Review: Nerd: "Learning history is soooooooo cool, boooooooy!"
Bully: "I concur. And after I'm done demonstrating how Julius Caesar died on you nerd, I'll do to you what they did to the thieves of France in the 17th Century."
Nerd: "Whoo hoo!"
Beware the ides of March, for this day may be your last. Julius Caesar was a man of great power, respect, and dignity. Historically, Julius Caesar was the idealized personality of Rome way, way, way back. Having been hailed as a paramount leader both politically and strategically on the battlefield, Julius Caesar had led an exemplary life and carried the love of Rome on his side. All until the betrayal from his trusted counsel members of course, whom conspired in secret to seek the fall of the once precious Julius Caesar. Going along with that, Roman times as some of whom may or may not be up to the minute with, is really one of the more hot commodities that in recent years is undergoing various forms of game and move makings. Perhaps it's because of 2004's Movie of the Year, Troy. Though actually not a film based on Rome itself, Troy is staged on or around the same time line. But you never know, it may not be just movies. Rome: Total War was an "it" for PC gamers last year. This year also saw God of War, which is actually about the ancient Greek mythologies and not the Roman empire (but again, there's that close relation next to the Roman period). HBO even has a new made-for-cable movie entitled Rome on the way. To get strictly to the point, Capcom also now has their own archival agenda to explore. Focused on Julius Caesar's death and the story that revolves around the character hardships that came of it, this is Shadow of Rome.
A new take on the famous story of how Julius Caesar was put to rest is exactly where Shadow of Rome follows its two protagonists in this plot of political corruption, a quest for the truth, and a straight and simple revenge. "Et tu, Brute?" These were the last words that left Caesar's mouth as he dropped to the floor with a dagger sticking in his chest. The blood poured and smeared his tidy white ensemble. It was a sad day for all Romans to follow, where their most respected guide in life, Julius Caesar, was no more. Following this vile cover-up plot right after saw a suspicious Marcus Antonius rise to power to extinguish the fears of the commoners who were mystified in learning of this brutal act against their beloved superior. Then the people would soon learn that in fact the very man who committed this heinous crime was none other than Vipsanius, father to Agrippa: a decorated soldier ranked amongst Rome's vast army. But with Vipsonius recognizable as a kind hearted and simple man, there were some who would truly disbelieve the fact that he could have slain Caesar. Such a person as that is Octavianus, nephew to the late Julius Caesar. With his ability to skillfully hide and seek quietly under the radar of others, Octavianus will come to inform Agrippa of what he has learned, and together they will bond through their different tactics to rescue Agrippa's father from his scheduled ride across the River Styx, to find out who really committed the deed, and to take them out once all is met.
Two paths, two people, two methods for uncovering the truth and taking down any adversary that tries to put their mission into a standstill position. Shadow of Rome is an action game divided between levels of stealth and of hack and slashing portions by method of two brave souls who wish to right the wrongs that want to conceal and twist the truth behind the death of Julius Caesar. Agrippa, son of Vipsanius, is the soldier of the Roman army whose father has falsely been put on trial for Caesar's demise. His part in this endeavor as you can already estimate is tied to the cutting, the stabbing, and the blood shedding action. The weakling brain in Shadow of Rome is Octavianus, nephew to the great Caesar. Sneaking about, disguising his identity, deceiving others with his sly conversation skills: these are some of the traits that put this other significant half of the game on the map. Together, slaying and skulking come side by side in Shadow of Rome for helping the game to maintain a more diverse aptitude than just your typically brainless hack-and-slash-style game would.
Shadow of Rome isn't necessarily your average killer app title, and for good reason too. Borrowing the commonly used two-part-single-player game, Shadow of Rome focuses on dual character personalities with unique abilities, and combines them through separate pages. When the stage is set, you're either accomplishing multiple kills as Agrippa, or going unseen with Octavianus. Having no ability to wield weapons whatsoever, Octavianus has more limited options as the smarts of this tag team twosome. However, there are some interesting plights in playing it his way. One such instance has Octavianus placing a banana peel on the ground in order to trip some fool carrying a honey jar who wants to be admitted through a doorway that's guarded by a swarm of bees. Knock him and his pot of honey down, and it'll spill elsewhere to attract the bees to its sweetness, thus granting Octavianus access inside the building to do some stealthy eavesdropping on vile politicians. Octavianus will oftentimes be found walking or ducking as to not to call attention to himself with the game's use of noisy jogging. This portion makes one wonder how steadily hoofing it in a clanky suit of armor goes deaf to the ears of others (but if he is seen, that's where a text option screen lays out bits of dialogue to convince soldiers he is one of them). With just that in mind, being able to sneak up behind senators or suited guards and smashing them on the head with a vase or by strangling them with a rope is another venue for the shadow meister. Octavianus can strip off the clothes of those he puts down and gets to dress up like them (and no doubt smell like them too). Agrippa is freer to do what he wants though, being the brawn of the team with equipment in hand will face missions like one where he's to sneak through an enemy camp at night and destroy barbarian guards by chucking blades at their heads, pinning them with arrows, or dueling them blade to bloody blade. There's a moment where he'll play the protector of Octavianus and duel with spears and shields in an attempt to break free from a prison. Then later as the story moves forward, Agrippa will face the tougher challenges in the gladiatorial arena, such as competing in a "last man standing" round to demolishing statues via teamwork. Vying against the armored scum of society, championed giants, and animal foes (i.e., tigers) -- from using the pound of a mace, to the whirling swing of a morningstar, to the cleaving limb severance of a scimitar -- Agrippa certainly has his segments "cut out" for him.
The problem with Shadow of Rome is that the game really isn't as easy or as dynamically fascinating as it would seem. Shadow of Rome does contain some interesting mechanisms, such as weapons that will eventually break (or on the opposite end, in a projectile's case run out of ammo) after a short while. An X and a square-indicative icon box both representing the two modes of main attack appear at the top left side of the screen (the X button displaying the primary weapon, and the square dealing with the secondary). A health gauge also rests there, which can only be filled when meat or cheese is available. And the problem with that is these protein items are scarcely plentiful. When food rests along the dirty floor, it can then be grabbed onto and gorged on by rapidly tapping the square button (as it's considered a secondary device). This pauses the battle for players, as one cannot fight while they eat (at least not in this game). Although, it doesn't cease incoming threats from using this opportunity to injure Agrippa further and further. The action occurring onscreen as anyone can guess isn't lightning fast, as it has many back and forth dodge, attack, and repeat type junctures. Battle engagements are made difficult sometimes, as one against one can be tough enough. Agrippa can only target a single enemy at a time and sometimes must make the best of a situation. Combos and general attack stances aren't difficult to master, but can be tricky to memorize or feel intuitive enough as there are quite a mix of skills received through readable popup tutorials. Agrippa will be able to wrestle with bad guys and claim the weapon from out of their very hands. He'll fling men backwards. He'll kick, punch, and shatter shields with his mighty thrusts. One of the most important components to surviving the game in the entirety of these blood draining defeats, is the salvo meter. Its function depends on kills made. The more men Agrippa disembowels, the higher the gauge will increase. At the right time, pressing on X and square together will call upon the audience's help. They'll toss food for health or sometimes giant weapons that are of the utmost importance when fending off in a life and death struggle between unrelenting enemies. Think of latching onto a massive blade or a spiky maul, and you've got the right picture.
Treading back to a past that was lost but not forgotten is the way in which Capcom presents its Romanesque transcendency. Shadow of Rome is reminiscent of a PC-style affair, graphically. Not in a bad way, though. Actually, Shadow of Rome is quite pleasant. PC games are known to be bland and boring on the visual front sometimes, because of their realism. Finding a game that's colorful, creative, and fun to watch isn't something you'd find every day on the PC. For Shadow of Rome though, its structured stiffness does supply a form of beauty all its own. Characters are each marked with rugged features. Their faces, their clothes; everything is of a coarse description. With everyone sullenly faced, outfitted in black-edged gritty robed garments and metal-plated suits that were the style at the time, it can be viewed that people in the Roman period always got their "hard" on. Stiffness also catches on in parts of the environmental designation. Yellow sandy arena grounds bear a rock-topped, stone pillar, flattened and subtlety textured field of view in the gladiator matches, for one thing. There exists a darkened forest trail, dingy prison parts, and plain but effective city life to delve past old-fashioned wooden window stations, stone-tiled streets, and dried up, boxed up alleys. Shadow of Rome definitely has an impoverished quality about it, which doesn't make the game the most invigorating to swallow in its parched, hardened, basic state. Though, the game is not at a total fault for its lack of color and imagination. Besides, some of the richest water you'll ever see in any game is present in this one. Lightly tempered fountains full of hypnotic crystal clear water (in which sadly can't be interacted with; however, does capture life's own H2O pretty much to a T) is just mesmerizing to gawk at.
Motion is the stuff made of Agrippa spinning circles with a blade in hand, whipping a chained morningstar in proximity, and wrapping his arms around a bear-sized man while launching him skywards into a backwards defeat. Animation also entails the likes of Octavianus pressing his back against walls and shuffling, to peeking his head around turns, to choking the life out of watchmen. Like everything else, the actions in the game are translated well enough to a degree, but then again aren't brilliantly smooth, fast, or remarkable to the utmost example (having rigid breaks in the combat and all). Optical illusions aren't large in mass. What's there though is convincingly likable, from the light that pours in through dimmed tunnel systems, to the figurative shadows cast from character frames, to all the blood that splatters as weapons dig into the flesh, and drips off Agrippa the sooner he comes closer to his demise. Fans of gore should also be pleased to know that human body parts can be dismembered and even be used as weaponry (like the arms). Not astounding although favorable enough to appease the model image of history's classic Roman era and its people, Shadow of Rome is a bloody decent game to take notice of.
You'll never know where you'll be surprised by any game in its sound design. Some titles just toss in goofy or bland actors without giving much thought to the outcome that will affect the ears of those who'll receive these unwanted aspects. Shadow of Rome crushes those undesired apprehensions one might have about an abundance of repetitively irritating junk and just distributes mostly the stuff you'd want to hear. The voice cast is on the strong end in each of their performances. Agrippa, for instance, embodies a rash and compelling diction for all his expressive fury and determined nature to get at the ones who are stomping on his life. Octavianus is the calmer sort, with a cool and mysterious sort of voice that just matches his obscure demeanor perfectly. Each of the other actors put on a great show just the same, driving an emotional and dramatic ambiance for this remixed story about the death of Caesar. Not just vocal talent, but audio and music do their part in establishing a balanced stock of catchable pleasantries. Agrippa at one point gets his chance to pick up heavy stones and fling them toward a doorway guarded by a brute and other evils. Launch the rock, and its smashing and cracking of the wood comes back good. There's sword slicing, and shield clanging. There's the sound of jugs collapsing, and arrows being slung and then stung into a thudding material. An orchestral composition also worms its way through the backdrop of these befitting audio samples. Its airy tempo is solid and yet soothing throughout a variety of sneaking and battle-hardened level themes.