Review: Deadliest Warrior: Ancient Combat

Platform: Xbox 360 (also on PS3)

Developer: Pipeworks

Publisher: 345 Games/Spike Games

# of Players: 1 – 2

ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

Official Site

Score: C (70%)

I’m feeling a bit psychic today, so I’ll read your mind for a minute. Ready? OK, You’re NOT buying Deadliest Warrior: Ancient Combat because you’re a massive fighting game fan looking for the next big combo-crazy arcade classic to wear out that $150 arcade stick you got last Xmas. You’re going to buy this game because you’re a big fan of (or new to and enjoy) the popular Spike TV series and always wanted to know who’d win in a virtual fight, Richard the Lionheart or Joan of Arc. While I won’t reveal the results of that particular battle from the show to those who don’t know, I will say that you probably might have guessed this isn’t your typical fighting game at all. Despite the practice mode, mild customization elements and copious amounts of blood spilled, it’s no Mortal Kombat by a long shot. In fact, the gameplay owes more to the Bushido Blade games in that matches can realistically be over in seconds if you or your opponent get in one or two critical hits, and even a suit of armor is worthless if you try to button bash your way to an easy victory.

This retail disc set for the 360 combines both Deadliest Warrior titles with the extra DLC on one disc, a new map and the aforementioned six episodes of the show on a separate DVD. The first game, Deadliest Warrior, features generic warrior classes such as Apache, Pirate, Ninja, Knight and so forth and so on, while the second game, Deadliest Warrior Legends, gives you the chance to play as some of the historical bruisers seen in action on the show.  Unless you’ve seen an episode or two, the idea of say, Shaka Zulu going up against William Wallace or Sun Tzu facing off against Vlad the Impaler is going to sound more amusing than serious. If you’ve seen the show, you know that some of the macho posturing the weapons experts they get can be unintentionally hilarious at times, especially when the experts get a wee bit too much into the ethnic rivalries thing and talk smack about another culture’s killing tools. There’s none of that in the game, thankfully, but you never want to underestimate the AI here, no matter what they’re equipped with.

As noted, merely going into a match slamming on the buttons will do little good unless you catch your opponent off guard with your crazy weapon flailing. While the game isn’t all that difficult once you understand how to play, there could have been a few more moves added to what’s here. Blocking and avoiding attacks, getting off a ranged attack then rushing in striking to cripple an arm or leg before going in for the kill is quite fun, but you’ll see the same finishing move for each character type in both games. Each fighter also has a ranged weapon that adds an interesting twist to the fighting, as some weapons take time to fire, making them intentionally terrible for most close in combat.

For the most part, the AI puts up a decent fight and again, if you go in careless, no matter what gear you have, you’ll be laid out in no time flat unless you’re good at picking up the controls. Hitting the practice ring for a bit and playing around with each character will show you who’s the most fun to use, but this is the sort of game that once you’re dialed in, you’ll want to play every character. Even so, the game isn’t incredibly long at all, but the price point is a good one for what you’re getting. Grab a friend, and that value increases, especially when you combine watching the six episodes with playing the game together.

Of the two games, DW: Legends is the more polished, featuring light customization elements, a more interesting lineup and even a basic strategy game mode that’s a bit simple, but not bad once you understand how it works. It would have been better has it allowed you to fight in the same type of small scale battles from the show’s later seasons, but I guess that would require developer Pipeworks to create an entirely new engine for that Dynasty Warriors-like action. Sounds and music are fine overall, with the music getting the edge over the voice work. Don’t expect any big name, big dollar voices coming from your TV and you’ll be fine.

Since the game is presented as two separate experiences, you can’t pit characters in each game against one another, and that’s too bad. Then again, generic Apache or Ninja versus Joan or Arc or Vlad the Impaler would be a bit weird to most players, I guess. Also, while you get a bunch of new character-specific weapons in DW: Legends, the game only allows you to use them offline against the CPU and not against other live players from what I’ve seen. Finally, the new Graveyard stage is nice, but it would have been nicer to see a few more areas to go at it in or even maps more directly based on those from the show. One note in case you’re wondering about that cover wording: PS3 owners get everything on a single Blu-Ray, but the Xbox 360 version is incorrectly labeled as a Hybrid Disc on the front of the package.

If there a major complaint here, it’s the fact that other than the Joan of Arc content, there are NO other female fighters represented in the game. Yeah, i get that the show (and Spike TV) are geared towards a certain demographic, but would it kill the game to either allow totally customizable fighters or perhaps have the makers scour the history books for other examples of women in ancient combat situations? A fictional Kunoichi to balance out the Ninja, maybe a female Pirate (of which there were a few actual ones) or other warrior to the sausage fest? It’s that sort of forward thinking I’d love to see in an even more polished follow up should this game do well enough at retail.

Overall, Deadliest Warrior: Ancient Combat is filled with some decent enough fan service that should make those of you who dig the show want to take a look at what’s here. This is especially true if you haven’t purchased the two games over Xbox Live (or PSN). At the end of the day, it’s not a great game, but it IS a great guilty pleasure. I’m just happy to see another game hit retail after being limited to a download-only purchase and yes, MORE publishers need to start getting DLC onto discs as budget-priced releases so that the rather huge and under-served crowd with unreliable to zero online service can spend some of their disposable income.

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