|System: PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: World Forge||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: DreamCatcher Interactive||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: May 1, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-8 (LAN)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
Units constructed in the barracks will specialize in melee attacks, while units from the training camp will primarily use missile weapons. You can assign a secondary attack, but each unit will do more damage with its primary combat method. The downside of dual attack units is you'll have to manually switch between melee or missile attacks on the field. Mounted units can also be created; you'll have to create horses and then select a separate warrior unit to jump on. If a horse becomes riderless, assuming it survives the battle, you can have another unit jump on. Siege weapons, healers, and other special units round out the basic warrior variations that'll make up the bulk of your force. The ability to construct traps for opponents is another cool feature that will factor into your strategy.
The level of freedom players are afforded in creating their massive legions is impressive, but how their armies perform on the battlefield is quite the opposite. Horrendous pathfinding will have your forces marching in completely unexpected directions to get from point A to B, and their occasionally moronic A.I. severely hampers their effectiveness in any dire situation. Even the most structured battle plans will quickly fall apart in the midst of a bloody clash. There's nothing like having your troops randomly break off from the main force to pursue passing foes in the distance only to run right by the ones that are causing immediate harm. Other times they'll simply just frantically run back and forth not attacking much of anything. Attempting to circumvent heavily fortified enemy encampments, particularly in earlier levels when powerful siege equipment is not readily available, is also extremely frustrating. It's a serious blow, considering the game is so squarely rooted in raw combat. Sea combat is even more atrocious; it's best avoided altogether when not required for completion of a mission.
Resource management is pretty standard; you'll have to gather gold, wood, and food - all of which are essentially in near-endless supply - to fuel expansion of your armies. In a subtle twist, units will slowly lose health due to starvation when food is scarce. This isn't an issue most of the time, and the health of wounded allies will slowly regenerate when there's food aplenty. Food and wood harvesting works well enough, but a production-crippling issue with the gold mine arose several times in different missions that ground the Spartan war machine to a halt. There are times when all your slaves will simply stop mining gold and congregate outside the mine for no apparent reason. Since the infinite gold situation guarantees you won't be paying very close attention to the gold mine for most of the game, the only indication something is amiss comes when you actually almost run out of gold completely. This can pose a serious problem when trying to rapidly re-stock your army before or after battle. Getting gold production to resume is a matter of manually selecting individual slaves and moving them out of the group before re-assigning them to the mine one at a time. It's unnecessary and tedious.
Despite its gameplay issues, The Spartans is a slick-looking title. The overall level of polish that went into creating the environments, buildings, and units is clearly apparent, and the many small details add up. From the chaos on the battlefield to the animations of warriors training and researching in the buildings, the graphics are strong. You can zoom in closely to view the bloodshed of battle if you choose, but the camera angles are a bit awkward. Also, a little too much of the visual real estate is taken up with menus and sidebars. Otherwise, the game excels in the visual department.
The Spartans has some of the makings of a winner, but it suffers from just a few too many of the familiar old pitfalls in the gameplay department - and some new ones. If the same level of polish afforded to the visual areas of the game was put into the play mechanics, World Forge could have had a strong RTS game on their hands. Instead they delivered a mediocre experience with a few good ideas that's ultimately bogged down by a mess of technical issues.
CCC Staff Contributor