Spartan

good
key review info
  • Game: Spartan
  • Platform: PC
  • Gamepad support: N/a
  • Reviewed on:
  • Written by: Ioan Sambeteanu
  • Show system requirements

Looking at the game's cover, you'll probably ask yourself where is the Total War suffix behind that dude's head? There is none and there'll never be one, as Slitherine does not deal with messy things as Slitherine does not deal with messy things the Creative Assembly way (roman horses trampling barbarians and all).

Indeed, a superficial look into Slitherine's portfolio will surely reveal a number of game titles with sizeable affinity for the Total War genre. Please do notice that I've used the magic "superficial". While ten years ago game cloning was at its peak, today such a thing barely exists anymore, and not because people became original overnight. But since there are so many ideas circling around the game industry, it has become increasingly hard and expensive to try and pretend that you are committed to such nonsense as originality. As If the Total War game designed has emerged from pure originality in the first placeÂ…

In other news, the Spartan thingy is also incredibly misleading for those unfamiliar with Slitherine's games. This studio has two virtues: 1) assimilates good ideas from others and gives them their own shape in the most "system requirements free" way imaginable and 2) unrelentingly improves on them. And to tend to the matter at hand, for those of you who did not embrace and endure game designs like (long list follows): Warlords, Deadlock, Master of Orion, Galactic Civilizations or Alpha Centaury, I do not see how in the world are you going to enjoy Spartan. But well, it never knows!

Absolutely untrue to its name: Spartan (meaning tough as stone, blood thirsty, brave, war-addict and you may keep up with writing down your own list in utter accordance with your stereotypes if you like because I am already fresh out of ideas) is of the most pacifist strategy games ever. I guess it may compete with Lego games, but no, I am mistaken! There were moments when some CGI plastic pieces ended up with some cracks and such.

Concept

Anyway, the whole non-violent scheme may reside in Trojan envy. I really do not know - it is just my wild guess. I was that close into believing they were trying to mock the Spartans by making video games with them in friendly postures (like the Peace Sign, Smiley or "Have a Nice Day!" motto), when I realized that it is more plausible to take into consideration that this is a turn-based historical simulation game with focus on a strategic level of gameplay rather than the gory "tactical" clash, best-selling poop. So no Spartan spirit for you, you pervert! If you want to see how steel (I mean bronze) meets flesh in the most entertaining of blood fountains, go play chess or something!

Spartan is targeted to a specific segment of gamers - those hardcore old timers that witnessed the whole bunch of wannaby strategy games but do not have the patience to try them as they once did but stick with the good old stuff (in the sense full of great features and horrid finish). If you do not find yourself in this definition, it is pretty ok to consider Spartan as being a second-hand, biased and peculiar piece of work. But feel free to show the same gratitude towards every piece of console game, since they don't stray too far from this - ultimately -complete definition of what's wrong with game industry these days. Spartan may not have the looks, but at least it isn't brain-dead.

Although absolutely kinky based on its defiant, 20th century game approach, I ended up by concluding it was an enjoyable TBS. And I don't mean 'enjoyable' in some kind of self-aware, so-bad-it's-good way. I mean I really "censored word" enjoyed it. I enjoyed it so much that I'm playing it right now instead of writing the review.

Gameplay

First and foremost, I should note that - if it does - the way that Spartan ensnares its players (and in some sense, that's about it all) is through its familiar game mechanics and, of course, this depends on the player's gaming culture. Granted the player has gone through the Master of Orion 2 hysteria, Spartan is - in trivial terms - something similar but with 20th Century BC Hellenistic dwellings and dwellers.

Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine how does Spartan address the Greek/Roman/Persian/Thracian/[add tribe here] conflict, if any. It has the same risk-like TBS feature setting, yet in a slightly different mix and functionality.

So, in order of appearance, there is the common eagle-eye view from where you can try and take over the world through some serious logistic maneuvers with your bearded warriors in skimpy woolen togas, or something like it.

Secondly, there is the settlement management window. A settlement is the core of both your economy and enlistment. In addition, a settlement provides your seat of power (never stated in the game) with vital assets. Without a special set of special structures, both diplomatic activity and research is seriously capped to the basics.

To work well, a settlement needs population. To grow, you need to keep your subjects happy and provide them with the auxiliaries they require. The space for buildings is limited though, and directly proportional to the size of the dwelling.

Doesn't it sound familiar already? Well, the same goes with the research feature. You need a hefty number of structures and men (employed there) to keep a decent pace to your research speed. Or else!

Although downright basic, a useful option is the trading system. It works similarly to games like Cossacks or Age of Empires. The main currency is silver. Using the "market-place" you may sell and buy wares at a variable trade rate. In a way it looks a bit like cheating, as it helps a lot in the first stages of the game, when vital resources (like food) are very hard to provide.

The last two all-known and "highly regarded" features consist in the combat and diplomatic system. Combat is tricky. It may look like your average Total War game, but it is far from it. In fact it is rather related to Deadlock but with a pinch of roughly defined issues (out-flank, encircle, charge, and so on). The battles usually go like this: you arrange your troops, issue some commands at random and pray your ranged units won't do anything stupid again. Otherwise, auto-resolve works rather well in the sense that better is many and many is better. Although it sounds far from hot, the whole plot can inflict serious strategic thinking to you central nervous system. Military forces have outrageous food upkeep, and once your granaries have gone dry, you may consider a "Heil!" and dismiss the whole lot. Otherwise, a few clicks on the end turn button will make a short work of your grand cities and pesky troops (you can call it "constant food-penalty damage").

Diplomacy has some few tricks of its own. Unlike what you've seen before, in Spartan you need both men (diplomats) and structures (embassies) to get into the foreign affairs thingy. Otherwise, if not boiled, hanged, shot or smashed by a Buick, the diplomat needs a set amount of silver for every duty he has to undertake, and an embassy to widen his operative range. Depending on its importance, every diplomatic mission has a risk factorÂ… which may, sometimes, get the better of your diplomats. Unfortunately, without the expansion pack, more war-like diplomatic activities like: alliance proposals, declarations of war, or vassal relationships are just empty words or - better said - in the scientific research phase.

That said and a series of intriguing "historical event-cherries" should be enough for you to decide whether Spartan is worthy or not of your attention. Hard to say if they are for real or not: a dozen times the Greeks have been warned by the Persian invasion and nothing happened, the same with Thracians, and nada.

Maybe I should have played the game for longer, as in one hundred more turns. This should be the equivalent of 1 minute in real-world time if skipping anything else but the "end turn" button. I was caught with my pants down realizing that playing the largest map, the game needed just under a second to calculate the moves of my opponents (dozens of them).

Video/Sound

The GUI works rather niftily for the macro management; however, as it is the case with Civilization or Total War games, once your lands start growing, accessing every settlement/province/whatever becomes increasingly difficult and time consuming. This makes scrolling between town panels next to madness. If done by the book, a simple mathematical equation reveals that one turn with - let's say 30 provinces in care - takes up to one hour or so to keep a close eye and good grip over them.

And since there are no suggestive symbols to float above a unit or settlement, a player - if he does give a worm-ridden hyena skin about it - has to enter every darn city to ask people about how's hanging and do what's necessary to keeps things bangingÂ…

To encapsulate it in one breath: the graphics are pretty Spartan from one end to another. If you want to get some eye sweetness, buy a movie or look outside of your window, if any (you'll get something better than even the latest pixel shader). Anyway, even for someone who really appreciates a low level of distracting factors (like rich graphics) would be surprised by the barren world of Spartan. Using a letter instead of a building or a unit would have been just as fineÂ… but well, to be honest, I said this because I care too much about others' opinions. As long as the game does its job fairly well, all is dandy - I've just ditched the graphics pretences. Hooray!

As aforementioned, I hold nothing against modest graphics and all (I'll never quit playing Deadlock or Warlords), but I tend to get berserk when retro midi is consciously applied to my game-battered, fragile ear (too much has she received throughout the yearsÂ… the pain, the horror!).

As any respectable strategy gamer (remember Heroes - even the midi from the second title -, Total War, Master of Orion, Civ), I want my ear rocked both hard and subtle, and not with the lowest of all fi(delity) midi-s with unintelligible, randomly spawned (at times) sound scores. Although the scores themselves aren't overall bad, their finish is so sharp, it shredded brains as if they were made of butter.. I would have content with the Spartan hymn or something, or Shostakovich's "Symphony no. 5". The in-game sound is rubbish, plain and Spartan.

I find this outrageously lazy! Slitherine have shown that they are an able gang with their Legion Arena (especially in the concept art field).

A plausible excuse may be their wish to keep the Chariots of War feeling alive. One will never knowÂ…

Multiplayer

With an AI that asks you nicely to allow it to scratch your back with its petty forces, such an option is most welcome. Not that I am one of those who enjoy aggressive artificial opponents, but some human aggressiveness has always touched a soft spot in my heartÂ… just to see one ruining your hard-built empire - it is incredibly rewarding to see everything turned into rubble.

Only LAN and Gamespy Network are available for multiplayer "kicks in the nuts" PvP-s. Yeah, no hot-seat there - thanks to the real time awkward battles, I guess.

Conclusion

If, and only if you are the right person, Spartan will put some serious pepper on your gaming agenda. However, its lack of originality in design and some ill-conceived features of its gameplay will probably prevent it from gaining that aura of "glittering prizes" that some of our beloved TBS-s (already mentioned) managed to draw in the most egotistical manner imaginable. The multiplayer feature will surely appeal you enough to keep you clean from the golden oldies. However, I won't bet too much on it. We all know how cranky can some of us get as soon as we find something unbearable in the game. And, I won't swear on my scout's honor that Spartan is annoyance free.

With some patience and the "Gates of Troy" expansion pack, you will forget (or never remember) that besides Spartans or Thracians (that replace the sci-fi/dungeons and dragons stuff) and the intriguing diplomatic system plus an unexpected (though superficial) historical accuracy, the rest of the game is pretty much a deja vu.


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story 0
gameplay 9
concept 7
graphics 6
audio 5
multiplayer 8
final rating 7.9
Editor's review
good
 

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