I, Gladiator from Steel Monkeys has everything a good arena combat game needs, from different fighting styles to plenty of weapons and armor choices, character upgrades, awesome visuals, and enough blood to make the producers of Spartacus proud. Okay, that last one is an exaggeration. There isn't nearly that much blood. But when you break it down, this is one of the best swipe combat games on iOS right now, and it even comes with an epic story to frame the action.
You are Rufus, an overly compassionate gladiator who falls after refusing to finish off an opponent. However, the Gods have different plans for old Rufus. They barter on his soul, and he is then claimed by Hermes as his champion in the games. The simple 2-D cut scenes aren't very action-packed, but they are pretty lengthy and provide a punch of exposition, with some solid voice work.
This is pretty much the closest thing you'll see right now to a free roaming Infinity Blade. You actually walk around the battlefield, positioning yourself against enemies before entering combat, which is made up of your standard swipes, combos, stuns, and a block button. There is a surprising level of nuance to the combat, especially when it comes to the almost rock-paper-scissors element going on with swords, clubs, and spears. As you fight, the environment can be used as a weapon. You should always utilize spikes, bear traps, fire pits, animals, or even non-participating Gladiators in their cages, for the free damage.
Like with any proper gladiator game, you'll also have to win the crowd’s favor. They will start to hate you for blocking and running away too much, but some nice combos or charged up finishing decapitations will get them on your side, and give you bonus experience and Denari, the currency of the time. Each level also has three bonus objectives, such as dodging a certain amount, impaling someone on a trap, or performing the more complicated combos. These lead to big time bonuses, including extra skill points that boost your stats.
The visuals are in the style that console game Borderlands has popularized, and they look gorgeous. Likewise, the soundtrack fits perfectly, and I know I've said this word a few times, but it's quite epic. The main drawback for this game is the difficulty, which I believe is pushing in-app purchase currency. I was having crazy trouble beating the fifth fight. I was saving my money for a proper set of armor to add survivability, but it turned out the weakest level club weapon was all I needed to decimate that stage.
Even small stat boosts make a big difference, but the game does seem overly challenging, and pushes the currency a bit too much for a paid premium game. Game Center achievements and leaderboards are here as well. All in all, this is one of the coolest swipe combat games to come along in a while, and I totally recommend it. You can download the iOS Universal I, Gladiator for just five dollars at the time of this review.