter. Some moves require other tactics. For one move you may have to stop the cursor in the red portion of the meter and another you may have to press certain buttons in a certain order. This adds another element to the traditional turn-based strategy involved in the game, perhaps frustrating those who don't have good hand-eye coordination and who would rather a more relaxed experience. Luckily, there is an option to turn off the meter, for those of you who don't want it.

The entire game is really one gigantic gladiator tournament. You fight in the leagues to get access to the tournaments, and then fight in the tournaments to get access to more tournaments. You see where this is going? Good. Moving on, the strategy is brought into play by two factors. One is a rock-paper-scissors clone. There are several different types of fighters, but only three are contained in this rock-paper-scissors match up; these are the light, medium, and heavy fighters. As you might imagine, heavy beats medium, which in turn, beats light. Light, however, doesn't really beat heavy; light does get a move that allows them to paralyze the heavy competition, but the paralyzation of the heavy soldiers wears off as soon as someone hits that soldier. Since neither the medium nor the light soldiers can do too much to them, it really doesn't pay to have anything but heavy.

The other factor is the different affinities, one for each element, and then light and dark. Each gladiator can have one attack affinity, and one defense affinity. As you battle, your attack affinity builds up, allowing you to unleash a very nasty elemental attack. This attack always hits, unless your opponent equips the same element as their defense affinity. For example, if I hit someone with a fire affinity attack, and that soldier has fire affinity for defense, then my attack does nothing. Just with these two factors, the game can get pretty deep, and that's not counting the other types of units and terrain factors into the game.


Difficulty:

The basic game concept is very easy. It reminds me of that old game Othello which was 'easy to learn, difficult to master'. The game has two separate scenarios for the two different main characters. One is far easier that the other. If you first start in the basic campaign, you'll be flying through in no time, thinking that it was really, really easy. Perhaps too easy. You'll soon learn that you have learned plenty of skills, but you've not mastered the game yet. The advanced campaign is pretty hard for those who have not mastered the basic campaign. Despite all of this, I found that the easiest way to beat the game was to simply restart the battle until you are fighting against easy opponents, since the opponents are randomly generated for most battles. When all you have are two medium soldiers, it's easier to take out two light soldiers than two heavy. Get my drift? Wink, wink.

Game Mechanics:

The game is extremely slow paced, so the controls are not difficult to get used to. There are several different button combinations that allow you to see certain stats on the battlefield, but the entire game is pretty much menu based. which is a good thing for turn-based games. Be prepared, however, to rummage through a sea of menus to get to where you want to go. Saving, for example, can only be accessed through certain menus.

The load times are respectable, and you won't find yourself breaking out the Gameboy during them. The loading screen is even informative, giving you tips and hints to make the game playing experience more enjoyable. The tutorial covers the basics of the combat, and it can be skipped. It does, however, leave out the basics of 'menu navigating' which can get very confusing.

Overall, Gladius is great fun. It's methodical action will be enough to keep many people up through the night, to just 'unlock one more league'. If you're a fan of turn-based strategy with a few RPG elements thrown in, this monster of a game will keep you locked in for a good 200 hours, give or take a hundred. It's like chess, but with arenas, gladiators, and nasty mean animals.


-Vaxeks, GameVortex Communications
AKA Joshua Benedetto

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