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It’s time for the TVG toga party; a time to eat fried mice, drink gallons of mead, and play Capcom’s Shadow of Rome…
These days in videogames there are a great many genres and sub-genres to experience, from survival-horror to the classic puzzle, but Shadow of Rome has to be one of the few titles from the â??historical action/adventureâ?? sub-genre. Itâ??s not exactly the sort of game that you would expect to come from Capcom, who usually produce nuggets of purely gold such as the recent Resident Evil 4, Viewtiful Joe, and of course Street Fighter II; the fact that the game is set in Roman Europe in the pre-Christian era and not in feudal Japan just heightened the arc of our already raised eyebrows.
The fact that Hollywood has been a little bit obsessed in producing so-called historical epics for the past 5 years, releasing Gladiator, Troy, and the recently panned Alexander just the first three that we managed to pluck from our heads, history and videogaming have rarely gone hand in hand well together aside from strategic PC games such as Rome: Total War.
Set after the assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March 44B.C., Shadow of Rome follows the characters of Agrippa, a Roman Centurion, and Octavianus, nephew of the murdered Caesar. Both plot threads run parallel and the game does jump from one protagonist to the other, but as explained later on, the difference in gameplay between the two characters makes it seem as if the game is suffering from multiple personalities.
The game begins at the Coliseum of Rome at a heated gladiatorial event; broken bodies and gallons of blood litter the floor of the great building and your character Agrippa finds himself waiting to be called upon to play his part in the bloodbath. Essentially this section of the game acts as both a tutorial and as an introduction to the plot; after a series of decapitations Agrippa walks out of the arena and back to the cells, leading to the inevitable flashbackâ?¦
It is inevitable that parallels will be drawn between Shadow of Rome and the film Gladiator, and to be honest at times the plot does play like Gladiator: The Game of the Film. At the start, as in the film, Agrippa finds himself in Germania fighting for the good olâ?? SPQR (Latin for the â??The Senate and People of Rome,â?) and as such players find themselves battling it out against a horde of barbarians with Eric the Viking style moustaches. This is the opportunity for gamers to really get to grip with the gameplay, and itâ??s also the point where youâ??ll enjoy the game most. The maps are far from being open, indeed it is positively discouraged in the game, which means that getting from A to B is nothing more than just A to B â?“ there is no diversion via C, D or E. A shame really considering that the Black Forest probably doesnâ??t have those kinds on restrictions in actuality. After news of Caesarâ??s death, we return to Rome, where play switches to Octavianus, Juliusâ?? nephew. The playerâ??s role in these sections is to prove that the man accused of killing Caesar (Agrippaâ??s father) is innocent, and to find the true perpetrators of the crime. These are basically â??chat to as many people as you can findâ? elements, although you are required to do quite a bit of sneaking albeit in very a sub-Sam Fisher way.
The game only really gets going once you become a gladiator, the prologue only acts as a justification for the gore â?“ and there is plenty of that. One of the key details of the game are the various combos that can be built up depending of the weapon used and various other things. As you build up â??Salvosâ? in the game (defined in the dictionary as being an outburst of praise and cheers), the crowd may throw down anything from cheese to replenish your health and the standard weapons, to quite incredible weapons for your bloodthirsty satisfaction. Being a gladiator is pole apart from the Marques of Queensbury rules, itâ??s all about causing as much pain and impromptu amputations as possible; there are even Salvos points to be picked up if you make an opponent piss themselves in fear.
Wandering around the various environments Agrippa will come across weapons and shields from both friend and foe scattered by their previous owners. In order to replenish Agrippaâ??s health, players must find some meat to eat and press the square button (also used for other items including shields and fire torches.) Both offensive and defensive items have a limited health however, so itâ??s worth keeping an eye out for replacement weapons even tough Agrippa has strong right hook. In combat, gamers are able to focus on a single target meaning that unless they block or you strike from too far away, youâ??ll hit them every time. The weapons in the game include a range of long and short-range items including clubs, maces, and bow and arrows, whilst you can also throw the weapons at an opponent where itâ??s safe. Some of the weapons are straight out of some kind of fantasy novel since 20-foot long poles with huge axes are commonplace in the game. Other fantastical weaponry includes a huge sword that would be pretty much impossible to lift let alone swing with such might as to cause some of the injuries seen in the game. There is a variety in the type of fighters that Agrippa comes across from weird â??Gollum-esqueâ? humans to giants twice the height of our protagonist, and the tigers are pretty fearsome until, this is, you get one of the aforementioned giants axes.
As a Centurion, Agrippa is pretty mean and slaying opponents is quite straight forward, whilst the tables can be turned in the arena as he is far from being the biggest on the stage. Since amputation plays quite a substantial part in the game, itâ??s perhaps not surprising to discover that enemy arms and legs that have been cut off can also be used as weapons, although being beaten to death by the wet end of an arm will take some doing itâ??s a detail that at the very least adheres to the old adage â??waste not, want not.â? It has to be said that Shadow of Rome is far from being the more visually impressive game that weâ??ve ever seen. Whilst the character models look nice enough they certainly arenâ??t special and look decidedly average. Octavianus is every bit Mark Hamillâ??s Luke Skywalker from Star Wars IV, whilst Pansa is the scarred double of Guinnessâ?? Obi-Wan; and it doesnâ??t stop there. The replacement Caesar after Juliusâ?? murder is more than a passing resemblance to Joaquin Phoenixâ??s tyrannical ruler from Gladiator. The environments in the game once again are far from impressive and like the characters, lack a level of detail that perhaps weâ??ve become accustomed to these days. At times the game becomes quite dark and it can be quite difficult to see certain areas, so itâ??s best if you knock up the brightness a bit â?“ it does become a little but necessary.
Away from the gladiatorial arena, play switches to the exploits of Octavianus, who is tasked with uncovering the true murderer of Caesar. What this entails is jumping between small sections of Ancient Rome from the Senate House to the Forum and the Gates themselves whilst talking to various NPCs that for the most part donâ??t actually have that much to say. This part of the game is very much hit and miss and heavily relies on players just going around talking to everybody that they come across, which slows down the game to a beat and causes you to think what game you want to switch over to.
The level of AI in the enemies does fluctuate between poor to reasonable, with the AI of characters during Octavianusâ?? stages particularly stupid; there were several occurrences where Roman Legionnaires just ran into objects and continues to make a running action even though they werenâ??t moving forward an inch. Also, if we Senators in the Roman Senate we wouldnâ??t feel the least bit secure with inept guards on the doors â?“ as long as Octavianus crouches his way through the corridors he can get right beside them before strangling them with a rope, which begs another question, if Octavianus is supposed to be a young â??aristocratâ??, how would he have the strength to garrotte a trained soldier? Overall, the sections involving Octavianus are quite dull and far too long for contain anyoneâ??s interest for any length of time. The seemingly endless amounts of crouching around corners or the pressing of the â??talkâ?? option just makes you almost cry for the Agrippa sections to come around so you can take out some of your aggression on some your fellow gladiators thanks to the help of a sharp axe.
One final detail about the Octavianus sections; in a bid to portray them as being almost RPG the developers have included shops so players can buy general items for Octavianus room in Pansaâ??s villa. We have one questionâ?¦why? Itâ??s a pointless exercise that comes across as if the developers realised that the Octavianus sections were dull as dishwater and they added this whole purchasing feature as some way to add depth to the game â?“ quite frankly, it doesnâ??t work at all.
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