High Voltage's Gladiator A.D. First Impressions

The Conduit developer High Voltage is bringing the original arena sport to the Wii with Gladiator A.D., part fighting game, part roleplaying game.

At first glance, Gladiator A.D. looks like a rather simplistic sort of fighting game. Players take on the roles of warriors of the ancient world, driving sword against shield and spear against bone in a variety of combat arenas, but High Voltage assures us that it's much more than that. It's also a roleplaying game, complete with quests, statistics, equipment, and a morality system that makes it equal parts historical fantasy fighter and epic adventure.

Let's focus first on what was actually presented to me before we move on to what I did not. What I saw was two gladiators fighting in an arena. Each had a health bar and a stamina bar, with the latter draining constantly as moves were made by High Voltage art director Matt Corso using the nunchuck and Wii remote. Honestly the fighting seemed a bit clunky or unwieldy, though Corso did mention that Wii Motion Plus support would be included in the final version. The stamina bar also dropped way too fast during battle, which is something the developer will be tweaking over time.

Once the battle was over, the camera pans to a placeholder emperor, who either gives his thumbs up or thumbs down. Either reaction will allow you to carry out a bloody and brutal execution - we're talking limbs tearing off here - but going against the Emperor's will will draw the ire of the crowd, which plays into the whole morality system in Gladiator A.D.

Curry the favor of the crowd and they will love you, showering you with gifts and items to aid you in battle, such as life-giving food. Alternatively you can play the bad boy, but High Voltage wasn't quite clear on what would happen if you did.

There's a lot of vagueness surrounding Gladiator A.D., which comes as no surprise with the title at such an early state of development. As it stands, it's looking like at least nine playable characters, all with intertwined stories, a few more unlockables, and a bunch of arenas to fight in. When I asked about online play, I was told that there were no concrete plans, but High Voltage is always looking to take full advantage of the Wii's online capabilities.

From a graphical standpoint the game seems promising, with rugged-looking gladiators and nice details in the various arenas, including alcoves from which I'm told ferocious animals will spring forth, indicating that there is perhaps more to the combat than meets the eye, just as there is more to the game itself.

The single player experience in Gladiator A.D. is a roleplaying adventure. You start off as a captured slave who must work his way up to becoming the most popular gladiator in the known world, earning your freedom in the process. It's an age-old tale, and one that's been touched on in video games time and time again. There will be leveling, side quests, and moral choices, which all sound great on paper, but it remains to be seen what High Voltage actually brings to the table. Until we see more, Gladiator A.D. is a clunky-looking fighter with some grand ideas.