Colosseum: Road to Freedom Review

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Graphics: 8.5
Sound : 8.0
Gameplay : 9.0
Multiplayer : 8.5
Overall : 8.8
Review by Andy Levine
Colosseum: Road to Freedom puts you in the shoes of a slave in Ancient Rome who must repay a debt to his master by fighting as a gladiator. As you entertain the masses attending the Colosseum, you must increase your rank in the social hierarchy in order to participate in some of the more lucrative battles, such as bullfights and one-on-one duels. The overall presentation truly demonstrates an authentic Romanesque feel that will captivate history fans, while the intense action is more than enough to bring out your blood lust.

Taking the role of a mysterious gladiator whose history is generally unknown, a slave master named Magerius promises freedom to any slave who pays off all of their debt from winnings amassed in the arena. The lifestyle of a gladiator is simple: on one day you spend most of your time training in the practice court, and on the next day you fight for your life in a sanctioned clash. The training process is comprised of several slightly varied mini-games. Most of them involve tapping the geometric buttons rapidly and in a certain order, while others will have you practice certain battlefield tactics. By completing the mini-games you can earn special attribute points. At the end of the day, you travel to the food court where different items increase different attributes; meat builds up strength, vegetables build dexterity, and so on. After a good night’s sleep, you will then have the opportunity to partake in battle. The different battle types vary from battle royal, where you must kill a set number of enemies, hunting missions, where you must kill several large beasts, or mock battles, where historical battles are reenacted. While winning a battle will always earn you a set amount of money, bonus cash can be attained by pleasing the crowd and fighting like a true warrior. Acts of cowardice, such as backstabbing, are frowned upon, while ‘honorably’ slaying your foe is sure to get the crowd on your side.

Earning extra money not only takes you one step closer to your goal, it can also be used in exchange for healing between battles and the purchasing of equipment. While there are plenty of expensive items to be purchased from the local forgers, the finest inventory of items can only be found by scavenging dead corpses. As you become stronger and prove yourself to be a worthy fighter, your rank will increase, allowing you to compete in highly dangerous battles. While some of the opening battles against slaves contain ferocious moments every once in a while, the latter clashes are filled with non-stop violence. One-on-one duels are usually preceded by a cinematic sequence composed of trash talking—which makes victory much more satisfying. In order to succeed as a gladiator you must fight strategically in order to overcome a variety of situations. While honing a shield is adequate for fending off some measly slaves, it will take much more skill to fight off a horde of chariot-wielding warriors. Even though some of the opposing gladiators appear to be vicious, this guise couldn't be more deceiving. The A.I. adversaries are constantly running into various objects, dropping their weapons and armor, and will even stop moving on occasion. Towards the end of the game, the different battle modes perhaps don’t vary enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, but some of the mock battles add a nice little twist against the everyday gladiator fight. Despite great diversity in terms of gameplay, there are also enough leveling-up elements, weapon styles, and plot twists to keep any gamer thoroughly entertained.

Recently, the PS2 has seen a massive influx of action games that focus more on button mashing than strategy. Luckily, the developers over at Koei sought to rid Colosseum: Road to Freedom of said repetitiveness. Instead of having one button for attacking, the four geometric buttons each represent an attack aimed toward a different body region; ‘Triangle’ performs an upper body attack, ‘Square’ makes the gladiator do a quick slash to the left side, ‘Circle’ does a quick slash to the right side, and ‘X’ performs a jab to the lower body region. Also, before a battle, you can set up tablets that give your gladiator special abilities, such as increased stamina or the ability to bash an enemy with your shield. Knowing this, you must attempt to locate the weakness of each enemy to quickly bring them to their knees. The highly interactive battle environment allows you to throw your equipment at people, pick up equipment offered by dead bodies, and knock off different items from your foes. By adopting this latter strategy you can repeatedly bash an opponent until they drop their shield, and then execute an upper body slash to finally kill them. Foes that wield two weapons are more likely to charge into battle and inflict quick bursts of damage, but they offer very little in terms of defense so jabs to either side are especially wounding.

Striking opponents in different areas also affects their attributes; hitting a foe in the arm will actually lower their strength, while hitting them in the legs will lower their agility. By breaking down your opponent’s attack power and leaving them void of protection, you can move in for the kill quite easily. Winning isn’t everything, though, and if you want to rise clear from your salary debt in a timely manner then you must also be a crowd pleaser. Stabbing enemies in the back is an effective way to drain health, but the spectators don’t appreciate dirty fighting. In order to gain the support of the crowd, you must overwhelm foes with a series of ferocious blows, leaving them cowering before their last breath of air. Your sole purpose as a gladiator is to entertain the arena audience, and there’s no better way to do that than by obliterating anything that crosses your path. Some of the battles require you to kill 10, 15, or 20 opposing gladiators—without being killed yourself—but the fights that are most challenging are the one-on-one duels. These opposing duelists are superior to you in every character attribute, so you must overcome the odds and break them down by using battlefield traps and your knowledge as a warrior. For the most part, Colosseum: Road to Freedom manages to divert itself from the path of boredom and successfully combines an action-packed title with in-depth RPG characteristics.

Visually, the environments are heavily detailed, right down to the last piece of marble, the architecture demonstrating an appealing Ancient Rome feel—and the character models aren’t too shabby, either. From the grandiose marble pillars lining the colloseum, to the individual rose petals falling from the adoring crowd, the battle arenas are a glorious place for any gladiator to fight in. As you follow your gladiator along the arena’s dark entrance tunnel to what could be his last hour alive, the bright light at its end provokes an undeniably dramatic yet uninviting feel. The game’s character models are well defined, but the animations are somewhat awkward. Whether your gladiator is running or jumping, his movements appear jerky and simply don’t flow smoothly with his normal positions. The most appealing factor in this game is obviously the gore, and you shouldn’t expect to be short changed in that department. Gladiators do receive noticeable wounds in the places they’re struck, and you can expect a decent amount of blood to spew from them. The finishing stabs could perhaps be a touch gorier—to coax a little vomit from the more weak-hearted gamers—but the general violence level is still more than adequate for anyone who craves it. Aside from some minor flaws, the overall gladiatorial experience is sure to be a memorable one.

Like the graphics, the audio is also sufficient for the average gamer, but there are certain dramatic effects that are desperately lacking. The clashing of various melee weapons is in evidence, but the emergent power struggles between gladiators is often extremely corny. Many of the groans are often repeated, and are not particularly convincing either, and the pre-battle trash talk could have benefited from more development attention. However, these minute quibbles go relatively unnoticed during battle. Between the atmospheric chanting of the crowd and the rhythmic beating of war drums, it is very easy to believe that you are right there on the battlefield.

A separate Arena mode allows you to create custom single-player or two-player battles, which further extends the bloodbath possibilities. Choosing from the same game modes found in the single-player campaign, you and a buddy can team up against a seemingly endless wave of enemies, several bulls, tigers, and elephants, and even duel against each other! The camera angles can get a little jumpy from time to time, and there is nothing especially innovative for you and a friend to try out, but the two-player mode is still well worth playing.

In conclusion, Colosseum: Road to Freedom is an inspiring action title that will captivate you through its dramatic storyline and leave you striving on a quest for freedom. Straying from the overly repetitive complexion that most button mashers possess, there is enough variety here to lure you deeper and deeper into the game. While there is certainly room for improvement through flaws such as weak A.I., jerky animation, and sporadically generic sound, Colosseum: Road to Freedom is still definitely worthy of your time.