Review by Kaas

"Combine smashing, sneaking and ancient Rome to create a violent, yet fun and fresh, game."

Have you ever seen the movie Gladiator, by Ridley Scott? If so, know then that if they said that this game was based on it, I would have believed it. The similarities are obvious, not only in the setting, but also in the smaller details. Don't think I see this as a bad point, however, as I absolutely loved that movie, and therefore quite liked this game as well.

The game takes place in the year 44 before Christ in Rome. Julius Caesar rules Rome, the Roman Empire is expanding and the glory of Rome has never been bigger. Until Caesar gets murdered, that is. Rome soon falls into chaos and it's up to the player to restore the peace to Rome and find the true killer(s) of Caesar. Capcom did a real nice job on the story, as it features conspiracies, suspense, betrayal and heroics. It's pretty complicated actually, and adds some dimension to an otherwise pretty straight-forward beat ‘em up game. I'm not going to spoil the story here, obviously, but I was happily surprised to even find one, let alone a good one.

The player controls two characters in this game, Agrippa the general and Octavianus, a friend of Agrippa and the nephew of Caesar. This makes for two completely different games in one; as Agrippa, you get to deal out some heavy damage in arenas, but as Octavianus you'll need to be a lot more careful and use wit and strategy to sneak in and out of houses undetected. You control these two characters one at a time, but the game changes enough between them to stay fresh and fun to play.

Let's start with General Agrippa. You'll play about half of the game with him, but you'll also play him in the extra, non story-telling part of the game. With him, you enter one of the many arenas all over the world. The goal is to stay alive and kill everyone else, but sometimes you'll need to fulfil some objectives, like rescues some women or destroy the statues of the other team. In these arena fights there are many, many weapons to choose from. You can fight with a standard sword or club, but also use extremely large mauls and halberds. You can kick ass with torches and oil, or use the bow to pick other gladiators off from a safe distance. If necessary, you can always resort to your bare fists. You'll need to use some tactics if you want to survive, however, as going blindly into battle usually results in you getting killed. You will be blocking with shields, dodging other attacks and using the environment (fire pits, spike pits or giant spiked presses) to get rid of your opponents. It's also important to decide who to defeat first; archers, quick fighters, strong fighters or normal opponents. While fighting your opponents, you will earn so-called Salvo for special moves or gruesome actions (like dismemberment or cutting heads off). Sometimes a certain amount of Salvo is required to proceed, but usually they are just there for fun and to unlock secrets.

Playing as Octavianus requires a completely different approach. He has no weapons at all, one hit will kill him and he doesn't fight in an arena. With him, you can discover the story Shadow of Rome offers. You will be sneaking in and out of houses, you'll talk with important people and infiltrate different areas of Rome. Some people argue this part of the game is very boring and badly done. Well, I beg to differ, as it can be pretty fun to do sometimes and it's not as hard as people believe it to be. You will be sneaking around, making sure not to be seen. You can use items in the houses to create a diversion, or knock out a guard and take off his uniform, which you then can use to dress yourself up in. I admit this part of the game is very hard sometimes, especially if you're used to the brute fighting Agrippa does. I thought it brought some comedy relieve to an intense and brutal game.

The graphics of this game are very nice. The creators have definitely looked at ancient Rome and brought it to life in an excellent way. The streets and the arenas all look very beautiful, and the people look like true Romans too. There's plenty of detail to find in the backgrounds too, like footprints in the sand of the arena, or the blood splatters on the walls after some heavy hitting with a scimitar. Special attention has been paid to the men and women in the arenas. You can break their arm(s), cut off their heads, cripple them, pick them up and throw them away, cut off arms or stomp on their heads when they're lying on the ground. Suffice to say, they all move very naturally and react to attacks like I think a real human would do too. It all looks very realistically. The only thing that disappointed a bit were the people in the arena: simple, 2-D, flat characters. While I realize it's nearly impossible to create a fully 3-D crowd in a full arena, it's just something that bothered me a bit.
The sound, however, is nothing special. The music is just like you would expect from a game like this, and while that is not a bad thing, it's nothing memorable either. The tunes are soon forgotten, and you will fail to hear the roaring of the crowds after a few times. It doesn't really bother, though, as your attention will be on the game, not the sounds.

Seeing as this game is pretty difficult, it's nice to see the controls react as they should. Your character is easy to control, yet has a lot of actions available. Both characters react very differently, obviously, but it's easy to let them do what you want them to do. Good thing, as the arena fights are fast-paced and give you little time to react, and the sneaking mission require full control over your character, as one little mistake is the difference between life and death.

When you have finished the main story, you can always go back and revisit every arena in the game and fight all the battles. This definitely gives the game a lot of replay value, as these battles are usually the things most gamers like. You can compete for medals, and unlock all kinds of stuff by winning them. The only thing that this game doesn't have is a 2 player mode. It would be great and raise the final grade of this game for sure. It's a missed opportunity, really, but perhaps we can look forward to that if they decide to make a sequel.

I really enjoyed this game, both the fighting and sneaking aspects. While I must admit I liked the fighting scenes better, I was not let down by this game. Good graphics, a better story than I expected, lots of options and some memorable scenes provided me with some fun days. Seeing how I bought it for half the original price in the stores, it's almost a must-buy if you like brutal action games. Be aware of the fact that it is definitely not suitable for children, however, as it does contain some very brutal scenes and gore. If you're not concerned about that, go ahead and buy this game; you will enjoy it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 10/10/05

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