Few movie characters are more heroic, noble, tragic yet total ninja badass than Maximus Decimus Meridius, played to perfection by Russell Crowe in arguably the greatest movie ever made, Gladiator!
VirtualAge’s Gladius is the closest experience you can get to strapping on his sandals, donning his helmet and marching bravely into the arena of death that was the 2nd century Colosseum. Yes Gladius, is as the name suggests a Gladiator/sword fighting simulator.
It’s a good one too. The hilariously violent Gorn is by far the better-known sword combat game, but that title’s brand of over the top violence is quite cartoonish and played for laughs, whilst Gladius takes itself more seriously. The graphics are more realistic, and there’s a lot more variety to the combat.
The core of the game revolves around a seven-day campaign, in which you are a gladiator slave competing in ever more challenging trials of combat to earn your freedom.
In addition to the core game, there is a training mode, a sandbox mode, and even a chariot race around the Circus Maximus! Surviving combat trials and making it to the next day will unlock new weapons, and you’ll also earn coin, which you can spend at the marketplace, further upgrading your weapons arsenal.
There’s a lot of content here, the usual swords and shields, bows etc but also flails, claws, javelins, and even a fork and net! Lots of weapon choice is great, but it would quickly get stale if you only had other gladiators to use them on. Thankfully this game has a tremendously varied roster of brutal, heavily armored, and often monstrous foes to thrust your swords into. Other gladiators and Roman legionary soldiers make up the early enemies but you’ll soon also be going all Jason and the Argonauts fighting off against skeletons, mummies, a giant Minotaur, tigers, and crocodiles. The game even has a great white shark, seriously!
Each day in the Colosseum is diverse from the others and has some wonderfully inventive set pieces, including a naval battle!
If all this sounds a little far-fetched then this article will give you an idea of some of the crazy things that really happened at the Colosseum in its 390-year history, it’s a fascinating read.
None of this would matter if the combat wasn’t fun. Thankfully, the fighting in this game is well executed… It’s fast-paced and adrenaline-fueled, a mix of real-time combat with some slow motion limb severing action. It’s violent, however, which might be too much for some. It’s not all mindless flailing either. To overcome your foes you’ll have to take their armor into account and fight smart, being sure to poke them in their tender parts, so it will test your reaction times and use of the old grey matter as well.
Ok, that’s enough preamble, let’s see what this game is like for burning calories!
I set up a 30-minute play session with my Fitbit Charge 2. As always I sweat-proofed the headset with a sweatband and detachable cover and tried to play as actively as possible.. Knowing full well how potentially hazardous 360-degree combat games can be in virtual reality I took special pains to clear as much space as possible. If you value your furniture and television I’d recommend using your Oculus Home or Steam VR Chaperone/Guardian systems for this one!
- Calories burned: 150
- Calories per minute 5
- Average heart rate: 124
- Max heart rate: 143
- Steps: 1406
- Active Minutes: 11
I’d rate this game as moderately active. The VR Health Institute haven’t rated this game but they did cover fellow combat sim Gorn, which scored similar results to my testing with Gladius, unsurprising as they are both sword arena type games.
The game certainly feels frenetic and I was breathing heavily after twenty minutes or so. I also struggled to orient myself due to the constant 360-degree action. I ran into my sofa a couple times so be mindful of that!
Thrusting swords, parrying, using shield blocks and swinging wildly will certainly give your arms a decent workout. Dual wielding swords is possible so both arms can be worked at the same time. You can increase the score to 8 here if you select arm swinging as you preferred movement style, a la Gorn or Sprint Vector!
The game is played standing but you don’t really move about much. Blocking usually involves parrying with a sword or shield and ducking is not utilized. If there were some heavy sword strikes that could n’t be blocked, but only ducked under then the legs could really be worked hard. It’s not a feature present in the game, however.
Core and Balance 7/10
If you have a 360 degree set up you’ll be turning in all directions to face enemies, often having to quickly lean your head back to evade a blow or lunging forwards to thrust your sword. In addition, your core is responsible for bringing your body to a stop and maintaining your balance when you swing your sword against air so you’re definitely working your core and stabilizer muscles in this experience.
Time Perception 8/10
An effective virtual reality cardio workout should last about 30 to 45 minutes and a game gets a decent time perception score from me if it can hold my interest for that long. This game certainly did that. Cheers from the crowd, the constant facing off against new types of opponents and the thrill, and dread of coming up against a giant Minotaur certainly kept me immersed in the action and not looking at my watch.
Each of the seven days in the arena feels completely unique, with a truly diverse variety of opponents and lots of weapons to unlock and purchase, so there is always something new to see and do. If you get tired of the action you can take a wander around the marketplace and buy stuff, or even enter a chariot race. It will certainly take a while to battle through the whole campaign, and with three difficulty levels and a sandbox arena mode as well, you can keep creating challenges for yourself and therefore play for a long time.
Fitness Scalability 7/10
Depending on your play style you can certainly ramp up or ease down the level of physical effort required. If you select arm swinging as your locomotion method, minimize your use of slow motion so that all fights are in real time, and turn your actual body to face the hordes of enemies attacking from all directions rather than pressing a button on your controller then you will find the game quite physically demanding. I’d the say the range is from relatively easy to high moderate if never quite truly intense.
Lack of Nausea 7/10
The first time I played this with the free movement I started to feel queasy after twenty minutes. I think my ‘attack’ style of constant back peddling in a circular motion away from my foes contributed to this. When I finally grew a pair and held my ground like a man however that problem went away. If you are susceptible to motion sickness the arm swinging movement method might help as well as give you a better workout. Teleporting is also an option which effectively eliminates nausea albeit at the expense of playability.
Social Competition 5/10
The game is sadly single player only but it does feature global leaderboards. Victories in the arena and earning lots of coins might see your name placed among the list of great gladiators so there is an element of social competition even though it’s not directly head to head.
VRFI Fit Score 6.5/10
All in all, I really like this game and think it’s a little-known gem. Not nearly as popular as Gorn, and likely to be ignored even more now thanks to the launch of the massively anticipated Blade and Sorcery this is nonetheless a fun and engaging sword arena title that deserves to be checked out if you’re a fan of the genre.
- You get to pretend you’re Maximus or Spartacus
- Compelling combat, high levels of gore and some excellent slow-motion death kills
- Lots of variety with a great mix of enemies, weapons, and levels.
- Violent nature of the game won’t be to everyone’s taste.
- Large play space is recommended as playing in a confined area could see you punching walls, or worse your tv!
- Doesn’t really work legs
Gladius is available on Steam for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Windows Mixed Reality headsets priced $14.99 or £12.99