Spartacus Legends is an upcoming one-on-one fighting game based on the popular TV series starring Liam McIntyre. It's also one of the first free-to-play titles to release on Xbox Live Arcade and PSN, making it an intriguing and attractive prospect for more than just fans of the show.
Drawing on the violence and brutality of its on-screen counterpart, not to mention the nudity, Spartacus Legends resembles Mortal Kombat at first glance. However, the brawler is also backed up by a gladiatorial management system, which enables users to handle every aspect of their fighter's career.
We got some hands-on time with the upcoming beat-em-up ahead of next year's release and were pleasantly surprised by what we witnessed.
Gods of the Arena
Spartacus Legends allows users to create a warrior from scratch, equipping the bloodthirsty brute with all manner of swords, spikes, shields and helmets. Weapons and items have different effects, opening up a variety of unique moves and combos depending on the equipment.
Decorate your warrior with a sword and shield, for example, and you can ram opponents backwards, or hoist your enemy over the shoulder and onto the ground. Alternatively, you can go ultra-aggressive with two swords, resulting in speedier and slightly more deadly combos.
The control system is easy to grasp, with dodges and blocks assigned to the trigger buttons, light and heavy attacks to the face buttons, as well as grab moves and kicks or rams depending on shields. It takes place in somewhat attractive 3D arenas, complete with crowds of peasants, nobles and half-naked women.
The action itself is fluid and fast-paced, not to mention extremely violent. Expect buckets of blood to stain the arena floors, as well as the fighters themselves. And while it's perhaps not quite as deep as something like Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Spartacus Legends is instantly playable and a lot of fun.
War of the Damned
In addition to the standard health bar, the battle screen also houses a stamina meter of sorts, which depletes the more your fighter blocks. This should stop fights becoming too cagey, something that is sure to entertain the watching crowd.
In fact, the crowd's satisfaction is an integral part of the battle system. Another bar - the fame bar - is present at the bottom of the screen, filling up the more your fighter postures, poses and pleases the fans. The fuller the bar, the more spectacular the finishing move, something Spartacus Legends certainly owes to Mortal Kombat.
Performed with the press of a button, the fatalities are spectacularly gruesome and silly, but enormously entertaining. One particularly nasty move, which can only be described as a Roman face transplant, involves cutting the face off a beaten opponent. Another sees the victor brutally stab his enemy between the whites of their eyes.
The Gold Standard
The microtransaction and gladiator management aspect of Spartacus Legends remains under wraps for the time being, but it's suggested that users won't necessarily need to spend a penny to get the most out of the game.
Instead, fighters earn silver and gold based on their performance out in the arena. Keep the crowd on the edge of their seats and baying for blood, and it's likely that you'll walk away with enough coin to pick up a weapon or two, as well as some sturdier armour.
The twist, of course, is that players can spend real money to purchase performance upgrades without racking up the hours in the ludus. Again, details are thin on the ground, and it's not clear exactly how strong the best weapons or pieces of armour will be, or whether online matchmaking will reflect any potential (inevitable) gulfs in class.
It's hard to gauge exactly how successful, or more to the point, profitable, Spartacus Legends will prove. We're certain, however, that it will have a fairly large attachment rate among fans of the show and the fighting genre.
As a free-to-play title, it's also likely to attract a fairly large audience from elsewhere, making Spartacus Legends an interesting proposition indeed. Whether they stay past the first bloody execution remains to be seen, but if all goes to plan, we could be looking at the future of the fighting genre.
Spartacus Legends is due to release in the early stages of 2013 alongside Spartacus: War of the Damned, which will premiere in January 2013.