At the turn of the century we saw box office hits such as Gladiator and The Lord of the Rings. It was quite clear the masses love a good epic. One of the selling points of these films is the guarantee of at least one big fight. In fact, as The Return of the King showed, the bigger the better. A lot of these battles are created using CGI, so it was only a matter of time before they were recreated as a videogame. Creative Assembly have brought huge battles to life as strategy games. In fact, they are so proficient at this that the engine from Rome: Total War was used for the BBC series Time Commanders. In 2005, the studio attempted to break into the console market with a new take on their trademark epic battles. The end result of this was the multi-format release: Spartan: Total Warrior.

This is Spartan: Total Warrior

Spartan: Total Warrior follows the basic hack-n’-slash system used in a number of games at the time, such as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and God Of War. In this title you take control of the Spartan, an unnamed Spartan Warrior. You’re on a mission to rid ancient Greece of the invading Roman Empire. The game starts with Sparta under siege from thousands of soldiers and a huge Iron Man. This Iron Man is the first of many nods to the classic film Jason and the Argonauts. In fact, this is not the only time you will find references to epic films set around this era.

Armed with a sword, shield and bow, and backed up by a few squads of Spartans, it looks like you’re going to kick some ass. However, as soon as you charge into combat it becomes apparent that this is not a game where mashing the buttons is going to work. All enemies can block your attacks – and they do, at every opportunity. The game a lot more complicated than the usual hack-n’-slash, as well as making it a lot harder. This effectively makes the game more realistic, as you are man, not an unstoppable war machine. At least, not yet anyway. The difficulty is further increased by the fact that Creative Assembly were very keen to demonstrate the capabilities of their console engine. Expect to fight literally hundreds of troops at once, each with different attack patterns and all wanting Spartan blood.

Aggressive Difficulty Before Any Souls

Spartan: Total Warrior launched in 2005. Arriving at the tail end of the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube‘s life, it was a game that promoted tough-but-fair combat. Just as with the Souls series half-a-decade later.

As daunting as difficulty of the game may be, you wouldn’t be a Spartan unless you were hardcore. You have a range of attacks available based on the weapon you are using at any one time. One button strike a single enemy, another many. You also have the ability to block all attacks, and you will find that blocking and timing your strike is essential to winning battles. Scoring hits on enemies causes the Spartan’s rage bar to increase; once past a certain level the Spartan can unleash an especially powerful version of the standard attacks. This tends to cause the mass decapitation of enemy troops. Nice.

The Spartan also has access to magical powers, once again based on the weapon you are using. These can be used to damage large numbers or take out a specific foe. Using magical powers requires you to fill Mana Bars by collecting Souls, either from Shrines or by killing enemies and, as the game progresses, you will gain up to three Mana Bars allowing you to cause some serious destruction.

Spartan: Total Warrior screenshot

This isn’t a Spartan Costume Party

Spartan: Total Warrior also includes limited roleplay elements. On completing a level you are given several Tokens, known as the Favour Of The Gods. These can be used to upgrade your health, damage and magic power. Once all of these are filled you advance to the next level and are given a new set of armour to wear. This system is less than extensive as there are only three levels of upgrade, and you will always reach maximum power by level twelve.

The technical clout of the game however, remains inspiring even to this day. Given the number of enemies on the screen – which can be upward of 150 – the graphics are incredible, with no slow-down whatsoever. The loading times take a beating in exchange for this. It’s clear the title has been developed for the PlayStation 2 and ported to the Xbox and GameCube, but it remains inexcusable to have such an extensive load on the latter system which often benefits from having seamless loading. All models are richly detailed and cutscenes use in-game graphics, but do not suffer for it. The lighting on some levels, especially in the dungeons, is top notch. At times you’ll forget that this is 20-year-old console title.

One of the outstanding features of this product is the sound. Every slice of your sword is accompanied by an especially visceral sound effect and kicking a legionary of a building will cause him to wail convincingly. The music is also brilliant, imagine a cross between the Gladiator OST and The Prodigy and you are pretty close. Thumping bass lines and choir voices combine to really immerse you in the game.

Total Warrior, Epic Scale

The level design is near immaculate. The castle sieges are especially epic, and the tasks you must perform are quite diverse. Puzzles involving the use of fire arrows to blow up explosive crates are overused slightly, but this can be forgiven. Boss battles are varied from battling a human adversary to several mythological creatures.

It’s very likely that you will die with regularity for the majority of this game. Make no mistake about it, this game is hard. The learning curve is very steep and only through perseverance will you make it through to the final boss. The difficulty barrier may have discouraged the casual gamer, but in a post-Souls world it’s highly recommended. Unlike the recently released Achilles: Legend Untold – a similarly themed, similarly underrated title – the story mode is not open-world. This consists of 14 levels split over three acts, with each level theoretically taking between 20 and 40 minutes to complete. The reality is that the difficulty of the game means that levels can take several hours to complete.

The other mode included is Arena. Here, you must fight your way through 10 waves of increasingly harder enemies to attain a high score. Extra arenas can be unlocked by playing through the story mode. Throughout story mode you will find chests which contain parts of Archimedes Diary and Spartan Helms. Archimedes Dairy Pages unlock concept art, while Spartan Helms allow access to extra objects in Arena mode such as Health Shrines and allied Bowmen. Even with these features there isn’t a great deal of replayability as you’ll find a lot of the secrets on your first time through.

Spartan: Total Warrior screenshot

For the Souls Fans

Despite the difficulty, Spartan: Total Warrior is a lot of fun. It is clear that the developers paid a lot of attention to making this game feel as much like an epic film as they could. And in that capacity, the game is spot on. There are loads of memorable moments, such as charging in formation with your brethren before crashing into the enemy line or fighting your way round the ramparts of a castle kicking Romans off the side in true swashbuckling style. Launching arrows into advancing troops, and narrowly avoiding incoming fire. Back in 2005, comparisons were made with the original God of War, but the games are not as similar as you may think. Where God of War has extensive puzzle elements, you will not find yourself pushing blocks around in Spartan: Total Warrior.

Instead, this game is all about the fighting. The only real puzzles you will find are how to defeat the bosses. While, Spartan: Total Warrior is not without its flaws – reaching a checkpoint with low health can make the following battle literally impossible and may force a level restart, for example – if you are a fan of hack-n’-slash titles you will find that Spartan: Total Warrior is one of the best available on older platforms. And as you may have guessed, Souls fans who haven’t yet played the game should seek it out immediately.

Categories: Games