Game Over Online ~ Coliseum

GameOver Game Reviews - Coliseum (c) Shrapnel Games, Reviewed by - Steven 'Westlake' Carter

Game & Publisher Coliseum (c) Shrapnel Games
System Requirements Windows, 400MHz processor, 64MB RAM, 35MB HDD, 6X CD-ROM
Overall Rating 48%
Date Published Friday, February 27th, 2004 at 11:17 AM

Divider Left By: Steven 'Westlake' Carter Divider Right

As far as I can tell, Coliseum, the text-based gladiator simulation from Stormcloud Creations, is largely the work of one man named Derek DiBenedetto. Now, while I tend to be critical of most games, it doesn’t bother me much when I bash a developer, when that developer is made up of a bunch of people pulling down a decent enough salary. For all I know, they’re just in it for the money or the experience, and they don’t really care about the game at all. But with only one guy, you have to figure he really loves the game and has put all sorts of time and energy into it. So, Derek, please forgive me when I say this, but your game has a good concept, but several design decisions and implementation issues sink it.

In Coliseum you act as the manager of a team of gladiators. You and your gladiators are both defined by a series of attribute values, but your attributes involve things like how loyal your gladiators are to you and how quickly you can heal them of their injuries, while your gladiators have more typical role-playing attributes like strength, speed and durability. That makes sense because it’s the gladiators who perform in the battles while you play more of a mentor.

Coliseum is broken down into a series of seasons. Each season contains 40 matches, and for each match you can have one gladiator compete while at most two others train. You earn money for each match (the amount is fixed whether you win or lose), and the idea is to have your “working” gladiator make enough money to pay for the training of the two “protégé” gladiators. You can also bet on matches (involving gladiators other than your own) to make some money.

To help your gladiators out, you can buy them potions and enchantments. Potions buff up attributes and are good for a single match, while enchantments have somewhat miscellaneous benefits and last for a week or more. Both cost money, of course, but, in one of the game’s many failings, there isn’t any strategy to them, and all they do is remove any sense of realism the game might have. For example, match outcomes aren’t actually all that important (more on that later), and since potions can also do permanent damage to a gladiator, there isn’t any reason to use them. Enchantments, meanwhile, have a huge influence on matches and last for several days -- and yet cost less than one day of training for a gladiator. So, obviously, you use them all the time. Ho hum.

But Coliseum’s main failing is this: the emphasis of the game is on the individual gladiator (rather than on your team of gladiators), but the game refuses to let you keep a gladiator around for any appreciable amount of time. Between contract negotiations, deaths, injuries, diseases and suspensions, it’s difficult to keep a gladiator on the field. And what’s the point of spending years building up the attributes of a gladiator, if he’s just going to die in less than a season’s worth of battles (which happens a lot), or if he’s suddenly going to leave the team at the end of his contract and not even give you a chance to negotiate with him? Worse, if you fail to sign one of your gladiators, he just disappears from the game. You don’t even get to see how he fares on a competing team.

Or consider this. At the end of each season the top four gladiators get to compete in a tournament to decide who the best gladiator is. But there are only ten teams of gladiators in the game, and about five gladiators die each season, and so the guys in the tournament aren’t necessarily the best gladiators; they’re just the lucky schmucks who managed to survive the season. Worse still, as far as I can tell the tournament doesn’t mean anything anyway. You don’t win any money, and if the champion gladiator becomes more popular with fans (thus generating bigger purses for his future matches), I didn’t notice it.

And so your job in Coliseum is pretty thankless. There isn’t any reward for running a good team. The game doesn’t even bother to give you a rating or keep track of who the best managers are. (There’s a Hall of Fame, but it’s for gladiators. Or at least I think it is. I never had a gladiator survive long enough to get inducted.) Plus, there isn’t a lot for you to do. You can tell your gladiator to adopt a certain stance during his next match (aggressive, defensive or neutral), but the gladiator does all the work and you just watch. You can also play with your team roster a little (you can actually auction off your gladiators if you want) but those sorts of moves tend to hurt your reputation and are only necessary when somebody gets killed.

It gets worse. The pace of Coliseum is slow. You’d think because the game is text-based you could zoom through a season if you wanted, but no. Each season takes at least an hour, no matter what. This is mostly because the game forces a delay when it’s displaying results (like it’s pretending to spend a lot of time simulating matches), and so the summary page for each day in the season takes 20-30 seconds to go through, for no good reason.

Even the bells and whistles are bad. Obviously Coliseum isn’t much to look at since it is primarily made up of menus and tables of numbers, but even the sound is way off. Exactly one guy does the “voice acting” for the grunts and screams of pain that take place during matches, and so matches are odd (not to mention repetitive) to listen to. And then there are the bangs and clanks of battle, which are worse. I think Coliseum is supposed to take place during medieval times, but it sure doesn’t sound like two guys wearing armor are fighting. In fact, some of the effects sound like somebody dropping a curtain rod or biting into an apple. If Coliseum had come with an option to disable sound, I would have used it, but Coliseum has pretty much nothing in the way of options, or difficulty levels, or fun.

I didn’t go in to Coliseum expecting great things. I’ve played other text-based simulations (mostly for baseball games), and while I’ve liked some of them, I’ve never been blown away by them, and Coliseum isn’t even in the same league. It’s flawed and it’s buggy, and there just isn’t enough to do in the game to make it fun. Coliseum is more something you’d expect to find as shareware at rather than being released by an actual game publisher, and it doesn’t come close to winning a recommendation from me.

(20/50) Gameplay
(11/15) Presentation
(06/15) Sound
(06/10) Interface
(01/05) Technical
(04/05) Documentation


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