Shadow Of Rome
Developer: Capcom Developer Studio 2
Genre: 3rd-Person Action Adventure
Release Date: 2/08/2005
Capcom have somewhat unjustly earned a reputation amongst gamers as being the company to milk it’s franchises to death. What is usually overlooked when this is brought up is just how many franchises Capcom have created in recent years. Starting with Resident Evil, Capcom went on a franchise creating spree that included Dino Crisis, Devil May Cry and Onimusha. Now we are seeing the potential birth of another franchise, this one titled Shadow of Rome.
The story here is VERY loosely based on the story of Julius Caesar’s assassination. While serving with his troops in Germania (Germany for you non Latin speaking types), Agrippa is sent to rescue a messenger captured by the barbarian horde. After making his way into the camp he manages to talk to the messenger who dies just after telling Agrippa that Caesar has been assassinated. Horrified by this news he rushes back to Rome to find out what has happened. He is met at the city gates by Octaviunus, an old friend of Agrippa and adopted nephew of the late Caesar. Octaviunus brings horrible news, as Agrippa’s father has been charged and pronounced guilty of the crime. When it is announced in the Roman Senate that the right to execute Caesar’s killer will be awarded to the winner of gladiatorial games held in Caesars honor, Agrippa makes it his mission to win the contest and save his father. Octaviunus sets out to find who really killed Caesar, and help prove Agrippa’s father innocent.
I’ll say this much for the story, it’s very creative with the source material. If you don’t know anything at all about the killing of Caesar, or would like your entertainment to be at least somewhat historically accurate then I’d avoid using Shadow Of Rome as a history textbook, lets just put it that way.
Developers have really been hitting their stride on the PS2, making some truly outstanding looking games in the past few months. Shadow of Rome is another that can be added to that pile of great looking games. From the levels that recreate what Rome looked like back in the day to the Gladiatorial levels that put you in the heart of several impressive looking arenas, there isn’t much here that doesn’t please the eye.
The big selling point of this game is the amount of carnage that can be doled out by you while you are controlling Agrippa. Chopping off limbs, breaking bones and decapitating enemies, all of these are effects have been very well implemented. Break a mans arm and it will hang limply at his side. As you take damage and lose health you will start dripping blood all over the place. I discovered this while climbing down a ladder into some sand, I couldn’t figure out what I was dropping down onto until I saw the blood literally fall off my body into the puddle. So as you can imagine, this is a very gory game. Blood can be removed in the options if you prefer.
One flaw that does catch your eye right away is character emotions. Rather than going with CGI cinemas or static faces for the characters, Capcom used game engine cinematics to move the story along. This would have been fine, but the facial expressions on the characters would often make it difficult to pay attention to the story. This just proved to be a distraction more than anything.
Voice acting is well done, even if the lip syncing and facial expressions aren’t. There isn’t much variety when it comes to your everyday average enemy voices though. You get a standard guard voice, and then in the arena you get the same screams from everyone you run into. In a way that’s a good thing, as you don’t really always know that the guy you’re attacking is actually dead until you hear him scream. Octavianus has a bit more variety, but I imagine that’s because when controlling him you will occasionally have to pay attention to what people are saying in order to move on.
Musically there’s not much here that really grabbed me, which is disappointing considering the game was partly inspired by the movie Gladiator, which had a fantastic soundtrack. The sound effects on the other hand are really well done. Swords striking each other ring loudly, and when you connect with a piece of skin you will hear a splat that might have sickened me just a few short years ago. Maybe before I watched Braveheart. Yeah, you know the scene I’m talking about. The arenas can get really loud, with fans chanting for you to kill a beaten opponent, but I never really found myself getting lost in the moment.
Shadow of Rome really winds up being two separate games. You have the kill everything you see gameplay of Agrippa, and you have the puzzle solving, almost Metal Gear Rome gameplay of Octavianus. Each character controls a bit differently, as they must perform vastly different missions. Octavianus can climb over and into a number of objects as well as crawl into confined spaces. Octavianus has some other abilities, like walking casually and hiding handy wine flasks behind his back when sneaking up on a foe. He can also take the uniform of a soldier if he’s knocked them unconscious, and can pass as a maid while dressed in a maid’s dress. (If this IS Metal Gear Rome then Octavianus is clearly an ancestor of Raiden)
As Agrippa things are much more simple. You are sent into the fight and you win when everyone else is dead or you’ve completed the mission objectives. You have two attack buttons, one for your left hand (which is Agrippa’s off hand) and one for your sword hand. Depending on what weapons you happen to be holding, you can perform some interesting combos, called Salvos in the game, which earn you praise from the fans. You can interact with the fans and have them throw new weapons onto the field and even food, which can be used to regain health.
One of the complaints I have about the Agrippa levels is the weapons. I can’t believe that weapons back then would shatter after four or five strikes, yet in this game every single weapon will break after that many attacks. This does make for interesting gameplay moments, as Agrippa can actually steal a weapon out of an enemies hands if you time things right, but after a while I just wanted to have a weapon and stick with it.
As for the the Octavianus levels, each level was a puzzle in some way or another, and often the best way to figure out what you had to do would involve touring the rest of the city of Rome talking to people, making the game far more RPG like than it needed to be. One mission has you trying to gain access to the Senate storage facility, and to do it you have to find a way to convince a guard to leave his post. When you tour the city you’ll run into some soldiers who are refusing to go on duty until they are paid, and you need to go back to this one guard and convince him to join them. Taken as a puzzle it’s a good level, but you are left to your own devices to figure it out.
5. Replay Ability:
Each of the battles you complete you get scored on based on the amount of Salvos you earn. Depending on what score you get you may get a medal, but either way you can go back and play every battle again any time you want, as the game comes with an option to do just that in the first menu.
As Octavianus you will find silver coins all over the game. These can be saved up and used to purchase different items from merchants near the gates of Rome. If you purchase enough items you earn various cheats. I’m not really sure I’d be willing to play through it all again just for that though.
Replay Ability: 6/10
The difficulty in this game went from easy enough to challenging to damned frustrating in about 3 levels. Specifically one boss fight nearly killed me. Actually two bosses in one fight. No save point in between, you just go straight from one to the next. And in a game that took me 30 hours to complete, I think that one fight took me 5. Almost drove me nuts. I think I did go nuts when I finally figured out what I was doing wrong. And it is not just the boss fights that get ridiculously hard either. Towards the end of the game you are required to rescue hostages, fight off Elephants and Tigers, all sorts of fights that will really make you sweat. I was really thrown for a loop by one fight, as the developers forced me to change my approach to a level. Up until that point I was killing everything on the board, but this level required a specific strategy.
I can’t say I’ve seen too many games based on Imperial Rome. None come to mind on the consoles at least. So for deciding to explore that period of history alone, Capcom deserves praise. To then go and give you control of a gladiator, and then allow you as that gladiator to experience the fighting as it may have happened, with full blood effects and mangled bodies, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game like that before.
The early battles in the game were more than enough to keep my attention through much of the game. I knew that for every level I finished using Octavianus I’d get to play another set of battles using Agrippa. However I’m not sure that if I didn’t need to finish the game to review it that I would have tried so hard to beat that one boss fight that gave me such a hard time.
9. Appeal Factor:
As I mentioned above, Shadow of Rome is really two separate games combined. Because those two games are so different I’m not sure just how appealing this will be to people. Those who’ve seen the commercial and picked this one up looking forward to the violence and gore of the gladiator battles may find it a chore to finish the puzzle levels. On the other hand I do understand why the developers felt the need to put the stealth missions in. A game of nonstop bloodletting like that found in Shadow of Rome would wear out the gamer very quickly.
If you like your games extra bloody, with combos that can literally make an opponent lose control of bodily functions or, heck, just lose pieces of their body period, then this is probably a game you’re going to want to try.
In the early portion of the game it really felt as though the developers were rewarding you for finishing an Octavianus mission by giving you two or three new battles for Agrippa to complete before you’d have to take Octavianus again for another sneaking mission or two. Eventually this ends and you take exclusive control of Agrippa, but for a while it does make for a nice change of pace.
One final note, I found the AI in the game to be very Black Knight-ish at times …namely after I’d removed both arms they would continue to attack me. The first time it happened I had to pause the game I was laughing so much. I wish there were more things in the game like that.
Replay Ability: 6/10
Overall Score: 66/100
FINAL SCORE: 6.5 (ABOVE AVERAGE)
Short Attention Span Summary
Shadow of Rome is a decent first offering in a possible franchise, but there needs to be some tweaking to the formula before it’s really ready for prime time. Perhaps something other than all killing followed by all stealth, or maybe focusing on one character instead of two separate ones. Whatever the case, I’m interested in seeing what they do with it.