Thursday, October 06, 2005

A Review of Gladius, a Game which it is Possible to Purchase

Gentle readers, since I have not posted anything for a while I thought I would treat you to this out-of-date review of an antiquated xbox game that I played last summer, amidst gentle sighs and the pliant rustling of leaves.  I would rise languorously around noon, breakfasting on a simple dish of eggs and Dannon La Crème premium yoghurt, then devote myself entirely to the pursuit of this virtual bloodsport.  I wrote this review in a kind of mania, late at night, for, but at the last minute I decided not to post it for fear that it would be lost among the many other opinions; how can my frail words resist the measureless might of “I LIKD GLADIOATOR UNTIL I SPILED A CHEESER ON MY KYBARD!”?

There is certainly no reason to play Gladius for the plot – the game is set in an unnecessarily fictionalized version of ancient Rome in which all the names have been replaced by generally dumb-sounding near equivalents, as if by eighth graders.  Thus Rome becomes “Imperia”, Gaul and Germany turn into “Nordagh”, etc.. It seems that not all is well in Imperia; there’s some backstory about old imperial conquests and rebelling provinces that might actually have turned out interesting if it had not been saddled with the boring and clumsily named “Affinity Gods.”  Bearing such exciting names as “Maritimus” (can you guess he’s the god of water?) and “Aeris” the Affinity Gods have some sort of opposition to the god of the Dark Affinity, who is a representation of man’s inhumanity to man and looks like a giant tapeworm.  Why, oh why, didn’t they just cobble something together out of the perfectly good Roman pantheon?
     Two different personal dramas play out against this backdrop – you can play as Ursula, who sounds like she’s managing a gladiatorial school as part of her semester abroad from Amherst, and Valens, a pleasant and self-effacing doormat who also happens to be the son of a great, recently-murdered gladiator.  Both protagonists have a passion for skimpy leather outfits and helping the weak (Ursula’s brother, Urlan, provides a Bill O’Reilly-esque counterpoint to the cheery friendliness of the main characters, but unfortunately sounds more like an employee of Gold’s gym than a barbarian warrior).  There is some kind of prophecy about Ursula which pits her against the Galdr, a cabal of witches who dress like chickens and wear fancy eye makeup (and also drop out of the story entirely about a third of the way through) and everyone is worried about a provocatively dressed sorceress and her legion of the damned.  I think there’s also some kind of Oedipal thing going on with Ursula, Urlan and their father.
     None of this plot stuff matters since the game is basically about buying sweet equipment and then watching your gladiators wail on their opponents in various violent (and occasionally juvenile) ways.  This part of the game is perfect and totally addicting.  The battles are all basically the same (there are a few variations, like king of the hill and barrel-smashing), but they only occasionally become boring since all the gladiators have so many skills and abilities (individual animations sometimes become really grating though – perhaps some people enjoy seeing a tiny computer sorceress wave her staff over and over in exactly the same way, but I don’t).  Add to that a system with different weight classes of gladiators and some imaginatively-designed arenas (not all are great by any means, though) and you have a really fun, relatively complex game.  It doesn’t beat around the bush or pretend that it’s not about the battles – you pretty much just pick your fights from a menu and then fight them.  But it’s hella fun and certainly worth the money.

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