Review by complexthoughts

"Hail Capcom! We who are about to die salute you!"

First saw the trailer for this game in a G2K store, and I was immediately jazzed. Hearing it's pedigree (Capcom, as well as similar team members who did Onimusha) made me salivate that much more, and as is so rarely the case, I wasn't dissapointed.

True, the game does have some bumps that will make just about everyone roll their eyes, especially the fact that Capcom seems loathed to get any real vocal talent for their games, but the total package still works.

I tend to focus more on the gladiatoral aspects of the game because, thankfully, that's where the majority of the play lies.

STORY (5/10)
If you want a sum of the plot, think of the tale of Julius Ceasar with a lot more gladiators and much cornier dialogue. In fact, the voice acting is the man reason for the score, it's that bad. I did like Agrippa's little speech at the end of the first arena tournament, but my estute wife pointed out that it is almost taken line for line from the movie "Spartacus", so it strikes me that the development team had a passionate fling with Roman-sploitation flicks for a short time. The historical innaccuracies are pretty glaring, but you'll quickly realize that this is more akin to a bloody anime or chop sockey flick rather than a history lecutre and it shouldn't get in the way. In other words, dont' take it seriously!

GRAPHICS (8/10)

They really pushed the PS2's limits for this one, and it shows. No slowdown, smooth flow, lots of detail in most places, even in the cheering crowds. I would have liked to seen better injury graphics on Agrippa, however, as I have to wonder where that dripping blood is coming from exactly! It would have added flavor to emerge from your victories covered in cuts and bruises, soaked in blood and gore instead of looking clean as the moment you walked in.

SOUND (8/10)

No complaints here either. Clashing metal, rabid crowds, and screams of pain and death all come across nicely. Especially the crowd, in fact! I'm eager to try this game on a surround sound system, but even without it, the mob of violence hungry romans is genuinely inspiring.

DIFFICULTY (9/10)

They did a great job in this department, which would have been easy to screw up. Normal mode is challenging, but not too bad once you've mastered all the essential tools of surival (go for the right arm, circle and strafe, hit and run with bosses, ect.).,Hard mode truly is hard, and Extreme requires intense skill and some luck. Only the ease at which you can dispatch enemies outside of the arena kept this from a 10/10. For some reason, battle hardened barbarians, Roman legionaries, and pirates recruited from elite gladiators go down faster than just regular gladiators....

The bosses were also well done. Each one had a style, each one required a strategy, and each one left me exhausted after beating. Agrippa may be a bad mother (shut your mouth!), but walking in and hacking away without strategy will just get you sent to the morgue.

GAMEPLAY (Gladiator Combat=9/10, Stealth=6/10)

-Stealth

Yes, I know it's popular to rag on Octavianus's adventures, and yea, they are the weak point to the game, but I didn't find them near as unenjoyable as I thought I would. They were fairly short, and not too frustrating once you know the dance steps you have to do to sneak by guards and maids and what not.

By the way, I know Roman soldiers weren't exactly scholars, but they are dumb dumb DUMB! I mean, worse than Metal Gear Solid 1 dumb! Anyone fooled by Octy's hilarious look in stolen Roman armor would have to be. And leaving their post just because they heard a rock? I can understand investigating a scream or cry of pain, but a rock?! A Roman guard could darn well get executed for that kind of stupidity. Methinks Decius had the execution roster full of names after each of Octy's sneak attacks....

But hey, even Octy's trips have their high points. I liked having to talk out of situations ala old Sierra graphic adventure games, and some of the text is pretty amusing too if you pay attention. (it's way better than the voice acting, trust me.)

-Gladiator

Ahhhhhhhhhh, this is where the game finally shines. Yes, I know it's much faster and lopsided than real gladiator combats were, but see my point earlier if you want to nitpick the historical accuracies.

If you've played Onimusha, you've got a good command of the controls already. Attack patterns are similar, though you can "charge" a melee strike by holding down the button and releasing; this is the only way to score fatalities, in fact. The biggest differences to note is, mainly, you'll have to change out weapons a lot, and I mean, a lot as in constantly and feverishly. Everything, even your nice mega damage greatsword, will give under pressure, so you have to make shots count, and realize when it's better to save said mega damage hardware (such as when the gates open to let more giants into the arena and your prize halberd or greatsword is one hit away from breaking).

The crowd also plays a big role, as well it should. Appeal to them after hitting a nice combo or act of brutality, and they will generally reward you with something. Most of the time, you'll get low level weaponry, or one of a limited number of snacks to restore health (and yes, you have to time your meals right, as you are vulnerable while shoveling meat into your mouth), but when you are prompted on-screen to get attention, it means you've really worked them into a frenzy and can get a rare highly damaging weapon. Again, you have to think before you act. After the crowd throws that weapon, it's fair game! If you happen to be on the recieving end of it, well, too bad slowpoke! The crowd wants blood, and doesn't usually care if it's yours or his!

The fatalities got a lot of attention, and yes, they are plentiful and pretty nasty. People getting hacked in half, limbs being sheered, all of this happens in nice ample amounts, but to be honest, that wasn't the disturbing feature of the violence.
No, the unsettling bits come from just how MEAN the crowd is! They reward Agrippa for some truly disturbing acts of violence, such as killing someone while they plead for their life and while soiling themselves, beating people with their own limbs, attcking victims writhing in pain, or throwing body parts to the cheering hordes. Maybe I'm wierd, but I was more unnerved about cutting off the head of an already armless, bleeding female fighter while she pleaded for her life than by just wantonly slicing people in half. Then again, this adds to the flavor of the game, so I'm more than happy to still see it through.

Okay, the bad points in this are again minor, but still there.

First, the crowd meter isn't as consistent as it should be. You can generally tell how much you need to get them worked up, but not always, especially if you've repeated some of the same acts of violence for them. Even then, adding some fresh types of carnage isn't a guarantee they'll be worked up enough to throw you another grand halberd or great sword....

Second, the team AI. Team battles are a pain soley because of this. There's no way to even give simple orders to your comrades, and believe me, they will do the most baffling things, even to the point of their own death. It's tough to be specific, but you'll see glaringly enough that you'll have nobody to rely on but yourself during statue hunts.

RENT/OWN

If you need a good hack and slasher, a fan of gladiator flicks, or need good stress relief, I say it's hard to go wrong buying it. Shadow of Rome has easily become the best thing going if you want a Roman gladiator game. It's a fairly obscure game now, thanks to some lower than expected sales when it was released, but most big stores might have one in the used area.

Otherwise, rent first to see if it's your style. It's still worth a few bucks to try.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/16/06


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