The Gladiators: Galactic Circus Games Review
By Chad Montague |
I had hopes for this game. The first time I saw it, I liked the art style, saw some fast paced combat, and figured that Arxel Tribe and Eugen Systems had a good thing going with The Gladiators: Galactic Circus Games. It was a campy little snibbit in the style of Flash Gordon or some other cheesy sci-fi flick of the 70's. While what I saw was pretty bare originally, I figured that having only seen some of the beginning levels, I could expect some pretty fun and interesting things from the final. But now that I've played the game for more than a few hours, I can say that I'm not that impressed. While I still like the art style, the gameplay is just not up to my strategy bar favoring quick decision and heavily scripted levels instead of planning ahead and thinking about your approach.
The Gladiators starts in the 70's on Earth. After discovering the black hole phenomenon, the US government decides to send an astronaut into one of them to check it out. Sounds smart enough and safe enough, right? Wrong! The "volunteer" Greg D. Callahan along with his ship and crew get sucked through the thing only to end up on the other side of the galaxy. Upon arrival, a crew of rather unfriendly robot alien creatures kills pretty much everything on the ship except for Callahan. He's the trophy.
Luckily for our wayward hero, a princess with gigantic hair steps in to give him a fighting chance. Apparently, her father just died, leaving a position open as ruler of the empire. As with all good jobs, more than one person wants in. On this side of reality, such quibbles are decided via the most popular form of entertainment, the Deathbowl, a sci-fi equivalent to the Roman gladiatorial competitions a couple thousand years ago. The Deathbowl plays out over a set of games where gladiators battle it out for supremecy in front of throngs of bloodthirsty fans. In this case, three gladiators are chosen. One champion for each contender for the crown, winner takes all. So Callahan is recruited by the princess because apparently nobody else wants to give it a go. Who would want to work for a hot blue princess with tentacle hair? Where's Captain Kirk when you need him...
This story is told via crappy cutscenes and painful voicework both during matches and in between them. While the developers were trying their best for 70's camp and witty dialogue, you get little to none of each delivered in terrible style by the voice actors. I can't remember laughing once through the game. Mostly I remember the headache that the announcer's voice has given me over the last few days. While I normally can appreciate the fun awfulness of B movies, like I'm fairly sure this was shooting for, I found nothing entertaining from a cheesy or quality standpoint. Characters are forgettable and boring with only the barest of personalities.
While the actual game looks pretty good with bright colors and good model work, the cutscenes in between levels suffer from bland environments, camerawork, and the lack of moving mouth parts. When the magical gladiator Fargass stands there with his stupid mouth sagging open with a blank stare on his face while trying to say something irrefutably evil, it just comes across as flat.
But like I said, The Gladiators looks pretty good while playing. The worlds are created with a certain level of detail. All of the units are nicely constructed with colors and textures that hide any imperfections pretty well. Likewise, structures and dense foliage are put together well to create a lush and complex landscape. Effects are well done with a very actiony, over the top feel. Machine guns give off a ridiculous amount of muzzle fire and laser beams are fat and bright as hell. If nothing else, the game is pretty fun to watch. Its cartoony appeal keeps the intense action a little lighter than it might have otherwise been.
Unfortunately, it lags big if you don't have the RAM and processor to handle it. The minimum specs are a joke. It was virtually a slide show in heavy combat missions running at 800x600x16 on a P4 1.6, 256MB RAM, and a GeForce4 Ti4600. Hard to imagine the crappy little computer the minimum specs would make could even consider running this game well.
When stepping into a mission, you'll also get a look at the wild and ready crowd just waiting for the first explosion of machine parts and blood. It's an interesting concept for these arenas to be constructed just for this event and you do begin to feel as if you're part of some sick little sport. Likewise, the cheering and jeering of the crowd as you play and get into messy fights is pretty fun.
Unfortunately, the gameplay just didn't really do it for me for a number of reasons. As you step into an arena, you're given a meager number of forces. From here, you'll need to move to gather power-up items and joker cards to increase the power and effectiveness of your troops. These power-ups are located throughout the level. They constitute things such as immediate reinforcements, healing, armor, and increase in power. You'll also get the joker cards, which can be used for any one of these power-ups, or for additional units.
With the need to build a base and harvest resources taken out from the picture, the game focuses instead on fast paced tactical combat. There are very few times when you'll just be sitting around building up forces (although that does happen occasionally). Most of the time, you'll be on a pretty linear track through a level. While there are some points in each level that may allow you to choose a path, what you're left with is a game built like the levels in WarCraft and StarCraft where you're running through caverns or a base picking up units as you go. The levels in Gladiators are just as heavily scripted as any of these, making the gameplay pretty straightforward. You'll never be confused about what it is you're supposed to be doing thanks to the mid-mission announcements and waypoints. There are certainly paths that offer less resistance, but chances are you're still going to have to fight whatever enemies you passed up, either because you'll be running back through an area, or because they'll be sent in to attack you from behind after you've reached your goal.