without an armor helmet or shield walking around in
a route that isn't the normal patrol, but what is learned early on is that none
of the linebacker-built guards are all that bright. Every now and then a helmet
will be found, creating a somewhat, albeit very small, appearance of a regular
guard, but that rarely matters as long as Octavianus
keeps his cool. This means that anything out of the ordinary, like crouching or
running, will immediately tip the guards off and they will investigate, which
can also happen if they get too close to Octavianus
and begin to check him out, which typically involves answering a question or two.
If the guards buy the answers, they leave him alone; if not, it might be time
to run. Since guards do not follow you through most doors or onto ledges, simply
ducking into a room or in a crawl space until their quickly diminishing alert
meter runs out will be enough to allow you to immediately go back outside and
make another attempt. Ducking behind desks, chairs, or just standing behind an
open door will be enough to fool most curious guards.
portions really are a drag. It isn't that they are bad, because the controls are
actually quite good for a company taking a stab at the genre for the first time.
It's just that the levels really aren't made for sneaking around. To compensate
for having such limited areas to move around in, Capcom made the guards stupid
- the only justifiable reason for their absentmindedness, really. There are a
few times when it all comes together and their approach of a varied way to tell
a complex tale makes sense, but that is not often the case.
way there are also silver fortune coins that can be collected and used to spruce
up Octavianus' room with furniture and various
gadgets, which will allow for him to select more costumes. I never had to do this.
In the beginning, I had him cut his hair, and then I just took whatever costume
was needed at the time. Sometimes, costumes aren't really needed, but do help
somewhat, which is actually a nice touch. But considering this takes up nearly
half the game and since most of these portions are both tedious and boring, it
means that the combat really has to be great for the game to be worthwhile. And
The gladiator matches are some of the most raucous fun you'll
have on the PlayStation 2. It isn't overly complex, but it has enough moves and
weapon variety to keep the fights fun. Whenever Agrippa's initial weapon breaks,
he can pick up those of his fallen enemy or one tossed into the arena from the
crowd. I wish the bouts were more man vs. beast and free-for-alls, especially
since they added a few team bouts and hostage rescues, which aren't that great.
The problem with rescuing hostages is that they are slow and stupid, sometimes
walking right into other gladiators and obstacles, getting themselves killed.
The team-based bouts are absolutely infuriating, with team members who refuse
to do anything but stay in one place or lift levers so that gates around statues
lower, allowing them to be destroyed - obviously, this is a problem when the goal
is that the team who destroys the other team's statues first wins. Someone had
to have realized how broken these were, but, alas, they have to be tolerated to
enjoy the rest.
As a gladiator, the love of the crowd is crucial. This
means that combos, stealing weapons, dodging attacks, and gory moves will get
salvo points and fill a gauge. Once a gauge is filled, Agrippa can lift his arms
and cheer at the crowd, who will toss him food to help replenish his health or,
if he has them riled up appropriately, a giant weapon. The larger weapons are
incredibly fun to use, which include giant swords and maces, which will sever
arms, legs, and crush heads, with each successful blow getting cheers and rose
pedals thrown from the stands. To really get the crowd's juices flowing, beat
another gladiator with their own severed arm, insult them by fighting them with
a rose, or raise a severed head - the latter is a pretty rare occurrence. The
normal weapons include scimitars that can cut off limbs and heads, maces to bash
heads in, and morning stars that slap other gladiators around with head blows
that send them falling in pain. There are also secondary weapons, like spiked
shields and daggers that can be used in tandem with the primary weapon for combo
points. With obstacles like spinning blades and triggered stones that fall, the
arenas can get hectic and bloody. In a nice move, successful moves are also accompanied
with sayings - come out of the gate swinging and get ROMAN BLITZKRIEG - that flash
in bold letters on the screen, and some of the more lucky and/or skilled maneuvers,
like stealing weapons, are accompanied with a brief cutscene, which doesn't take
away from the action. Hand-to-hand combat is done fairly well, with a few basic
combos, and a nice suplex move that gets the crowd going wild. This is really
high energy, and even when the targeting goes on the fritz, it's still a blast.
There are also a few chariot races. As Agrippa climbs up the ranks, he
has to fight the men in a special unit ran by Decius Brutus. These soldiers are
special units trained to fight with animals and unique weapons. None of those
units are particularly hard to best (which goes for every boss battle), which
makes the fights a bit anticlimactic, but the chariot race and its boss battle
are great. Racing consists of whipping horses enough to get them motivated but
not enough to exhaust them, while dueling with other riders and also keeping damage
to the chariot itself under control. Continuing in the area of excessiveness,
weapons taken from slaves near the starting lines tends to results with the slaves
being ran over and points for a 'Drive By' being awarded. Sure, the pageantry
can get gaudy, but it fits right in.
There are also some moments when
Agrippa can walk around the gladiator school and either take part in practice
matches or talk with fellow fighters. While they rarely give out any useful information,
you may be able to get some crucial information, like the time one gentleman informed
me that his balls were sweaty - I can only assume someone was giggling when they
put that in there. It's hard to get overly upset - a wrinkled eyebrow is, however,
fine - at the fighter's dialogue, because it's actually original; the rest of
the arena dialogue was shamelessly taken from Gladiator, right down to
throwing a sword in the stands and asking if that kind of violence is what the
So, after all this, after all the severed limbs, blood,
cheers, narrow escapes, weapon thefts, dead tigers, dead gladiators, your blood
is pumped and you are ready to go…but wait. Stop. Take whatever momentum you have
going and completely ignore it because now it's time to sneak around. See the
problem with that? The developers kill their own creation by making all the high-energy
excitement and adrenaline-pumping action for naught, because now you have to pretend
to not be a Meg Ryan clone jumping in giant jars and dressing like a maid - suddenly
growing breasts when the outfit goes on - and fighting with the camera in tight
Rome itself also lacks the grandeur most would come to expect.
The city streets are barely populated and most structures are fairly basic. The
intro sequence is fantastic, and the character designs and costumes look great,
but everything else is bland. The combat looks good, with blood staying on the
ground and sparks flying from locked swords and battered shields, but the gladiators
consist of just a handful of designs. And the one thing that really bothered me
was how the cutscenes did not represent what was in the game: I had Octavianus
cut his hair in the beginning, but he had it in all the cutscenes, and whatever
items or costumes I had going into the cutscene vanished, really taking me out
of the experience.
The music is nice, but, again, kind of low-key for
the subject matter. The music in the arena is appropriately downplayed for the
roar of the crowed and weapon effects. Synching is also done well, and the voices
are matched well to the characters. The hustle and bustle of a Roman city street
would have certainly been nice, even if it was relegated to just one path or so.
A simple taste of the hectic life back then would have gone a long way.
Surprisingly, unlike most of Capcom's past titles, the camera and controls are
both done well. Save for a few moments when the camera gets stuck at a poor angle,
sneaking around Rome is handled better than most games whose sole focus
is on stealth. I do have one large problem, and that is how some very basic things
were looked over so that the game would function as designed: notably, instead
of being able to break a honey pot on the floor for soldiers to run to and slip
on, thereby knocking themselves out, the pot has to be hit against a soldier.
This unnecessary risk is pointless and serves nothing more than a glaring oversight
or laziness on the part of the developers. In the arena, combat is easy to get
into and only rarely are there problems, which normally come when a weapon is
too close to a ladder. Both use the same buttons, so one action might be done
when the other was intended. During combat, targeting can be a bit strange, with
less important and farther off foes taken precedence over more immediate threats.
Shadow of Rome is a unique title. You
have a little over half a game that is great, fast-paced, gory combat, but it
is tempered by a half-hearted stealth portion that just isn't all that much fun.
Granted, just as there are a few spots in combat that aren't great, there are
some portions during Octavianus' portion that
can be fun - like when the levels are designed appropriately and you're able to
wander around and talk to bystanders - but the fact that the developers kill their
own momentum leaves a strange feeling. It's a shame it wasn't a two-player game
with the option to choose either Agrippa or Octavianus,
because to get to the good stuff, you have to wade through some pretty mediocre