After the release of the box office success “Gladiator” in 2000, ancient Rome became a breeding ground for video games. Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance was developed by Acclaim Studios Manchester and published by Acclaim Entertainment in 2003 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. The game itself is rarely talked about and I personally had never heard of it before randomly buying it at a used video game store. If you love the God of War series, you’ll love this game and I was shocked as I played it to find how similar the gameplay is between the two. So does Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance score as high as my God of War reviews?
The game is set in ancient Rome after the mysterious death of Emperor Trajan. With his death, the morals of the empire have ceased to exist. Now, a man named Arruntius has taken control of Rome as its new Emperor. In the previous Roman Empire, the Colosseum was used for honor but under Arruntius’ rule, the Colosseum is now a playground where he directs the battles as gladiators fight to their death for his enjoyment.
One gladiator named Invictus Thrax is a former champion of the Colosseum and is called back to entertain Arruntius. He defeats waves of other gladiators much to the delight of Arruntius but when his fight is over he defies Arruntius which enrages him. Thrax is killed by an unknown enemy and is sent to the afterlife. This afterlife resembles almost exactly the grassy fields in the movie “Gladiator”. Thrax walks the fields until he is met by Romulus and Remus who are children spirits masked by the comedic mask and the crying mask. (I’m sure you can picture what those masks look like)
They reveal to him that Arruntius killed the former Emperor by using dark magic and that it is up to Thrax to exact revenge for the Empire. Thrax travels through the afterlife facing undead, skeletons, and monsters as he obtains new weapons and powers that will help defeat Arruntius. During his journey, Thrax encounters Phobos the God of Fear, and Deimos the God of Terror who are helping Arruntius. Thrax defeats each of them twice before returning to Romulus and Remus proving that he is ready to face Arruntius.
Thrax returns to life in the Colosseum and confronts Arruntius again where he summons Phobos and Deimos again. Together they battle Thrax but he defeats them before throwing his sword into Arruntius, killing him. Remus and Romulus grant Thrax his freedom but inform him that they will call upon him again to do their bidding for future battles. Thrax declines and takes off his helmet before walking out of the Colesseum and starting his new life as a free man.
Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance is a hack-n-slash adventure game with plenty of gore. When I first played this I thought that the developers ripped of God of War in the gameplay and style as it’s very similar. Except, God of War would come out two years later in 2005! If anything, God of War takes from Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance with the style, direction, and atmosphere from a game that almost no one has heard of.
Gore is the central part of the game and it shows right away with the detailed blood splatter on the sand. It’s aesthetically pleasing and realistic to cut into an enemy and watch their blood turn dribble on the sand. Aside from the hack-n-slash to enemies, there’s an execution button for special enemies that are considered to be higher class. When their health bar turns red you can push a button to watch a quick death scene where Thrax will decapitate them or cut off various body parts. The execution scenes remind me of “fatalities” in Mortal Kombat. The game advertises over 60 executions but I probably only saw about 20.
Combat is fairly easy. There are two different attacks with a quick slash and a powerful thrust and the game encourages you to switch up your attacks to build combos. I mainly just mashed the quick attack button but when enemies block your attack you’ll need to back off and switch up your attack. Each enemy you kill will grant you a bonus usually in the form of speed. You’ll face up to 15 enemies at once so you start to chain your kills together and become a blur on the screen as you move from each enemy slashing the life out of them. It’s a cool feeling when you are in the “zone” to see Thrax all over the screen wiping out an entire wave of skeletons or demons. One thing that is missing from the game is a block button. Some enemies have very powerful attacks but all you can do is roll away. A block button would have come in handy many times especially since enemies can block you, and I thought this was a missed element in the game that the developers should have incorporated.
Thrax can be powered up through various mini-games as he explores the afterlife. Each game will consist of a time limit and goal of killing a certain number of enemies on screen before time runs out. If successful, Thrax can earn an extra slot of health, magic, better weapon, or higher combo count. Speaking of magic, Thrax can unleash three different types of magic through his weapons including a fury burst, ghost warriors, and an explosive hit. Fury burst was by far the most useful and I used it throughout the entire game. Thrax also has his choice of three different weapons, a sword, a huge ax, and blades that go up his forearms. The sword was the most balanced and I stuck with that throughout my playthrough.
Boss fights only happen a few times through the game but are fun to encounter. Both Phobos and Deimos were likable characters and a rivalry was built between Thrax and them as you fight each of them three times throughout the game. The fights weren’t difficult but required more than just slashing.
During fights, there will be an automatic lock on an enemy which at first I thought was useful but the more you advanced with enemies, it became cumbersome and resulted in me dying numerous times. There were enemies that I wanted to slash at but because the lock was on someone else I would miss them completely leaving myself open to an attack. You can hit a button to unlock a target but as soon as you swing your blade it will lock back on to the closest enemy which was very frustrating.
For a game from 2003, I thought the graphics and presentation were above average. The textures looked nice and the soundtrack was appropriate. I’m just blown away that this game isn’t talked about more as it qualifies as a huge hidden gem for the PS2 and Xbox library. As the credits rolled I couldn’t help but watch them as they included “bloopers” from the characters in the game. One of these bloopers had a gladiator try out section where they would perform in front of Arruntius for the lead role in the game. A girl walks in and sticks a pitchfork like weapon in the ground and starts dancing around it like a stripper, she even humps it! This made me laugh as I wasn’t expecting it but even better, Thrax comes in for his try out and grabs the woman by the neck and chokeslams her into the tips of the pole impaling her body. I couldn’t believe it! It definitely had me laughing but I’m sure by today’s standards everyone would throw a fit about it.
I randomly picked up this game when I went to disc traders as I mistook it for another gladiator game from my childhood. Turns out that game was called “Gladius” but to my delight, this game was excellent only problem was that my Xbox had issues running the game. I took the game back to have it looked at and they cleaned it twice through their machine wiping away any scratches.
Unfortunately, my Xbox still had issues with it but luckily I still had my wife’s Xbox so I plugged that in and had no issues throughout the entire game.
Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance is the ghost of God of War. I cannot believe how similar this plays to the original God of War. It may be a bit rough around the edges but for the most part Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance is a must-play if you have a PS2 or Xbox. The combat is excellent and the exploration of the afterlife feels like a real adventure as you upgrade your powers, weapons, and defeat various enemies. This game is truly a hidden gem that I urge you to play if you can find it.
Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance scores a 9 out of 10.
Do you remember when Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance first came out? Have you ever heard of this game before? What other God of War like games are there, especially ones that came before the franchise? What was your favorite weapon to use as Thrax? Let me know your memories and thoughts, I’d love to read the comments.
If you’d like to own a copy of Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance, you can purchase a used copy of it for the Xbox from eBay for $7.