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Shadow of Rome (PlayStation 2) artwork

Shadow of Rome (PlayStation 2) review

"Perhaps the most violent time in existence has found a new home. Not in the history book but in a digitized, pixel form. Shadow of Rome has no qualms about throwing you to the lions and applauding as you’re devoured. If you strain your body to the utter limits, leave all others bleeding and scrounging for their body parts, the crowd could not be happier. And if you fall victim to one of the other combatants whose only goal is the same as yours—survival—the crowd… couldn’t be happier. "

Perhaps the most violent time in existence has found a new home. Not in the history book but in a digitized, pixel form. Shadow of Rome has no qualms about throwing you to the lions and applauding as you’re devoured. If you strain your body to the utter limits, leave all others bleeding and scrounging for their body parts, the crowd could not be happier. And if you fall victim to one of the other combatants whose only goal is the same as yours—survival—the crowd… couldn’t be happier.

Julius Caesar is dead. Rome’s greatest leader was assassinated in the halls of his own home and while the murderer Vipsanius was apprehended, this doesn’t bode well for you. You’re Agrippa. A high-ranking roman soldier and the son of Caesar’s most trusted advisor: Vipsanius. Yes, you are the son of a believed killer. Think you’re having a bad day so far? The day isn’t over yet. Caesar’s successor, Antonius, has decreed that not only will Vipsanius suffer for his treason, but his family as well. While you are out demonstrating your patriotism by waging war against the barbarians, the country you love is tearing your bloodline asunder.

After your successful campaign you return to hear every last, horrifying detail. And while your war experience would tell you the first thing to do is develop a plan there isn’t time. Your mother is set for execution in the town square. Hastiness pays off, as you find your mother still alive though tied to a wooden pole. With a few sword tricks and some brute strength you manage to fend off the would-be executioners.

But don’t get too excited, you’re not out of Rome yet. General Decius--strategist and war hero of Rome--leaps from his observing perch, incapacitates you then lays waste to your mother right before your eyes. And you would be next if it wasn’t for a shorthaired, chariot-driving female gladiator named Claudia bursting through the crowd to save your hide. Your skill obviously impressed her and she wants to recruit you. After a long, heated conversation she convinces you to join the gladiatorial games: The emperor’s attempt at mourning Julius Caesar’s death by providing entertainment for the people of Rome. And why would you, a prominent soldier who kills for the good of your land rather then the entertainment of its people, agree to such a thing? The final round is against Decius himself, not to mention the prize of winning the games is executing Vipsanius. So the plan is simple: You can save your father and avenge your mother at the same time. Only, you’re going to end a lot of lives in the process.

Once the gladiatorial games actually start, the violence is comparable to a day long Jerry Springer episode where all the panel members are on PCP. But that’s why we picked it up right? You shouldn’t buy a game depicting Rome and hope to take a deeper look into their senate. Ever hear the saying “Beat you to death with your own arm”? Capcom must have loved that term, because they made it possible. Detached limbs, even heads, can be used to beat your opponent mercilessly. Maces splatter heads like tomatoes shot at a brick wall from a cannon. Huge halberds split your opponents in two, sending their torso flying while their legs stand still, almost unaware of the horrible fate befit to them. Strike enough terror in a combatant and they wet themselves. Manage to get behind a catapult with enough time to aim it properly and you can crack walls or bodies with massive boulders. Leave someone armless and bleeding, they may actually beg for their lives. But try saying no to that audience when they give the thumbs down.

As sick as this sounds, it’s not complete mindless violence as you may think. This encouraged mass murder takes a little bit of finesse in the form of Salvo points. Pleasing the crowd is your only other goal, besides keeping your limbs. After every round a total score is accumulated depending on how well you did and how much variety you used. For example, if you strike someone four times in a row with your weapon you get a “4-hit fury” salvo, but if you continue to do this you will get less points for it every time. So the key here is diversity. A large abundance of Salvo’s is available for use, but you have to discover each one. Earning different salvos also pleases the crowd. Do a good job and they reward you with food and even bigger, better weapons.

When your body’s wracked, your armor crushed and you feel like you can’t hold on for another second the entire mood of the game changes. You now find yourself not playing the role of Agrippa the gladiator but his best friend Octavianus- the stealthy, crafty nephew of Caesar determined to find the true murderer of his uncle. Again, the object of this portion is simple: Don’t get caught. While it doesn’t have all the same mechanics or depth as Metal Gear, it does have the same feeling. Using every means possible and every disguise to his advantage Octavianus must sneak into the senate and around its compounds. This wily, resourceful youngster can climb through vents, duck into large pots and even don the clothes of a senate member or guard giving him the ability to walk right past them. While none of these techniques are groundbreaking, it’s still a very compelling task.

Though button mashing or continuous fights can leave some action games on the extreme spectrum of redundant, Shadow of Rome strays from that path with an abundance of diversity. Not only with it’s shift between gladiator and spy, but in the actual bout assortment. The chariot races make nailing someone with your car in GTA look like Mariokart. Want to get first place (and by the way you have too)? Keep in mind: Dead people don’t win races. With one hand on the reigns, your other hand is free to grab whatever weapon you can from a slave standing on the finish line. Run him over if you want, no one’s going to complain. With weapon in hand, catch up to your competition and lash at them with everything you’ve got until their body is laying over the side of the chariot and the horses bound mindlessly into the wall. Don’t play bumper chariots too heavily though, as you might find yourself without a wheel… or a chance to win. While the chariot races are only one of many rounds, the combat still remains fresh with the “mini-games.” Sometimes survival isn’t the only thing necessary to win. Other times you must rescue a caged gladiator, smash another teams statues as you protect your own or even kill more people then another warrior without giving him a dirt nap.

Even if the games’ storyline and diversity were mediocre, the quality alone would push it skyward. The cut scenes are captivating; the facial expressions of everyone speak volumes. The gladiators are well designed and the larger ones are—let’s admit it—a bit intimidating. The sound definition is beyond anything I’ve heard in a while. The metal upon metal, the screams for help, even the blood hitting the ground are all exercised in twisted detail that sadistically draw you in. The only thing more sordid then seeing an arm cut off is hearing it. The voice-overs—both in variety and structure—add an ear-pleasing element. The storyline keeps on your heels constantly. The intrigue sets the tone early on, who truly killed Caesar is the riddle you must solve but the answer underneath is far more corruptive. The characters behind it all have a unique quality, and though some may come across as sinister this game is going to keep you guessing until the very end.

With more violence then a riot and more twists then an M. Night Shyamalan film this game has everything it needs to put your body on the torture rack and your mind in a vice. With such range it’s a cross between Mortal Kombat and Metal Gear and just as entertaining. This game is well worth the money you would spend on it and well worth the time you would take to play it. Shadow Of Rome is much like it’s setting: Historical.

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Community review by True (May 04, 2005)

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