16 Feb, 2005

Shadow Of Rome Review

PS2 Review | So is Caeser really worth hailing?
The life of a Roman gladiator has been left largely untouched by video games. Somewhat surprising when you consider how easily it could have been turned into a bloody weapons-based fighting game with a story that actually makes sense – but no, apparently having some God from another realm attempting to take over the universe by having a fighting tournament is a better idea.

Digressing, those good folks at Capcom have managed to capture those brutal combat moments of gladiatorial combat in Shadow Of Rome, a game of two halves. The first concentrates on gladiatorial combat, whilst the second is a stealth ‘em up adventure. A huge contrast in styles, but, for the most part, it works.

Et tu, Brute?

The events in Shadow of Rome are based around the murder of Julius Caeser, the most famous Roman leader of them all. This action stirs up the senate, which slides into turmoil as many more senators are murdered.

At the centre of these events are Agrippa and Octavianus. Agrippa is a respected Roman general, responsible for many successful military campaigns. Agrippa’s father, Vipsanius, another respected military man, has been saddled with the blame of Caeser’s murder. Naturally, Agrippa is furious and cannot believe it. His anger is fueled further by other odd events, which somehow lead him to deciding that his only option is to become a gladiator – the lowest of the low.

Octavianus is Caeser’s nephew, and a friend of Agrippa. He doesn’t believe Vipsanius would murder his uncle, and sets out on a mission to prove his innocence. He does this by using his stealth skills to repeatedly infiltrate the well-guarded senate house and listen in on the conversations of others.

When two become one

Throughout the game you will spend equal time as each character – hacking up fellow gladiators as Agrippa, and smashing jugs on the heads of unsuspecting guards as Octavianus. It is a well implemented idea, as just when stealth is becoming boring, the game thrusts you into the mist of a gory battle (or vice-versa), preventing either aspect from becoming too tedious.

A familiar sight – Agrippa beating the tar out of an enemy.

A familiar sight – Agrippa beating the tar out of an enemy.
The game tries really hard to make the story the focal point of the game, with many video sequences (which can’t be skipped the first time through – annoying when reverting back to a save point) running lengths similar to that seen in Metal Gear Solid. The cut scenes are very well done, with some believable, if not cheesy, voice acting. However, because the two characters tend to be separated in the game, the story is constantly jumping too and fro, using text screens to remind you what happened last time you were using one character. This, combined with the constant intrusive save screens, really ends the interactive movie feel the developers were going for. An auto save feature would have really helped the flow of the game.

The name is Octavianus. Octavianus Snake.

While Octavianus has great stealth skills (possibly because he is Raiden’s long lost brother), his fighting abilities leave a lot to be desired. This is largely because he doesn’t have any, short of whacking the guard over the head with a vase or choking him with a rope. This means there is a lot of cautious crouching, as well as stealing the outfits of the hapless guards while you go through the occasionally grueling trial & error process associated with stealth games. And, because guards will hear you if you run, you have to walk, making these sections incredibly slow. This is fine if you don’t mind a bit of breather after the hectic gladiator areas, but those who are after pure action will be bitterly disappointed at having no defense to an attacking guard.

The guard AI is somewhat strange. If you are wearing Octavianus’ clothes, things are fairly reasonable – walk too loud, or in their view, and they will spot you. However, put on the clothes of a maid or guard and things get weird. Make the mistake of holding an item, such as a stone, in the view of a guard and they will try to kill you. Painful. But, hide for a few moments and they will forget all about the kid who just infiltrated the centre of Roman government.

Despite the slow pace and the somewhat questionable AI though, the stealth sections are a nice diversion which help lengthen the game, and take away the monotony of constant combat.

Heads will roll

The best part of the game comes when you play as Agrippa and take part in the gladiatorial games. You must slice your way through your opponents, or to the objective, in order to advance to the next round. Surprisingly, and much to Capcom’s credit, the battles don’t become repetitive – amazing when you take in to consideration the number of fights faced during the game.

Helping achieve this are the different objectives and terrains in each level. Whilst usually the objective is to kill everyone that moves, there are also other requirements you must meet, such as use teamwork to destroy the opposition team’s statues, save the prisoners, and so on. Seldom is an identical level design is ever used twice either – there are usually always different structures in a level, or unique tools for additional violence such as flame pits, catapults and body crushers.

Who needs arms, eh?

Who needs arms, eh?
The combat itself is deliciously violent, thanks in part to running on the Onimusha engine. Blood sprays, bones break, heads explode, and arms litter the arena. There are two central attack buttons – primary and secondary. It doesn’t sound like much, but combine it with the plethora of weaponry that you will encounter during the game, and it does add up to some deceptively deep combat. As well as the standard weapon attacks, you can roll around your opponents, throw them, steal their weapons and so on.

And you will need to partake in a fair bit of weapon theft, as apparently Roman blacksmiths were rubbish. Weapons all break incredibly easy – one weapon might let you kill up to three people, tops, before it breaks and becomes useless. This is a good (if not often infuriating) thing though, as it forces you to use whatever is handy in order to defend yourself. Even if a lot of the time you will have to go at it bare-knuckled, because the audience simply refuses to give you a weapon.

The game puts heavy emphasis on the fact that you are not merely competing for your life, but trying to entertain the audience. Your performance is measured in Salvos, which you get for performing various attacks and moves. They can also be linked together by appealing to the crowd, who throw weapons and food into the arena for the use of the competitors. This adds an important amount of depth to the game, as not only is this the prime source of weaponry, the more Salvos you gain the higher your rank for the level. And, the higher your rank, the more bonuses you can unlock.

Oh, and then there is the chariot racing, which, while basic, is rather fantastic. Whilst the obvious goal is to be first around the track, there is also a healthy amount of cross-chariot tussles.

It all adds up to an extremely enjoyable, and deceptively deep, fighting game.

Rome, 55 B.C.

The visuals in Shadow Of Rome are rather nice. On one hand, the epic feel of Roman architecture has been captured wonderfully, with well-designed buildings and gardens. All the main characters are very well modeled and animated superbly – especially in cut scenes. The game even maintains a high frame rate, even in the mist of a huge battle. The only real problem here is the occasional poorly designed character or area, which does detract from the experience. However, this is so minor it isn’t really an issue.

* Clang! * Smash! * ARGGGHHH! *

From an aural perspective, Shadow Of Rome is fine, if not outstanding. The voice acting from all parties is quite good, adding that extra pinch of drama to the story. The score is appropriately epic, as is immediately noticeable from the main menu. It is definitely much better while playing as Agrippa though – the often comedic and childish tunes of the stealth levels are a step down.

Jug breaking action as Raiden… Erm, oops, Octavianus.

Jug breaking action as Raiden… Erm, oops, Octavianus.
Rome wasn’t built in a day

The game will take the average gamer somewhere in the vicinity of 10-20 hours to complete the first time around on the normal difficulty – roughly the perfect length for this sort of game. There are also additional difficulty levels, and a truckload of secrets which can be unlocked with the Salvo scoring system. You won’t be picking these up in a hurry either. No multiplayer is a bit of a shame, though.

Hail Caeser!

Shadow Of Rome is quite the sleeper, receiving next to no hype. Capcom have delivered a surprisingly good all-round package – one that no fighting game fan should be without. Those after some more intelligent gameplay are also catered for with the solid stealth sequences.

While the idea of mixing weapons based brutality with careful tiptoeing stealth may have been the result of having one too many at the pub, it certainly comes off much better than expected. Well worth a look.
The Score
What a pleasant surprise. Shadow Of Rome successfully combines stealth and fighting game elements to create a sleeper hit that no fan of either should miss. Check it out.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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9 years ago
What a crappy crappy review. If only someone who hadn't sold out had written it...
9 years ago
How can a review be crappy? A review is an opinionated reflection - he scores it the way he sees it.

Oh yes, of course. He sold out. Well that explains everything. icon_rolleyes.gif
9 years ago
explain sold out please. PALGN takes claims like these very seriously and would love to see your opinion on how our editor has "sold out"
9 years ago
I doubt Crusen would "sell out" on anything.
9 years ago
Well nice to see the full stop's been replaced at last. icon_razz.gif
9 years ago
And without any prompting from the users icon_lol.gif
Getting better, PALGN... icon_smile.gif

(I thought it was a good review, though I admit I didn't read through the whole thing, as it's not my style of game anyway...)
9 years ago
I think that Spanks fool forgot his medication last night. Driving a Mazda can be murder on those braincells.
9 years ago

You guys need to lighten up a bit, it was a comment in reference to something I said to Crusen just before he posted the review.
9 years ago
As if we're supposed to know what you and Crusen talk about in your free time. icon_rolleyes.gif
9 years ago
Well the comment wasn't made to you, so no, you weren't expected to know as it was not relevant to you.
9 years ago
icon_rolleyes.gif What are you talking about, it clearly was directed at Cerebral - and everyone else on the board, as a group!

You posted it on a message board, with no username indication like "crusen:" in front of your message, which means it's directed at everyone reading the board. This is a place for public discussion; you are sharing your thoughts with everyone else as if we were all seated round a large table. Of course everyone's going to respond to it as if it was a trolling message.
Spanca wrote
What a crappy crappy review. If only someone who hadn't sold out had written it...
If you'd like to point out where in that message it's made clear that we're not supposed to be reading it, or trying to understand it, or that it was an inside joke and not just a flame, then I'd like to hear it icon_dumb.gif

Anyway, since it actually wasn't supposed to be directed at us, I'll butt out of it now ... sorry about that. *bows and walks off.*
9 years ago
Spanca, you do know that a simple 'icon_razz.gif' smilely at the end of your first post would have saved all this trouble, don't you icon_razz.gif
9 years ago
well, i'll try to stay outside as long as i can. must...stay....away...from...crappy game....(runs to manga shop in city)
9 years ago
Friends, Romans, Gamers- lend me your controllers!! Shadow of Rome has finally been released on PS2 after much anticipation since its E3 preview. Capcom thrusts you into an all too realistic reincarnation of ancient Rome amidst the assassination of Julius Caesar setting the backdrop for a gory adventure with the direction of an empire resting on your shoulders- but not yours alone. Utilizing unique character switching Shadow of Rome enlists the brute centurion Agrippa and the brainier, shall we say slimmer, Octavianus to give the title a duality of fighting and stealth that enhances game play and the plot. I have read positive reviews for the game but some critics were unsatisfied with the stealth missions but I think they are a welcome respite to constant carnage and added a smarter edge to the game while reminding me of the Metal Gear Solid series at its finest. Besides those comments were probably because the game flat out rules and gamers were having too much fun being rambunctious with Agrippa’s scenes. And they are scenes at that. The grandeur of Shadow of Rome is very cinematic, reminiscent to Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, and the visually pleasing graphics give credence to this. I was pleasantly surprised with the fluidity and movement based on only screenshots I had seen but I should have known better when I found out Shadow of Rome was developed by the Onimusha team. Overall, Shadow of Rome gives the best of both worlds to gamers while it is deathly intense and well thought out it can be a classic hack-n-slash that your friends will enjoy just watching you. The only thumbs down involved with this one will be the emperors signal to kill your opponent with unabashed and merciless candor. Highest Recommendation.
9 years ago
well, you certainly have a future in marketing and PR...

Dictionary.com">par·a·graph n.

1. A distinct division of written or printed matter that begins on a new, usually indented line, consists of one or more sentences, and typically deals with a single thought or topic or quotes one speaker's continuous words.
2. A mark ( ¶ ) used to indicate where a new paragraph should begin or to serve as a reference mark.
3. A brief article, notice, or announcement, as in a newspaper.

tr.v. par·a·graphed, par·a·graph·ing, par·a·graphs

To divide or arrange into paragraphs.
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