Unless you're in possession of an Xbox 360—a near-impossible task thanks to Microsoft's grand vision of a "global launch"—January is a month of suckage for video games. Quality releases are few and far between, and the store shelves, bursting with promise before the holidays, are little more than graveyards for misguided games quietly dumped to avoid unwanted attention.
With such a paucity of quality at the local retailer, desperate measures are often taken, with games previously shunned being given a chance to spin in a console just so the gamer can have something, anything, new to play. EnterSpartan: Total Warrior, a game kept at arm's reach by yours truly for months, until a recent trip to EB Games produced panic and, in hindsight, a rash purchase.
In the oversaturated world of hackery and slashery, Spartan: Total Warrior has the dubious honor of inspiring not just a quickened pulse and cramped fingers (standard-issue badges of honor for the genre), but outright rage in the player. While the promise of slicing through legions of Roman soldiers is a good one, Spartan's execution is little more than an exercise in futility, as the game's difficulty level has been cranked up to an insane degree. Like most hack/slash affairs, the game lives and breathes carnage, and the sheer amount of soldiers the game's developer, Creative Assembly, has managed to cram into the battles is absolutely impressive. But as pretty as the game is, the trial and error involved—especially the amount of error—quickly renders the game a disaster of programming. Turning hundreds of Roman soldiers into cold cuts is indisputable fun. Dying over and over—and over—again because the game's autosave feature has left you with almost no health just as you're about to enter a battle is not.
This rather colossal shortcoming wouldn't sting quite as much if the game's combat—all that hack and slash—wasn't so uninspired and repetitive, making much of Spartan nothing but a mind-numbing button mash. A typical mission breaks down like this: Go where you're told, make with the butchering, die three or four times, make with some more butchering, then move on to the next stage. The game's story is little more than a rusty hanger upon which to drape all the bloodshed, and the meager morsels of interest it coughs up do little to keep the player engaged. Spartan delivers epic battles and epic frustration, but little else, and those itching to massacre during ancient times would be better served by picking up Sony's God of War instead. Now that's a great game.