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A sense of epic Roman grandeur
on 18 July 2005
The moment I started playing this game I noticed the distinct Japanese feel it had about it. The script, the character models, the voice acting - this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the first gem in Shadow of Rome is that it reconstructs the Roman era so well and hands over so much information, you can't help but marvel at it.
The story is a good and compelling one; Julius Caesar has been murdered and his killing is framed on the father of a soldier fighting in Germania, Agrippa. On returning to Rome to see his mother executed, Agrippa becomes a gladiator in order to face the man who killed her. His friend, Octavianus, nephew of the late Caesar, goes on his own private investigation to prove Agrippa's father innocent. The two storylines gives home to the fact that Shadow of Rome has two different types of gameplay - combat and stealth.
The combat is extremely bloody and brutal, yet totally compelling. There is a certain satisfaction you get as you cut your foes down. The arsenal of weapons you get is impressive, ranging from scimitars, to maces, to halberds, to morning stars. With your primary weapons, you can also get shields, helmets, daggers, torches . . . the list goes on and unravels as you continue to play. Although I was unsure of it at first, I have grown to think the combat rather amazing. It's so varied and there's countless ways of killing your foes. You can snatch their weapons from them, use fight combos, throw them into pits full of spikes, smash their skulls, severe limbs . . . which you then can beat them with. The more brutal you are, the more the audience will love you and even help you by throwing weapons into the arena, which can be a godsend. There's a whole range of tournaments, varying the levels - some of the first levels are even set in the Germanian forests and a fort. In many ways, this game is highly influenced by Ridley Scott's Gladiator, even some of the lines are similar. But it's all good and a fine work of a game.
At the other end of the spectrum, is the stealth in the gameplay. Octavianus, a young boy, advised by an old man, sneaks throughout levels. This isn't exactly Splinter Cell. It's easier, sometimes quite good and Capcom have clearly tried to vary the gameplay which is a good idea. The storyline you're uncovering in the assassination of Caesar is thoroughly compelling and dark. Sadly though, the stealth gameplay is linear - there's only one route to your objective. However, you can silently dispose of enemies, take items and even their clothes. Sometimes it even looks like the Hitman series. Although flawed and slightly weak compared to the combat engine, personally I did like this side of it. It's almost like a calm after the storm.
Shadow of Rome is a game that could be in an arcade, but one of the highest quality. It's fast paced, crushing and maintains its historical essence from start to finish. If you like violent, mildly realistic combat games and enjoyed games such as Ominushia and Dynasty Warriors, this really is for you.