For a television show, the concept is fascinating. Two warrior types from different eras are analyzed in different categories, supporters and detractors present their arguments, tests are run, then the historical combatants enter the arena in a fight to the death decided by complex computer simulations. The logo for Deadliest Warrior, a Greek helmet inside a shuriken, represents one such confrontation, Spartan versus ninja, on Spike TV's reality program. In a video game, however, the historical match-ups come across as bland and generic.
Were the fighting game genre not so rich with complex, visually exciting, and mechanically varied titles, Deadliest Warrior: The Game wouldn't seem so rough. But throwing together eight generic characters (Apache, Centurion, Knight, Ninja, Pirate, Samurai, Spartan, and Viking) does little more than give the game a prototype feel. It would have been far better to take a cue from later episodes of the series and make playable distinguished figures like Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Geronimo, and others. This would help players identify more with the characters and provide a richer backstory with the feeling that more was at stake.
But how's the fighting engine?
Combat here is quickly decided. Very, very quickly in most cases. Imagine the first Virtua Fighter with projectiles and shorter life bars, with every other sequence of button presses draining huge chunks of your opponent's life bar. Wait to be attacked, parry, and commence button tapping. If you feel a little lucky, you could also try to score a one-hit kill from across the playing field with a projectile to the eye. Yes, a one-hit kill.
The historical match-ups come across as bland and generic.
Even adjusting the settings won't get you satisfyingly long matches. That was probably a conscious decision for Deadliest Warrior: The Game, to add realism to the confrontations and encourage parrying, but an element of environmental cover or some other prolonging mechanism is sorely missing. It's possible to sever limbs or even lop off a head - also in the name of gritty realism, I imagine - but if there's a round still left to fight, the missing piece will be magically reattached. I guess that's the one benefit of having generic warrior types: you can always call in another guy to finish the fight.
To keep you playing, Pipeworks Software has included unlockable alternatives for the costume and for each of the three weapon types (short-range, medium-range, and projectile) per warrior. Play through the game in arcade mode with each character, and you can win these historically interesting items for use in the game. Reading the weapon descriptions and the cultural notes on the loading screens is an interesting diversion at least. There are also a couple of modes to unlock, but there is nothing of note. The customization options are wholly inadequate.
Deadliest Warrior: The Game just suffers from being an underachiever. Another entry in the series might do the premise justice, but in its current state it's just a foot soldier in a collection of generals. I hope to see more from the sequel . . . a lot more.