With the PlayStation Vita well and truly on it’s way, it could be easy to suggest the original PlayStation Portable (PSP) console is now official past it’s prime. Any software released from this point on is likely to be considered one of two things by the gaming community in future: one of the late underappreciated highlights of the console’s software library, or a throwaway budget title trying to make a quick buck in an open market. The truth is nothing’s so black-and-white of course, and with PQube’s latest release, that most certainly is the case.
Gladiator Begins casts the player not immediately as a Gladiator as you would expect, but as Gladiator-fodder. After creating your avatar from a swift and fairly impressively detailed design process, the player begins a basic series of combat training lessons before being thrown headfirst into an arena battle with four other combatants. You’re the warm-up act, purchased by your master as an investment: if you win you might begin to climb the ranks and increase in value, and if you lose there’s always hope that it was at the hand of one of his many other combatants.
As you work your way up the ranks, taking on new contests as the calendar creeps forward, you will be able to unlock new abilities and earn new armaments and weaponry. The finance a player earns after each battle is tightly contested, with the need to heal any wounds costing a pretty penny. There’s always something worth investing in, and therefore something worth fighting for.
The campaign takes players on a prescribed route across a map, into new arenas and participating in new battles. The battles themselves range from all-out mayhem with multiple fighters to one-on-one bouts, to fights against tigers and champions. There are many different rulesets for the fights, and players will undoubtedly develop a favourite set-up quickly.
The combat system itself is impressively designed. Each of the face buttons controls a different type of attack (left hand, righting hand, high blow and low blow) which is prescribed by the four available combat styles. Depending on which equipment players arm themselves with their repertoire of attacks will differ, and the skill which a player selects. It’s a system that is easy to get to grips with, yet is constantly refreshed as the player progresses, unlocking new skills and weaponry.
Gladiator Begins is a very technically accomplished game, with some of the swiftest loading times the PSP has ever offered – and that’s before using the built-in installation option. The graphics are also of top-tier quality, superior to anything the PlayStation 2 could’ve delivered and giving the Xbox and GameCube a run for their money. The animation is also well presented and the sound quality, though a little short on voice acting, is also commendable.
Gladiator Begins isn’t exactly a revolutionary PSP title, set to break the foundations of all that you know about the system. However, it is a very enjoyable arena-based brawler, and one that is clearly making fantastic use of the hardware at its disposal. Gladiator Begins is being offered at a welcoming price and with the promise of free downloadable content (DLC), it’s certainly a title that deserves to be considered for that final purchase on an outdated system.