Argos returns home in this ambitious and ultra-violent sequel to Gameloft’s button mashing original…
With the success of the God of War series riding high on the Playstation, it was only a matter of time before Gameloft had their beady eyes on capitalising on its success with a version of their own, and low and behold in 2008 Hero of Sparta was born. It was a great clone of God of War and proved to many that the iPhone and iPod Touch were contenders in handheld gaming. A sequel then, was inevitable. What is surprising though is that Gameloft took their time with this sequel, and I’m glad they did because Hero of Sparta 2 is bigger, better and more badass!
This long wait was no doubt in part to the release of God of War 3 on PS3, allowing Gamelofts master cloners to analyse the game to see what they could use in Hero of Sparta 2. Perhaps I’m being a little unfair in regards to Gameloft’s originality, as despite the obvious similarities to God of War, Gameloft’s designers do perhaps deserve some credit in creating an exciting and often beautiful game world, in which to engage in ancient battle.
Based in ancient Greece, Hero of Sparta 2 tells the story of Argos (no, not the UK Superstore chain), and his return from the underworld back to Sparta. His return doesn’t go to plan though, and the king of hell himself, Hades, warns Argos not to set foot on his home land, or feel the wrath of the gods. Argos is too much of a badass to listen to such talk and ignores the warning. Of course this doesn’t go down well with Hades, and declares war not only on Argos, but the kingdom of Sparta too. Cue then an epic yarn as Argos travels this world and the next to take on the Gods.
Hero of Sparta 2 is exactly what you should have in a sequel. It takes everything that was good about the first game and goes crazy. The gameplay is deeper than the first, which is saying something for what is essentially a button masher. It features not only better and more challenging enemy AI, but also advanced controls to deliver more exciting ways in which to dispatch them.
Controlling Argos is done in the same manner as before, using the usual v-stick. The action button however, is all new. In the first game, all you had were two buttons, one for attacking and one for defending. The attack button was the meat and potatoes, dealing out blows to the enemy and offered up variation depending on the enemy you fought, and whether you tapped or held down the attack button. In Hero of Sparta 2 though, Gameloft have added a slider mechanic allowing for a more refined and dynamic way of unleashing Argos’s various attacks. Unlike the v-stick which replicates analogue control, the attack slider is more in common with a d-pad, allowing for 4 way attacks. Simply tapping it as usual will pull of a general swipe of your weapon, repeated taps will pull off a powered up attack. However, slide the attack button up, and Argos will deal out an arial attack, launching the foe up into the air. Sliding down on the attack button will unleash an over head attack, great for breaking an enemy’s shield. Side to side slides, do just that, a powered up side to side attack. Combining all this with movement controls, and it’s possible for a far greater range of attacks than the first game, offering you the gamer far more variation and, ultimately, more entertainment.
Missing from the first game entirely was the jump feature. In Hero of Sparta 2 not only does this allow for arial attacks, essential for some airborne enemies, but it also opens up platforming elements to the gameplay. This adds more variation to the experience, and some Prince-of-persia-lite action. Much like God of War, Argos eventually gains a pair of godlike wings which, can be used for gliding with a double jump.
Much like the first, and now an integral part of action adventure titles, is the quicktime event. Used excessively in God of War, it too is used here. When an enemy is near death, a skull appears above their heads. Likewise a skull shaped action icon appears by your attack slider. Tapping this icon activates a quicktime event sequence, which requires you to tap out onscreen prompts in quick succession in order to pull off an ultra-violent finishing move.
These are not restricted to only the larger enemies, and bosses, oh no, even the regular foot soldiers can be dispatched in this way. And what a gruesome end they experience too. If you are a squeamish, you may want to look away or refrain from the finishing moves altogether, as they are pretty gory. For example, taking out a soldier in this way results in Argos lifting him off the ground with his sword and then in what can only be described as sword fucking him to death. With the mini-boss called Big Mouth, a nasty decaying fat zombie that spews leaches at you, you pulverise his face before prising his big mouth open and stabbing him down his gullet. Nice!
Your sword and the various quicktime events are not the only way to unleash your badassery, there are a plethora of weapons available to Argos too. As you progress through the game, these become available. The sphinx gloves are a particular favourite of mine, not only firing out razor sharp paws at enemies, but allowing Argos to grapple onto object and traverse large chasms. A dual crystal tipped spear alows for some Darth Maul style dual-lightsaber action, and there are the aforementioned wings that can pack a punch too.
Argos has both strength and magic ability. These are displayed at the top of the screen as a green bar for health, and a blue bar for magic. Each weapon has similar specs, and through the collection of orbs it is possible to power these up in both areas of power and magic. The pause menu allows access to the weapons upgrade menu. Here you can deal out the power of the orbs that have been collected to any weapon and power it up, giving it either more attack power or more magic power, or both. It’s possible to share out this power, but many of you will will focus your efforts on a favourite weapon of choice, for which it’s possible to power it up to the maximum of level 4.
Attack power simply means you can take out enemies a lot quicker, so essentially the basic foot soldiers become easier to defeat the further you get in the game, albeit there are usually more of them. With magic power, it’s possible to pull off various magic moves by holding down the action button. Depending on which weapon is selected, Argos will unleash a powerful attack that usually affects multiple enemies. However, this does come at a cost of blue orbs, and your blue meter will quickly deminish. This upgrade ability adds some strategy to the more action orientated gameplay, as well as some much needed replay-ablity to the relatively shortish quest.
There are twelve levels in all, taking place over eight varied environments. Gameloft have created an ambitious storyline, and despite some naff dialogue, it’s pretty cool. The level design is great, offering a mix of platforming, open battles, and maze like exploration. The general action plays as set piece after set piece, with Argos only moving on to the next once the required bevy of beasties have been slain. Each level culminates in a boss battle that generally begins with a big battle against all types of enemies that you have met thus far. The big bosses require a mix of learning their attack patterns, attacking the vulnerable areas, and then a quicktime event or two. Most are pretty straightforward, with the last boss quite rightly being the hardest. Here not only do you need to fight every enemy you have met in the game, but also engage the boss on moving platforms. All in all the whole quest lasted around 6 hours on easy mode. The game gives you unlimited lives and is generous with where you respawn. Should Gameloft had been more stingy, or mean, in both of these areas, then the game would have lasted longer, as you will find you die quite a lot.
Adding to the replay-ability factor is a mode within the game that allows you to play an arcade like survival mode. Positioned throughout your quest are statues which act as portals to an off-world battle arena. Here the game throws wave after wave of foes at Argos, until he can take no more. Strangely this mode is not available from the main menu once you complete the game, instead it acts as a way to powerup your character with orbs. It’s fun, but seems a little tacked-on.
Graphically, Gameloft have done a great job with Hero Of Sparta. It’s not their best looking game, but it is their most ambitious. Most of the environments are beautifully crafted, with epic structures and enemies ranging from the fantastical to the grotesque, creating a convincing ancient world in which to do battle. It’s a huge step up from the last game, with not only higher quality models and textures for Argos himself and his fellow beasts, but with the environments themselves which are at times, epic. If you have an iPhone 4 then you’ll benefit from smooth geometry and share with the 3GS some enhanced texture and lighting effects. In-game action runs pretty well, but for some reason the cutscenes, which are beautifully created, suffer from some terrible slowdown. It’s the same on both the 3GS and iphone 4, so I’d say its more to do with an error in the scripting, than the optimisation for the device, otherwise the iPhone 4 wouldn’t show it.
Aurally the game is great for the ears. The musical score is superb, easily the best on the AppStore, with rousing movie like moments, it really works well with the action on screen, and adds to the atmospheric experience hugely. The sound effects are good too, with both environmental effects and the grunts and screams of the bests themselves. As usual though, it is let down somewhat by the voice-over work, its better than most of Gameloft’s efforts, but it’s still pretty dire, and at times doesn’t match up with the onscreen subtitles (Moon Lake vs Moon Peak for example).
Hero of Sparta is not with out its problems though, and they stop this from being a perfect action adventure. I’ve just mentioned the voice overs and slowdown which do lessen the overall presentation, but there are also some annoyances that detract from the experience.
The quicktime events for dispatching the bosses and mini bosses are a little on the easy side. When playing in Heroic mode (highest difficulty) I was hoping that these would ramp up in challenge, perhaps being more intricate in their patterns as well as being faster to follow. This, however, is not the case, and the only area in which the game does become more difficult is in how much damage the enemies give out, and not with their AI routines. This is a little disappointing from a replay perspective.
Not restricted to finishing moves, quicktime events are also required for opening doors and using levers. These are nothing more than button mashing mini games and to me at least seem like overkill. At times you’d prefer to simply press a button.
Hero of Sparta employs an auto camera, allowing you to concentrate on movement and attacks. For the most part it works well, and is probably their best after Prince of Persia 2. But occasionally it doesn’t give you the best angle, either hiding something from you or steering your movement in the wrong direction. It’s not a huge problem, but it’s there non-the-less.
The last problem for me are unnecessary deaths. Occasionally Argos is required to traverse areas of water. For some reason, perhaps based on his heavy armour, one touch of this water and he drowns. What is annoying is that fact that should Argos even slightly touch the water with the edge of his flip-flop, he’s a dead man. And so, you have to learn the hard way to keep your distance. Its a tad unrealistic and becomes frustrating at times.
At the end of the day though, these problems are forgivable when the majority of the game is this good. Gameloft have put a lot of effort into not only creating a great and worthy game for just $6.99 that would look and play great on a console such as the Wii, but also delivered a game that fans of the original had hoped for. Now, where is my sword and sandals? I’m off on another quest.
Hero of Sparta 2 is out now for $6.99. Get it on the