Shadow of Rome
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1
Words By:

Hello. It’s me, Professor Ballsacks Mcbigones, the well known TV pundit. You’ve probably seen me alongside other Z-list celebrities making inane comments about the Top 100 topics on TV (the latest being Top 100 gallstones, a highpoint in home entertainment, I’m sure you will agree). What you may not have known, however, is that I am also the world’s leading authority on Hack’n’slashology; the study of big, huge, massively spiky and sharp bits of metal and the myriad ways they can mangle your puny, soft human body.

I’m here today to talk about a game that people over the age of 18 years old would probably like to purchase from their videogame retailer, and, being the bestest expert on all things that can simultaneously disembowel, gut and decapitate you, I feel I am qualified to comment. My comments on this game are thus:

Blimey, those are some mighty big weapons Woooooooo!
Bloomin heck, that thing just split him in half
Where did his head go?
I’d like to see Jamie Oliver on the business end of that flail!

So, after that fair, and I think you’ll agree, accurate analysis, I shall pass you to your reviewer this afternoon, Scratchy.

Thank you Professor for the detailed analysis. I shall just move in and fill in the gaps if I may? Shadow of Rome is a reinvention of the Roman gladiatorial theme that was popularised by the film starring Russell Crowe, Gladiator. You can certainly see the influences that the film has on this game, from the visual style to the choice of audio.

The game’s story revolves around the murder of Julius Caesar and it cleverly uses commonly know events and sayings as the lynchpin. For example, the phrase “Et tu, Brute” becomes a plot point successfully. The story revolves around two main characters, both of which are playable in different sections. Agrippa, the Roman commander-turned-gladiator is the typical hardman, and does all the fighting segments. Octavianus is the young upstart who will use his athletic build, sneaking skills and brains to perform in all the stealth segments. The story is played out mainly in cutscenes and is quite engaging, although not revolutionary.

Shadow of Rome contains three different gameplay experiences. The best by far, and the most prolific, is the fighting, which I’ll come to in a minute. But the other two types are worthy of mention because, although they are not as fully realised as the fighting, they mesh seamlessly into the gaming experience and provide some fun diversion from the hack and slash.

The first is Octavianus’ stealth sections. These are the main story-progressing sections, where you will be able to travel to various locations around Rome and perform tasks such as tailing a Senate member, listening in on secret conversations and gaining entry to a high security prison. The gameplay is quite simple, and similar to sneakathons such as Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell, although on a simplified level. Your character has no weapons, just the ability to walk silently and crawl. Added to this, you may hold an item, such as a pottery jar, to knock out guards and steal their clothes. Thus you will be able to walk around unimpeded – almost.

This is where the brains come in, as the non-player characters you pass may become suspicious if you are wandering around, and they may stop you and question you. If you answer incorrectly, or do something suspicious like run or crouch, then they will call the guards and you die – there’s no fighting back here. Luckily, the save points are close together (except for one 40-minute stretch at the beginning) and you can use a trial-and-error technique if all else fails.

The chariot racing sections are the most incomplete sections in the game. Agrippa has to race round an oval track over a series of laps and win. Control of the chariot is left/right, with the X button for whipping the horse to gallop faster. There is a stamina gauge that refills, so you can’t constantly whip your horse to the finish. The main action, though, is getting the better of your opponents, either by totalling their chariot or killing them outright. There are three types of weapon strewn about, each having a different reach and speed. You can damage your chariot, which affects speed and handling, but strangely, you are unable to attack horses of opponents, even though you are actively encouraged to be cruel to animals in other parts of the game.

These two sections are all well and good, but the main focus of the game is on gladiatorial combat in the arena. This is where the game really shines. You have almost all weapons available from the start, and all moves are achievable. Agrippa can equip a weapon in his right and a shield in his left, or carry a bow or minor weapon in the offhand for dual wielding. Of course, you can always plump for one of the massive two-handed weapons in the game. Controlling Agrippa is a piece of cake. With shoulder buttons for defend and lock-on (but no lock-on cycling), the face buttons control left weapon, right weapon and the triangle throws your current weapon at an enemy. This is a great way of finishing someone off, and you can even throw the huge maces about. Each weapon has a damage gauge and can eventually break, but there are plenty more to be found lying around from fallen foes or thrown in by the bloodthirsty audience. The breakable weapons give the gameplay a more frantic pace, with Agrippa scrabbling to catch a weapon off the ground before another combatant snaffles it.

One gameplay element that really works well is the crowd meter, which judges the crowd’s reaction to your fighting. If you fight excitingly, you will be rewarded with some sweet weapons from the crowd, and you can choose to play up to the crowd at any time, although the higher your meter, the better the present you will get at the end.

On the graphics front, Shadow of Rome is a very polished affair, the gruesome amputations and bloodbaths that occur are pretty entertaining (if you like that sort of thing). Typically over the top, but fun all the same. The cutscenes are rendered using the game engine, and the emotive faces of speakers and spoken to alike are impressive.

Sound is also used to good effect, especially the meaty sound of weapons, crunching and slicing through flesh and bone, and also the noise of the crowd, which is wonderful in Dolby Pro Logic II. Music is muted and used in fanfaric force during tense scenes, and adds a nice background ambience during non-fighting sections.

Replay value is quite high, each of the different gladiatorial bouts are replayable separately, and you can gain up to a gold in each. There are many different moves to pull off and you can track your progress in these as well. In the stealth sections, Octavianus can collect coins with which to buy items and furnish his hideaway, although this is not essential for completing the game. It’s just a shame that there is no multiplayer, as the game really lends itself to hack and slash mayhem with mates.

Best Bits

- Weapons and gore.
- Crowd appreciation.
- Frantic gameplay.
- Crushing opponents with a giant mace for the first time.
Worst Bits

- The first 40 minutes.
- No multiplayer.
- No selecting of enemies when locked on.

by: Scratchy

Copyright © Gamecell 2005