'Are you not entertained?!' I scream as my gladiator valiantly fights for his life on the brutal, blood-drenched sands of the arena floor. As I watch the health and stamina of each combatant tick down, it slowly dawns on me that I'd forgotten to hand poor old Lupus a weapon as I pushed him through the arena gates. Erm, sorry pal.
A crueller critic would suggest this is due to a certain lack of tutorials and general help in Creative Storm Entertainment's Age of Gladiators, rather than my own unobservant stupidity. It was most certainly the latter in this instance, and yet as I'm playing I get the feeling that I don't have much of a clue what I'm doing. There are a whole host of things to do, and not much explanation of the whys and wherefores.
Frankly, that's not a bad thing at all. The amount of content in this little gladiator-managing sim where, much like in similar sports-related ones, you control the financial assets of your team rather than blow for blow arena combat, is impressive. You can find talent scouts, pick and train gladiators, hire doctors and blacksmiths, engage in shady deals with other gladiator bosses, place bets on matches; the list goes on. The lack of hand-holding for this much content is remarkably refreshing.
|Much like Crassus, I might be slightly overconfident here...|
The level of detail is also fantastic, proving that you need depth as well as breadth for a kickass sim. Gladiators have their own unique stats and weapon specialities, and if they survive can be trained for even more. I love renaming things to suit my own diabolical needs, and Age of Gladiators allowed me to indulge my (not so) hidden Gladiator film fantasies, styling myself as the irascible Proximo. It's these tiny delicacies that foster a deeper connection to the walking body bags you send to their imminent deaths, and possibly why my failure to equip Lupus adequately was galling. Incidentally, it turned out he was a baker in a former life, so it may not have helped much anyway.
|The sad outcome of unarmed man versus lion.|
The game looks gorgeous, with a slightly retro vibe to it. The gladiators themselves are a randomly assigned character portrait, each one looking ready to bring the pain and take out the trash. Sure, it's not like there's any animation in the offing, with each fight being a series of dice rolls next to gladiator portraits, but you can't have everything. After all, this is a management sim at the end of the day.
|Just my luck for Lupus to be taken ill on his first day.|
These sorts of games admittedly aren't for everyone; this ain't no mollycoddling, here-is-your-next-objective kinda rubbish. You need to pay attention to survive, but it is definitely worth it. Plus, y'know, it's gladiators! What's not to love?
The verdict: If you like the sound of a game similar to Football Manager with more gladiatorial violence, great artwork and forcing slaves to fight lions then look no further than Age of Gladiators. Et tu, Brute.