Review: Colosseum: Road to Freedom (PS2)

Colosseum: Road to Freedom
Developer: Ertain
Publisher: KOEI
System: Playstation 2
Players: 2

Roman history, gladitorial combat or otherwise, really hasn’t been a mainstay of videogaming. But since people are apparently getting sick of fighting through ancient Japanese and Chinese history over and over again, developers are awakening to the fact that there are some cool games to be made based on Rome. Perhaps the movie “Gladiator” helped, or even inspired some game developers. Whatever the reason, here come’s the fourth game set in Roman times in the past 2- 2½ years, Colosseum: Road to Freedom.

Story:

The makers of Colosseum: Road to Freedom have been very faithful to the history they are portraying. The people you run into, with possibly the exception of your owner Magerius and yourself, are all real historical figures. The emperor Commodus, son of Marcus Aurelius and looking very different from his prior apperance in “Gladiator”, is running amok and killing the Roman Empire from the inside with stupidity. He believes himself to be the reincarnation of Hercules, and used to run the Texas Rangers…I mean, and he fights in the gladitorial arena to prove his manliness for the Roman population. The fights are rigged, of course, and you eventually are chosen as one of the men who will fight and lose. This isn’t the end. In fact it’s just the beginning of your involvement in Roman politics.

While the story is fairly accurate, there’s not really enough of it. As the days go on you battle and battle, trudging your way up the XP ladder and obtaining new and unique weapons with little or no mention of there being any story at all. It’s like they’ve taken the random battles that all RPGs seem to be famous for and made them the opposite of random while at the same time keeping them almost as boring. And then out of nowhere a story movie will appear to further the game along historys path. I think much of the history in the game could have been kept while at the same time adding something else to keep gamers interested, either a love story or some minor secondary thing. Instead you get a slave owner who barely speaks 3 sentences to you all game, and then the major plot points every few days.

Story: 5/10

Graphics:

Prior games featuring Rome as a backdrop have focussed much more on the majesty of Rome than the gritty, seedier underbelly. C:RtF seems to have taken the road less travelled, as much of the environments look less polished, more workmanlike. Part of this may just be the designers of the game weren’t as good at massaging the aging PS2 as Capcom or Creative Assembly were, but for whatever reason less is more here. While walking through the Colosseum I didn’t find it looking all shiny and new, I found it to look worn.

Character models are not as good in Road to Freedom as they were in Shadow of Rome, say the armor or facial expressions. However just because it’s not as good looking doesn’t mean they still aren’t seviceable.

Of course, when you are playing a game where weapons are used, you have to ask about blood. Yes the game contains blood, but it’s both more realistic and less at the same time as Capcom’s affair. Shadow of Rome allowed you to break and chop off arms, and when blood was spilled blood was SPILLED. Everywhere. The blood in Road to Freedom is much more understated. You cannot decapitate people, nor can you really remove limbs, but you can break arms, and blood goes is far less apparent, except for the pools of it that gather under your slain foes.

Graphics: 6.5/10

Sound:

Voice work is stiff and formal, what little of it there is. Everyone seems to have a booming or gravelly voice. Sound effects are fairly well done though. Hitting someone with a mace makes a satisfyingly sickening smack. The music isn’t really anything special, but it does strike familiar Roman imperial note, so at least it fits.

Sound: 5/10

Controls/Gameplay:

It’s odd. I went into this game expecting it to be similar to Capcom’s Shadow of Rome and got blindsided by an RPG. Road to Freedom is very much an RPG, at times taking things from more traditional games like Knights of the Old Republic and at other times stealing things from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. You fight like many a standard RPG, with weapons that do different amounts of damage, and training is accomplished by making you hit button combinations, very similar to San Andreas’s dancing competitions. The points you earn from these training sessions buys you attribute points which you can spend on food, different types of which upgrade your different attributes. Meat increases strength, soup another thing, etc. Money you earn in gladitorial bouts (what little of it you get to keep) can be put toward buying new weapons and armor.

The controls, sadly, leave a fair bit to be desired. There is no really useful way of targetting an enemy, and you can easily find yourself standing the opposite way from you opponent very fast. This is almost made up for by the number of attacks that can be performed using just the four buttons on the joystick. Unfortunately, when you are in combat and fighting for your life the last thing you want is to find yourself facing the wrong way with your back exposed to the blade of your enemy. There are numerous fighting styles, from bare-fisted to dual wielding to the more traditional shield and sword approach, but I found the most effective tactic for me was the HHH approach. That’s right, smash your enemies good with a hammer. Once I aquired my very own version of Mjollnir nothing could face might. Nothing that is, except those freakin Tigers in the Coliseum. But I got them, oh yes I did. Tiger pelts are fairly rare too, from the price they fetch. So keep an eye out for em.

Overall things could have been explained a little better in-game regarding how you are to go about fighting matches and such. For example you go to the arena and can fight in up to 6 fights or so. But doing so is not the easiest thing in the world, and can often cost you money because of fairly steep medical bills, not to mention paying half your winnings to be revived should you die. Eventually I found it easier to just participate in one or two matches a day, then leave and come back to fight again after saving. You still gain the same amount of training and strength from your training days, but you do lose the experience you gain from fighting in the arena, not to mention any weapons you might pick up from fallen foes.

Controls: 2/5
Gameplay: 3/5

Balance:

You fight a number of different battles in Road to Freedom, from 5 on 5 battles where one team must protect its General, to 15 on 15 (3 at a time). You also get some re-inactments of famous battles in Roman military history, just as in the movie Gladiator. As well you will fight duels with other famous gladiators. It’s in these duels that the game becomes unbalanced fairly quickly. Because as much weight is placed on evading and blocking as there is on attacking, I found I was often outclassed by many of the duelists I was fighting. They wind up acting much like bosses in other games, but only occasionally will defeating one result in you moving up a level. One such famous gladiator, Hories, decked out to look like the Egyptian god Horus, has a rediculously cheap attack that can result in a one hit kill. That’s fine if the rest of the game allows for one hit kills, but this happens out of nowhere. Happily only 5 such fights are really required, and these are the boss fights.

Balance: 6/10

Replayability:

Having suffered through the stiff learning curve that this game has, you might think that I’d be less willing to go back and play it again. But the truth is now that I know what I’m doing with the sword and shield, hammer and mace, I want to go back and truly earn my freedom, pay off my owner and buy a slave of my own. I won’t though, as the controls just really make the game more frustrating than it needs to be.

There is a multiplayer function to the game as well, which allows you and a buddy to play in the arena, using your character and any famous gladiators you’ve defeated.

Replay Ability: 5/10

Appeal:

The appeal factor on this is not the highest in the world, but the game has a few things going for it. Namely it’s coming out at a time when there is just about nothing else hitting the market. Meaning it’s ripe for a “discovery” at the video store or while browsing the racks at your local EB. Another thing it’s got in it’s favor is the choice of game story, which may in some small way make you feel like you’re playing General Maximus from “Gladiator”, which I don’t recall having a game made for it.

Lastly, in my book you can never have enough hacking and slashing games. Despite the RPGness of the game, at it’s heart is a decent fighting engine that could use some tweaking.

Appeal: 5/10

Originality:

Well, the story isn’t really, new, since it’s based on historical events. The gameplay isn’t completely new, but does make use of RPG elements in a newish way, having leveling up appear to be a normal progression of training and eating correctly, instead of just battle battle battle. And more battle. The only thing that’s really new at all about the game is the setting, and even then it’s the third console game and fourth game over all to come out in the past 3 years that is set in Rome.

Originality: 4/10

Addictiveness:

In no way did I ever consider myself addicted to this game. There were times when I wanted to think I was, perhaps during battle when chaining 4 and 5 kills together in a row, but then something really irritating would happen and force me back to reality. Either I’d try one fight too many or I’d get mauled in 2 hits. Death after frustrating death due to bad camera and a lack of lock on nearly killed this for me early on. It was only later when I found the skills and earned big enough weapons that things got interesting.

Addictiveness: 4/10

Miscellaneous:

Right from the start, the game feels like someone at Koei just finished playing Shadow of Rome and decided to make a better game. Things make much more sense when compared to what’s going on in SoR. Weapons don’t shatter after hitting something three times. The story (what little there is) isn’t warped into something completely unintelligible just for the sake of telling a story everyone knows in a way totally unexpectedly.

Miscellaneous: 8/10

Story: 5/10
Graphics: 6.5/10
Sound: 5/10
Controls: 2/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Balance: 6/10
Replay Ability: 5/10
Appeal: 5/10
Originality: 4/10
Addictiveness: 4/10
Miscellaneous: 8/10

Short Attention Span Summary
A game that suffered from the poor choice of control scheme. If you are dying for something to play, this isn’t really a bad choice so long as you go into it knowing there is a steep learning curve. It’s sad that Koei either didn’t have the budget or the skill to truly make this a game to step out of the Shadow of Rome, because there is potential here.