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Circus Maximus




1 - 4


Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your bandwidth and read our review of the game bringing the glory of the Roman Empire home.


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 so forgiving.

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 Circus Maximus.

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 are available?

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)

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!"

Circus Maximus: The Scores













The Final Word:  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 online game.

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