The high drama and theatrical violence of gladiatorial combat seems like the perfect setting for a video game. It worked for Capcom and the recent Shadow of Rome, and now Koei is stepping into the arena with Colosseum: Road to Freedom. Developed by Ertain, Colosseum is an action role-playing game that lets you lead the life of a slave who is forced to become a gladiator in order to slice, skewer, and bludgeon his way to freedom. Unfortunately, being a slave in ancient Rome isn't as fun as you might think, at least not in this game. Colosseum has a few fun moments, but they're mired in dull hack-and-slash gameplay that isn't compelling or rewarding enough to make the game worth playing.
Colosseum: Road to Freedom puts you in the role of a slave who must become a gladiator to earn money to buy his freedom.
In Colosseum: Road to Freedom, you begin by answering a few questions about where you're from, which god you worship, and what path you want to take. Based on your answers, you'll get one of three character models that you'll then take from slavery to freedom by fighting men and beasts in the blood sport that is the ancient Roman pastime. Early in the game, you're sold to a man named Magerius, who tells you that if you can match the price he paid for you, he'll let you go free. Magerius basically runs a gladiator training camp, which is where you'll stay during the game. Each day, you're required either to go to one of the arenas to engage in combat or to complete various training exercises to boost your stats. The story progresses as you see fit. You can choose not to fight at all, but you can't earn any money that way and thus can never earn your freedom. If you don't pay off your debt to Magerius within 50 days, you're forced into an impossible battle, which is basically a not-so-subtle way of telling you that you aren't cutting it as a gladiator and it's time to start over. It's frustrating since it takes a good eight hours to get to that point.
To earn money to pay off your debt, you can compete in various events that are held at one of two arenas. Each day there are six events to choose from, each with different rules, difficulty, and rewards. If you choose to do the sixth event first, you can't go back and do the previous five that day, so the best way to make money is to start at the beginning and work your way down the list. This is more difficult since you'll take damage during the battles, and healing between battles can get quite expensive. Also, if you lose a battle you have to pay half of your funds to be resurrected. You can quit anytime, but if you skip a lot of events you'll be missing out on some much-needed money. The easiest way to make sure you pay off your debt before your 50 days are up is to participate in every event, but you have to choose your battles wisely since you aren't always strong enough to survive each event, and losing is expensive.
There are tons of cool-looking helmets in this game, some of which look like they could have been pulled from Dark Helmet's dressing room on the set of Spaceballs.
There are several types of events to compete in, and each event is ranked depending on how tough the competitors are. The battle types range from last man standing and team matches, to mock battles and hunting events where you have to fight tigers and bulls. While the rules and objectives are quite different between the different types of events, most of the battles feel pretty much the same since you're just hacking and slashing your way through dozens of generic clones on the same two battlefields. Yes, there are only two battlefields in the game, and they aren't much more than empty space. There are a couple of environmental hazards in the arenas, like spiked poles and spinning blades that pop up out of the ground. These are easy to avoid, but the computer-controlled characters don't seem to recognize the hazards. It's easy to stand on the opposite side of a spinning blade from your opponent and watch him walk right into it over and over until he eventually dies from his own stupidity.
Colosseum tries to get fancy with a unique control system, but in the end it just degenerates into mindless button mashing anyway. The four face buttons are used to designate parts of the body, both when attacking and when managing items. For example, by pressing triangle you'll do an overhead chop that will brain your enemy, or you can hit X to try to cut your enemy's legs out from under him. If you hold L1 and press triangle, you'll throw your helmet, and if you hold L1 and hit circle, you'll throw the weapon in your right hand. Not only does this give you a ranged attack, but it also lets you pick up new helmets, shields, and weapons that enemies drop during battle.