Friends, Romans, Countrymen,
lend me your bandwidth and read our review
of the game bringing the glory of the Roman
The Roman Empire has fascinated
me ever since I had any sort of grasp on
what history actually was, which happened
about the 4th grade. When I became a teenager,
movies such at Ben Hur, Spartacus, I Claudius
became an integral part of what I thought
the Roman Empire to be. Then Monty Python
released Life of Brian - and showed the world
that indeed, the Roman Empire had fallacies,
and they needed to be exploited.
After visiting Rome a few
years ago, and standing on the steps where
Caesar was killed, my fascination with the
age didn't wane, but instead increased. After
visiting the Coliseum, and looking upon where
many competitions were held, my mind raced
to that age, and imagined how the place looked
those many years ago.
The vehicular combat genre
was practically non-existent before the Road
Rash series, and before Twisted Metal, it
was merely a sub-genre. Now vehicular combat
games are a genre unto themselves, and the
Xbox is the recipient of one decent game
of this particular species already. What
makes Circus Maximus different, is how well
it combines the combat and the racing to
make Mario Kart look like, well, a mistake.
First things first - the
graphics in Circus Maximus aren't up to snuff.
The title looks like a decent PS2 game at
best. There isn't any real indication that
this is an Xbox game visually. Environments
are flat, characters look rather bland, and
clipping becomes a problem (more on this
later). Thankfully, this is perhaps the weakest
area of the game.
The most important thing
with any game is the gameplay, and Circus
Maximus delivers in a big way. There are
both races and death matches, each with their
respective strategies for winning. Players
start out with a chariot team, and begin
racing. Unfortunately, other racers are trying
to take you out, so you had better learn
to block to defend yourself, and attack to
take them out pretty quick.
The game is set up with an
Arcade Mode (race any open track) Tournament
(this is the "story" - progress sequentially
from first course to last) a Training and
Multiplayer Mode, help to keep you busy.
Initially, you will spend
most of your time in the Tournament, unlocking
the courses as you progress through. This
is done through the winning of Dinari, the
currency. A set amount of Dinari is needed
before advancement to the next course can
take place. Britannia is the first location
that is open, and is slightly easier than
the later courses (as befitting a racing
game of this nature). Your opponents aren't
You'll earn Dinari for such
things as slaying an opponent, picking up
power ups, crossing the finish line first,
or finding shortcuts. As you accumulate Dinari
(which is kept track of automatically, just
like the number of kills and other statistics)
other courses will open. In the Britannia
location there are two courses (same track,
different orientation) that you play through,
then as you get enough Dinari, the Britannia
Death Match is opened. You have to win 5
kills before your opponents to win, and advance
to the next environment, which is Cyprus.
The cycle repeats (with a couple of Death
Match exceptions)) through Germania, Alexandria,
then on to Rome, Circus Nero, and finally
The tracks are laid out so
that reversing them does provide a different
experience, though it would have been nice
to see some completely different tracks appear.
In 7 environments, there are two tracks each
(one standard, one reversed) for 14 races.
There are 5 death match arenas, creating
19 total places to get your blood lust on.
In the sequel (if there is one) I'd like
to see more tracks for each environment,
but the terrain (visually) and layout is
varied enough in this game to keep you satisfied.
You assemble your team at
the beginning of the game (it can be changed
at any time by quiting and heading back to
the main menu). A team consists of a chariot
(some with better traction & stability),
two horses (varying in stamina and speed),
a warrior, and of course, a charioteer. The
problem with this process is that some of
the best horses and chariots are available
from the outset, which is baffling. Why would
you build a team with horses of medium speed
and low stamina when horses of high speed and stamina
Sure, other teams are unlockable
as you progress through the race (such as
the Germanic team, or eventually the Fantasy
team), but that seems to be more "window
dressing" as opposed to unlocking some greater
depth to the game. This is another issue
I'd like to see addressed in possible sequels.
Have only a few teams of horses and chariots
available at the outset. Have more attributes
for the chariots & horses, as well as the
racers. While the chariots themselves have
attributes of traction and handling, they
aren't very well layed out. It is many times
a trial and error method of finding out which
team works best for your style. Having the
attributes visually represented by a bar
graph would have been a big help here.
The sound of Circus Maximus
may not win any awards, but it does get the
job done. Each warrior has a set of taunts,
some quite humorous. The sound of the chariot
squeaking along behind a team of horses has
been recreated fairly well. The music does
get you in the mood and is appropriate, but
only when you can hear it. It would have
been nice if the customizable soundtrack
feature of the Xbox were utilized.
The controls of the game
are bulky, but this is due to the fact that
you are essentially controlling two characters
at the same time. Rather than go into what
each button does, let just say that learning
the layout will take longer than one race.
You can switch back and forth (in single
player) between the charioteer and the warrior,
a practice that is absolutely vital in the
death match. Learning how to attack an opponent
while ducking an obstacle and turning a corner
does take quite a bit of practice, thanks
in part to the somewhat lengthy distance
between buttons on the Xbox controller.
Thankfully, there is a training
area, with several challenges, which, if
mastered, whould give you some skills that
will help you not only finish first (winning
you some Dinari) but allow you to score several
kills along the way (winning you even more
Dinari is easily won, but
it is also easily lost. Every time you get
slain by an opponent, you'll lose a set amount
of your earnings. The same thing happens
if you run aground or don't duck in time
for an obstacle. This can be a small source
of frustration, as there are times when my
chariot very clearly missed the boulder,
yet the team found themselves splayed out
into the path.
When two chariots run into
each other side by side, the wheels grind,
making a neat effect, yet at times, when
the warriors are trading blows, you see the
attack miss, yet the opponent's (or your)
life bar diminishes. This doesn't really
affect how enjoyable the game is to play,
but does serve as an example of how the game,
well, just doesn't cut the graphic mustard.
Another problem is the camera,
which is fixed just above shoulder height.
No zooming or puling back. Again, another
glaring visual problem with the game. There
are times when the camera hinders your progress,
as you slam into an obstacle you didn't see,
but after learning the various layouts of
the track, you get used to this, and learn
to avoid certain areas.
Multiplayer is where this
game shines. This is the best party game,
replacing Fuzion Frenzy as the title to invite
friends over to just have fun with. This
game is best when played by 4 people, two
per team. This may not impress visually,
but Circus Maximus will provide hours of
fun long after you spent the time playing
solo to open up all the courses.
A Hall Of Heroes keeps track
of such things as Most Kills, or Shortest
Lap Time, letting bragging rights be had.
When 4 players are opposing each other, especially
in a death match, make sure nobody under
the age of 13 is around, because there will
be some swearing!
Circus Maximus brings the
feel of ancient Rome to life - well, as much
as you can with a videogame combat racer.
There's even an appearance of Caesar at the
end of the Tournament Mode, awarding you
with his, well, ok, I didn't catch what it
was, because I was laughing at how the guy
looked rather wooden. But he's there after
you beat the game. If you want some fun,
this is the game for you. Looking for something
to impress your friends with your new console
- get Halo.
Daniel "Maximus" Pelfrey
Favorite taunt: "I'm a naughty girl!"
While coming up short visually, the game makes up for
it in how fun it is. Circus Maximus successfully
blends racing and combat to the point that one doesn't
outweigh the other. The game is fun, and that is what
counts. Encore would be wise to release a sequel, and
have it go online. This would be a perfect multiplayer