Spike TV has always been known for its commentary on all things related to being a man. Part of that is the lifelong search for who is the manliest of all men. Hence Deadliest Warrior, Spike's version of who's the ultimate fighter. What started as a TV show has been turned into a game that was originally released on XBLA and has just been released for download on the PS3. How does Deadliest Warrior (DW) stand up against the other titles out there?
Fighting games have never been known for their complex story lines and Deadliest Warrior certainly doesn't change that. In fact, it lacks any kind of story. In addition to that, instead of specific characters to fight with, the choice comes down to specific soldiers throughout time. Players can choose from one of eight different warriors to fight as: Apache, Centurion, Spartan, Knight, Ninja, Samurai, Pirate, and Viking. Other than fighting each class of warrior, the single player campaign doesn't really offer any other story element aside from allowing players to finally determine the Ninjas vs. Pirates debate.
The gameplay is standard fair for a fighting game; two characters duke it out in a 2.5D arena. Most players will simply mash the buttons at random but there are combos to use. However, it ultimately comes down to luck. DW did make an interesting addition in giving each character a ranged device, be it javelin, bow and arrow, ninja star, musket, etc. None of the areas are very interactive but most of them are at least pretty to look at. Each warrior type has a short range weapon, midrange weapon, and a long range weapon (projectile), but each warrior type has a different play style. The ninja is extremely fast and nimble, but has no armor and can be killed in just a few hits. On the flip side, the Knight is covered in armor but his speed is non-existent. All the other warriors fill in the gap between the two extremes.
The single player campaign is simply the process of fighting each warrior class, including the class that the player chooses to fight as. There are three different difficulties to choose from, but all in all, it loses its appeal rather quickly. The folks at Spike tried to mix things up by putting in two different challenges into the campaign, but slicing down pigs off of meat hooks gets relatively boring as does taking part in a 10 second fight where every time the player or the AI hits one another, a body part flies off. The game also offers a survival mode which, as the name suggests, tests the player to see how many enemies they can take down before dying themselves. Getting the gist of the game takes about 2 hours, if that. To complete achievements, 5-10 hours. It's not going to hold attention spans for very long.
The game provides the normal multiplayer option where two players can fight against each other. They even present the opportunity to play online against other people, but the servers seem to be pretty empty. Even if they do fill up in the future, they are sure to slack off soon after.
Where the game truly loses all credit is in how it handles all together. The average round will last 10 seconds or less meaning that a standard fight might last 30 seconds. The rest of the time is spent on loading screens; a lot of loading screens. After finishing a fight, there is a loading screen before it brings in the animation to show the player who they will be facing off against next (which is an unnecessarily long animation that is unskipable). Afterwards, there is another loading screen just to get the player to the fight itself. Assuming all of this loading time was excusable or necessary, one might believe that the gameplay would be smooth, but it's not. There are intense moments of lag in the game where it seems like the game is just trying to process the detail on the screen. Everything slows down and the frame rate positively tanks. For games that stream off of a disc, this might be understandable, but Deadliest Warrior is a downloadable title that is installed directly on the hard drive; ladies and gentlemen, this should not be happening... at all.
But what about the presentation? You'd think that if the game was having a hard time managing everything, then it must look and sound gorgeous. Well, it doesn't. The backgrounds, as mentioned before, are pretty to look at, but nothing spectacular. The character designs are rough, pixilated, and their movements lack much personality. Anytime a character dies, it looks as though they're rag dolls being tossed this way and that. Fans of Mortal Kombat may enjoy the game as it does come with plenty of gore, dismemberments and decapitations, but they happen so frequently that they lose the shock factor that MK once provided.
The sound design is actually pretty decent; the weapon and the impact sounds are realistic and match what's happening on screen fairly well. However, the music overrides the success of the sound design. It's not memorable or highly produced, even for a downloadable game and the small budget it might have had. There is no music underscoring the stages which makes everything feel empty and what music there is sounds cheap and poorly done.
The concept behind Deadliest Warriors is certainly intriguing and it did have the possibility of exceeding expectations and being quite good. However, what Spike brought to the table was far from that. In spite of the story being bad, the game's generic approach to their characters and gameplay being pitiful; in many ways, it felt like they were simply trying to maximize profits on their show by throwing this together. With the graphics and animation being poor, the music sub par, and the amount of time spent waiting for the game to load only to have it jam up, means only one thing: let this game pass you by; you'll be better for it.