Review: Colosseum: Road to Freedom

Gladiators have been an object of intrigue for millennia. There is an allure in fighting to the death in front of an audience of thousands that today’s society loves. This is made apparent by the amount of games, books, and even an Academy Award winning movie, aptly named Gladiator, that allow us to experience what it must have been like to witness these great warriors battle one another. Koei’s latest title, Colosseum: Road to Freedom, is an attempt to cash in on this interest.
Colosseum is a story about a man sold into slavery and forced to fight in order to survive and eventually gain his freedom. The story begins with the main character arriving at his new home, a small and run-down gladiator school where he is forced to use his fighting instincts to endure. However, he does not stay here for long as after a few matches he is purchased by a roman slaver named Magerius who is interested in formally training him in the gladiator ways. On the way to the training camp, Magerius gives the man an ultimatum: if he can successfully repay his worth, Magerius will give back his freedom. Thus a reason for fighting has now been born.

This story would have been quite unique had it been the first time I was exposed to it. Unfortunately Colosseum borrows heavily from such classics as Sparticus and Gladiator, so much that I feel at times that I’m not playing a title that’s attempting to be different, but a low quality game version of these great films. Also, there is not much story beyond this short exchange in the beginning, making the rest of the game fairly predictable. There are a few times where the developers, Ertain, attempt to spice things up with some side characters, but overall the story doesn’t deviate much from the ground work laid down in the first ten minutes.

If we look past the story, we can see that Koei made a valiant attempt at creating an innovative title that just fell short in many areas. When beginning a new game, you are posed four questions: where are you from, what did you do, what path will you follow, and are you a believer in the gods. The answers to these questions determine what type of character you’ll play including his looks, fighting style, and the distribution of his attribute points. Upon concluding Magerius’ questions, you are then thrown into a few small practice bouts in the run-down school previously described. Here you must use the knowledge learned from the instruction book in order to survive these first few fights. However, once you’ve been purchased by Magerius you’ll be able to partake in a formal tutorial covering the four attacks you will use to defeat your foes: basic, power, jab and turn.

Basic attacks are executed simply by pressing any of the four right buttons. Whatever button you press determines where the attack will come from, for example pressing triangle will launch a high attack while hitting square allows you to backhand with your weapon. Holding the button down for an extended period of time causes you to launch a power attack, which results in more damage but leaves you exposed to enemy attacks. Quickly tapping a button and holding forward on the left analogue stick launches a quick jab, while pressing the control stick in a direction other than where you are facing causes you to attack while turning. Combining these attacks together allows you to launch into devastating combos that may mortally wound your opponents.

Although attacking is fairly easy, actually connecting with an opponent is the challenging part. When developing Colosseum, Ertain did not include a way to lock onto an opponent. Although this does allow for multiple foes to be damaged by a powerful, arching attack, it does make it difficult to focus your attack on any one foe that has a normal artificial intelligence. I found that my gladiator was able to do more damage to the area surrounding the opponent than the opponent himself. Finally, blocking and parrying attacks was somewhat complicated and I found it easier to simply avoid enemies by running around them and hitting them from behind rather than attempting a frontal assault and obstructing attacks with my shield.

In the chance that you are struck by an enemy blow, Colosseum has a unique heads up display for your current condition. The upper left corner of the screen displays your current stamina, adrenaline, and also contains a picture of an eagle that acts as a health meter. Stamina lowers the more you attack your opponents, and if it drains completely you’ll be forced to catch your breath. This will leave you wide open to attacks though, so try to take a breather if you notice a sharp decline in stamina.

Adrenaline is used to execute special attacks obtained by equipping the tablets dropped by slain foes. Your gladiator gains stamina by defeating multiple foes at a time, landing a series of combos, or by appealing to the crowd. The more adrenaline you’re able to obtain, the higher your popularity and the quicker you’ll ascend through the gladiator ranks.

Finally, the health meter is split up to reflect your four limbs, torso and head. As these parts of your body take damage, the different sections of the eagle turn red. You’ll need to keep an eye on the eagle however because if one part suffers too much damage and turns black, your gladiator is defeated.

On certain days of the week, you are taken to an arena and forced to compete. There are six types of battles you can enter, each having unique features that spice up your time spent there. Some of the more interesting battle scenarios are mock battles (where you fight others in mock ships and fortresses), hunting (which pits you against animals such as bulls or tigers), and duels where the loser’s fate is ultimately determined by the popularity of the battle. Other battle types include survival, team battle and battle royal.

Colosseum has a weapon system that is reminiscent to that of games such as Diablo or Baldur’s Gate where the names are color coded according to their rarity. Weapons may be purchased or upgraded in some of the arenas you fight, or retrieved from fallen adversaries. Tablets, used to give your gladiator special attributes, are dropped in the same manner. However, obtaining these dropped items is sometimes a problem because you must drop whatever weapons or shields you’re holding before picking up anything new. Since the time you have to retrieve items after a match is limited, it’s not uncommon to be forced out of the battlefield before obtaining the desired item. If this happens, the item that was dropped is lost forever.

Between arena events, your gladiator may train in order to improve his attributes. Training consists of various command-based or timing events where upgrade points are earned by how successful you are at the event. For example, in order to successfully execute a squat, you must press buttons as instructed by the computer. If you can imagine Dance Dance Revolution you’ll get a better understanding of what I’m referring to. Unfortunately you can only complete two training sessions in a day, which severely stifles the growth of your character in relation to the increase in difficulty of the arena matches.

The tablets that you pick up from defeated enemies can also be managed at the training grounds. These tablets are used to grant your gladiator special attacks as well as granting him passive abilities such as attribute boosts. For example, you may place a tablet to add a new attack to your triangle button or place a +2 strength tablet in a passive ability slot. Keep in mind that although special attacks will give your gladiator a competitive advantage, many special attacks will require an amount of adrenaline in order to execute.

Considering that there are so few environments within Colosseum, I was surprised at how average the graphics were. I figured that the quality of the visuals would improve since there were not that many environments, but unfortunately this was not the case. Besides the opening movie, most of the other cut scenes are done via the in-game graphics engine. Also the battles look very clunky at times and I got the impression that the developers were searching for more of a “hit the piñata blindfolded” rather than a “no-holds-barred fight to the death” look.

Sound wise, Colosseum is only mediocre. You can expect your standard grunts and fighting sounds that are a standard in this type of title. And although the in-game dialogue is well written, there are so few cut scenes that it doesn’t have much of an opportunity to shine through the abundance of average audio.

Other than its single player story, Colosseum does offer an “Arena mode” which allows you to create custom arena matches. You can determine the battle type, along with the difficulty of players and where the match will be located. The best thing about Arena mode is that you and a friend can both load gladiators and go up against the trials of the arena.

The Bottom Line
It’s apparent that Koei made a noble try at producing a unique fighting game with a splash of role playing added for flavor. However, parts of the game still seem a bit unfinished and there isn’t much content to keep you coming back for more. At times, battles can be very heated and entertaining, however losing all of your weapons when attempting to obtain a better one negates that ten fold. Colosseum: Road to Freedom is a good title to rent for a few days and stay in doors during these hot summer months. Although monotonous at times, it’s perfect if you’re looking for a game to satiate your carnal fighting instincts. Plus, it always feels good to execute a gladiator that wasn’t smart enough to turn when you ran behind him to club the back of his head.

About the Author

Having over 25 years of gaming experience, Zach knows a thing or two when it comes to one of his favorite entertainment activities. Additionally, he has also written many articles previewing and reviewing titles which can be found in various places around the net, including VGBlogger.com.