gaming since 1997

Shadow of Rome

I suppose everyone remembers the history lessons or Latin classes that talked about the Roman Empire. What started out as a poor farmer village on the Tiber river, expanded and turned out into one of the most powerful, most sophisticated civilisations Western Europe has ever seen. Under the reign of Caius Julius Caesar the Empire florished. He came, saw and conquered everything and everyone who stood in his way. But then, on 15 March 44 B.C., this legendary general died on the steps of the Senate. He was murdered by his trusted compagnon Brutus. Everone ought to know his famous last words: “Et tu Brute” or for the ones that don’t understand Latin “You also, Brutus?”

Ok, enough of the history lesson. If you learned something, lucky you (Where are those Christian fuckers now, with their complaints about games being non-educational?), but I actually didn’t mean to. I mentioned it because it’s the the background story of Shadow of Rome, Capcom’s newest attempt to bring some new ideas to the table.

Shadow of Rome is a mix of stealth, action and even some racing. We also haven’t seen the ancient Roman setting in a third-person game worth mentioning, at least as far as I know.

The game regularly switches the two main characters, Caesars adopted child Octavianus (the real name of the man who would later be known as emperor Augustus) and the muscled soldier Agrippa (who would later be Augustus’ councellor), who try to unravel the dark scheme behind Ceasars murder, for Agrippa’s father Vipsanius is being accused of the hit. While Octavianus is spying and trying to gain information in the Senate, Agrippa has to try to become a famous gladiator in the Roman arenas, because the winner of the great gladiatorial games will get the “honor” of killing Vipsanius.

It’s clear there are large gameplay differences between both characters. Octavianus wouldn’t be able to whack a braindead turtle, so he has to resort to stealth-tactics. This is where Shadow of Rome’s biggest flaw becomes apparent. The stealth-gameplay doesn’t contain a lot of depth and always comes down to knocking out a guard, stealing his clothes and use them to walk by the other guards without attracting too much attention. So forget Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid, because the stealth chapters in this game are way to easy and never provide a challenge. I even thought the sneaking levels were some kind of “filler”, in stead of a full-featured gameplay element.

That’s why I enjoyed Agrippa’s missions a lot more. Although they’re not as subtle or refined, they do provide a lot more fun. The pure hack ‘n’ slash isn’t boring, on the contrary. Your missions vary a lot. You’ll be involved in massive deathmatches and even in fights against elephants and tigers. There will be a lot of weapons at your disposal (you’ll carry a primary and a secundary weapon), each one with different uses. Dagger are excellent to quickly make Swiss cheese out of your adversaries, but a gladius and parma (sword and shield) are good all-round weapons. And of course, the big guns like halberds or power maces are perfectly suited for causing massive bloodbaths.

The useless bloodsplatter is rife and you’ll see chopped-off limbs and heads a lot (especially the two-handed weapons turn you into a wannabe-butcher). The more gruesome your enemies die, the more Salvo’s you’ll receive. As the spectators in the arenas become more excited (chopping someone in half is a good way to do that), they’ll reward you with items. If you raise your hands to the public, they’ll throw heavier weapons and food at you, which is very useful because it’s the only way for Agrippa to regain health!

When you’re fighting you’ll feel goosebumps more than once. Who wouldn’t when he’s fighting for life and death in a fully-crowded Collosseum? The excellent music clearly adds to the epic Gladiator-feeling. The chariot races in the circus also guarantee your daily dose of adrenaline. While on your cart, you’ll have to defend yourself from others with wepons that are randomly throw on the track. If you lose, don’t bother coming back, because there is only 1 law in ancient Rome: survival of the fittest!

As always, I have to whine a bit about graphics. Truth be told, the screenshots I’ve added don’t do credit to the game. Shadow of Rome uses a special grainy filter, that gives the game a darker atmosphere. The characters are nicely rendered, though not stunning, and the levels perfectly bring out the Roman architecture.

Shadow of Rome is a pretty good game that will please many gamers. Although the stealth-gameplay gets old real soon, Agrippa’s fights for life and death more than make up for that loss. Other strongpoints of the game are its original setting and rarely seen violence. If you want to try something fresh, you can’t go wrong with Shadow of Rome.

Our Score:
related game: Shadow of Rome
posted in: Capcom, PS2, Reviews
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