Review: Gladiator Begins

If you’re into beating fellow Roman slaves to a pulp, then Gladiator Begins is probably the game for you. It does this fantastically and with gusto. Good thing, as that’s all you’ll ever really do during your time with the PSP brawler. As a newbie gladiator hopping into the ring to fight for what could eventually be your freedom, you’re tasked with dueling to the death in a claustrophobic pit while aristocrats and free citizens ravenously cheer you on. As Adam Lambert might croon, you’re there for their entertainment.

As you’re thrown into the tumultuous world of what could otherwise be known as ancient cage-fighting, early tutorials coach you on how and where to strike your obviously unworthy opponents. Burying a blade in a fellow combatant is always satisfying, and for the most part (for a while) you’ll feel like a god among men. Slicing through the domes of my enemies as my gladiator, who I was allowed to customize as a male or female fighter at the beginning of the game, felt great.

Shooting up through the ranks as a fledgling gladiator is straightforward and plays out in a very no-frills manner. In battle, you’ll string together combos when your opponent’s defenses are down (or when they’re without armor and a helmet), execute grisly sword attacks, and rake in the rewards at the end. Lather, rinse, and repeat. For a while, this is entertaining, albeit mind-numbingly repetitive. But after you reach a point where the game begins pulling out its most vicious moves — soul-crushing enemies, weakling AI partners, and a lack of variety — you’ll be ready to seek out a more viable approach for long-term play.

Not only is the entire game little more than a series of battles broken up by an uninteresting narrative, but the seemingly inescapable combo chains pulled off with the greatest of ease grateĀ on the nerves. Attempts to fight back and make a stand were fruitless as I fell over and over. AI teammates proved to be nothing more than distractions, being cut down left and right at my sides as relentless enemies made their way toward me in quick succession. Long story short, Gladiator Begins can become downright nasty. Some gamers purposefully seek out this sort of challenge, but a certain point a line should be drawn, should it not?

If you feel like gritting your teeth and braving an onslaught of painfully similar challenges over and over and over again like the real gladiators of yesteryear, then more power to you. Gladiator Begins is a competent brawler that, while rife with its own shortcomings, is best played in small bursts. It’s an entertaining grind that has plenty to offer and exciting combat, though if you plan to stay for the long haul, you might be better off reaching for something a little less banal.

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