Shadow of Rome, the Underrated epic?
By George Aurilian
Shadow of Rome is by far the best gladiator game around. It is unique for its time, separated from the other gladiator games on the PlayStation 2 by its originality. It is a true classic in PlayStation 2 history. This game is on the PlayStation 2 and was released in 2005 by Capcom. The game is set in Ancient Rome, as you play as a Roman Legionary gone gladiator; and as the adopted nephew of the great Caesar to find out who murdered the famous Julius Caesar in Rome, 44BC.
This game has a winding, yet easy to understand plot. It is, of course, all set around the murder of Julius Caesar. Revealing too much would spoil the game, but in this plot you slowly find out who killed Julius Caesar. You do this as you play as Octavianus and learn things in the senate through intelligence and cunning; and as you play as Centurion Agrippa in the arena. In Short, Agrippa's father is framed unjustly for Caesar's murder. This is what gets the plot going, as Agrippa and Octavianus race against time to free him before execution. It has many twists and turns in the plot that keeps you on your toes, and it includes an average (although not brilliant) amount of historical evidence to back it up. It is by no stretch what you would call a 'boring plot', and to any lovers of Rome and its history it would be a perfect game.
The characters in the game are great. You play as two characters in Shadow of Rome, which are Agrippa and Octavianus. They all have their own thoughts and feelings that make them very original and likable. Agrippa is a Centurion in the Roman legions who becomes a gladiator to save his father. He is a big, muscly man who is a skillful swordsman, he is a true Roman soldier, and does not care who he kills to get what he wants. You also play as Octavianus, who is the adopted nephew of the great Caesar; and wants to learn about who killed his uncle, and free Agrippa's father, who is facing execution after being framed unjustly. Octavianus has none of Agrippa's strength, and has to rely on wits and disguise as opposed to Agrippa's more aggressive approach to problems. So you get a sort of 'yin yang' bit to the game, where you play as two totally different people trying to accomplish the same thing, but just going about it in two different ways.
Octavianus is a lover, not a fighter. And a sneaky bastard as you can see
The arena battles are by far the highest point of the game. They are gruesome (as you would expect in this type of game) but they also have little aspects of the fights that makes the game unique. One of the most unique things about the game would have to be the weaponry. You can wield swords, maces, halberds, and bows - but the twist is that they break after too much use. This puts a nice strategy aspect into the game, because it means you can not hold the same weapon throughout the whole fight. Some weapons break easier than others (like the scimitar, dagger) while some take longer to break (gladius, mace). This means you are kept on guard all the time, as you are continually in need of new weapons, which are thrown to you by the crowd. And you will need weapons. As you face many enemies, both big and small, you are usually outnumbered, and fighting without a weapon is suicide. So you must always be on the lookout for weapons thrown by the crowd. Shadow of Rome is also unique because they have put a lot of effort into how you can kill your foes. You can kill them in many ways, including 'Head Bashing' and 'Torso Slashing'. You can even use their own severed arms to beat them down! There is also a humorous aspect to all this as each move has a name like 'Juicy Tomato' and 'Red Volcano', which makes players enjoy the game more, and gives the game a more 'entertaining' feeling. You are able to heal in game when the crowd throws you food, such as cheese and meat. It is a simple way of gaining health, and not exceedingly brilliant, but it works.
The other aspect of Shadow of Rome is the Octavianus stealth sequences. This involves playing as Octavianus as he infiltrates the senate and other areas and tries to find "Caesar's will" and other documents that could prove Agrippa's father's innocence. Octavianus is not strong like Agrippa (although he has the build of a boxer in the game), so he has to use his brain to figure out situations. This can involve stealing guards/senators uniforms, distracting people, or just sneaking around in a basement. Granted, these sequences are not as intense and action packed as the gladiator fights; but they still have a nice feel to them. Octavianus can also supposedly walk freely around Rome where he wishes, but this 'sandbox' concept is completely destroyed by the fact he can only go to a few places such as the forum, and for the most part it is a waste of time visiting them other than collecting a coin or two. Nonetheless these sequences encourage players to use their brains to think out situations, and realize that doing the 'Agrippa approach' does not always work. There is usually one Octavianus sequence for every three gladiator battles.
The Chariot Races are definitely worth mentioning. It is an Agrippa segment, and while it may not sound very gruesome, it actually is. You can use axes, tridents, even whips to prevent your opponents from crossing the finish line before you. Everyone in the chariots is armed with weapons, so a happy day at the races can soon turn into a bloody mess very quickly. This is another aspect as to why Shadow of Rome is unique; because this segment, like the Octavianus parts, can be a refreshing change from could be called 'monotonous gladiator battles.' There are four chariot races in the game, but there could have been more. These races are extremely fun, and although you may not like them at first because they seem really difficult at first, you soon find ways of 'neutralizing' your enemies. They are almost as fun as the gladiator battles , and it was a shame there was only four.
Of course, like in all other games, there are little extras in Shadow of Rome. Some of them involvr Octavianus picking up little silver/gold coins that can buy him things for his room and for himself. It is, of course, completely pointless, and buying things does not really have any real impact on the game's progression, but it's still fun. There are also challenges for Agrippa , which can be unlocked if you win trophies when you play as Agrippa in battles. They are easy to unlock if you have a good handle on combat though, and are not challenging at all. One of those is the 'Last man Standing', where you face an endless stream of hostile gladiators and the aim is to last for as long as you can. Other than that, you can be sure that no matter how far you are in the game, you will never have a shortage of small sidequests and challanges yet to be completed
As mentioned above, there is a 'sandbox' concept to the game. This ,however, is extremely limited. As Octavianus, you are supposedly able to go to multiple areas around Rome, but most of these areas are just big squares such as the forum and marketplace, and no real sandbox is there. Other than the market place (where you can buy items), there is no real point in visiting any other of the places as there is nothing really there. Granted, there are some coins and information you can gain off people, but it would have been so much better with side missions available for Octavianus or even just a larger area to freely roam around. Without this, when Octavianus is in Rome it feels very compacted and boring, as you visit the same places over and over again, and you soon do not bother to visit them, as nothing is ever there of importance, other than general information which you can pick up easier during your mission.
Agrippa also has a sandbox concept, which is surprisingly better. When he is not fighting, Agrippa goes to his gladiator stables. It is smaller even than Octavianus's Rome, but as a gladiator it is understandable that Agrippa can not walk out of the gates and into Rome. However, Agrippa has a lot more you can amuse yourself with if you are bored. There is an underground arena, where you can fight whenever you wish to gain experience in combat or for fun. You can also chat to your fellow gladiators in the mess hall or training grounds, and you can learn a lot from them about gladiators, fighting and training. Therefore it becomes more fun playing as Agrippa when he is at his gladiator stables than Octavianus in Rome because the game developers seem to have made Rome so boring that it really destroys what could have been a great sandbox part to the game and replaces it with a compacted, boring Rome where you can not really do anything other than your mission. With the Agrippa sequences you have the opportunity to fight, which appeals to many people as opposed to merely running around in the forum as Octavianus.
The graphics are not that stellar in this game, but you get used to them. The characters are all the same, with big square shoulders and the build of a boxer, therefore making even Octavianus look like he could fight gladiators. The Roman soldiers in both Agrippa and Octavianus sequences all look like the same big, brawny black haired man, with only one or two variations to people that have a bigger part. The others are not that much better. The senators all look exactly the same, with only important ones like Cicero looking different. It is the same with gladiators. They have two or three variations, but other than that they are clones of each other. However, you get used to this, and soon come to love this part of the game, and it actually adds to the general humor and fun of it. It is still worth mentioning to those in this modern world of gaming who set a lot in store by graphics. To the average gamer it should not be a problem, and even if it is, you will get over it once you start to play the game.
Chariot races are one of the most fun activities in Shadow of Rome
The voice acting in the game is truly horrible. Agrippa's voice sounds too high for a centurion of the Roman army, let alone the gladiator he becomes. And when he is angry and tries to do a 'tough' voice, it just comes over as a failure. Octavianus also has a bad voice, with his sounding too whiny and high, even for him. However, like with the graphics, you soon get over it, and you just find yourself entertained by the bad voice acting as you play the game through. But other than that the sound effects are brilliant. The battle sounds are great, with the crowd shouting, the weapons clanging and the gladiators howling, and it makes it quite realistic as the crowd is constantly shouting and screaming as you do good or bad, so you soon find yourself fighting for the crowds support as you try and get more weapons. It is very well done. The soundtrack is simple, but the music during the gladiator fights would have been greater with a couple of rock songs, but all through the game the soundtrack suits it. It was very well done.
Overall, Shadow of Rome is a great game. It has some flaws, but then again, what game doesn't? As soon as you get over the graphics, voice acting and compacted areas, the game becomes a great story of action, mystery and deceit as you fight during Rome's darkest hour. You will learn to love the battles, plot, characters and even some of the flaws. It is a true epic, and I think it would actually make a good movie. And even if it does not, it makes one hell of a great game. You would do bad to miss it.