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PSP  header logo

Gladiator Begins

For: PSP

A spectacle

Product: Gladiator Begins | Developer: GOSHOW | Publisher: Zen United | Format: PSP | Genre: 3D, Action, Fighting, RPG | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
Gladiator Begins PSP, thumbnail 1
Despite the daily thrill of dodging blades and dealing death, being a gladiator must have been a bit monotonous. There was nothing to do but fight.

In this way, Gladiator Begins is a faithful recreation of ancient Rome's WWE alternative. It places you in hundreds of very similar matches as you attempt to win your freedom through a combination of social engineering and climbing the ranks to become a champion combatant.

After creating a custom character and taking part in a little training at the Ludus (a school for gladiators), you start your career in earnest by appearing at one of a handful of colosseums.

It's difficult to get a sense of place in them as the environs of a dusty stadium rarely change from location to location, the arenas largely consisting of geometric cages. 

Conditions of victory vary, from Battle Royale (which is every-man-for-himself), to Survival (in which you have to take out as many opponents as you can within a set time limit). Two-on-Twos and Team Battles entail teams going up against one another.

And finally there are plot-driven matches that propel the story forward. It's these encounters that break up the monotony. Themed on great wars or episodes of political strife, the individuality of these fights brings life to the otherwise tired combat formula.

No place for Roman-ticism

Though the plot is forgettable and only delivered through inter-match conversations, it does succeed in portraying a corrupt and morally ambiguous Rome.

You'll play the role of assassin, hero, pawn, and more, embroiled in a struggle for power within the great city's upper echelons of society.

It's no surprise that Acquire – publisher of the Way of the Samurai series – released this title in Japan, as this is very much an attempt at conveying a long gone civilisation accurately.

The conversations you'll have are well written but dry. There's drama happening around you, but it's difficult to feel like you're a part of it when you're essentially playing a gun for hire.

Helping to lend credibility to the speechless performances are the facial animations. In moments of dialogue characters emote wonderfully, their body language believably naturalistic. Character models are sharp, armour glistens, and blood splatters, producing a world that's equal parts glamorous and violent.

If only the fights themselves were so engaging. For as much as Gladiator Begins focuses on its combat – which it should – the fighting is unrefined.

You first tool up with different items such as helmets, weapons, and protection for the limbs, either winning them from battle or purchasing them from an armourer. These confer different stat bonuses, such as improving defence or attack.

Special abilities are selectable before battle and can be used at a cost of Stamina, which gradually rebuilds during scraps, a decent analogy for which would be a mix of Special Moves and Supers from Street Fighter IV.

The face buttons handle offence, Cross being a low blow, Square and Circle striking left and right respectively, and Triangle jabbing high. Depending on which weapon is equipped, these moves change, but the general positioning of them remains constant.

There's also a guard set to R shoulder, and when used in tandem with its opposite a counter block can render enemies open to attack.

Once again the PSP's lack of a right stick ensures the camera needs the odd tweak to face your opponents but it's intuitive enough to feel confident that the controls aren't hampering your progress.

Maximus Bashimous Buttonus

Unfortunately, the AI is less responsive than the controls. In one-on-one situations opponents will rarely think for their own safety, instead attempting to wail on you constantly, randomly shrugging off some hits that would normally knock them back.

When you're trapped in a corner it's difficult to escape, with no effective method of evading a barrage of attacks. The armour protecting you is eventually knocked off and your gladiator is left defenceless.

In group scenarios, especially when it's you fighting alone, it gets to the point where one false move can have you locked against a wall awaiting certain death. The game can quickly devolve into button-mashing.

Post-battle you'll gain money, have an opportunity to heal yourself between matches and assign points to improve the Strength, Vitality, and Stamina of your character, shaping your fighter in whichever way you see fit.

These enhancements never quite seem to be enough, though, and you're almost always underpowered when compared to others in the ring. The lack of an easy way to tell if the fight you're going into is out of your league also leaves you wondering if you fought badly or you were simply squaring off against far too powerful an opponent.

Much like the aforementioned Way of the Samurai, this is a flawed action game with RPG elements. The brutal combat looks great, but the gameplay doesn't match-up to the presentation.
Gladiator Begins
Reviewer photo
Peter Willington | 21 July 2011
Fans of historical pseudo-realism will find the format intriguing but a disappointing fighting system nestling at its core scuppers much of the potential of Gladiator Begins
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