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Hindsight : Shadow of Rome

Cart: Shadow of Rome
Cab: PS2
Coin: Capcom Production Studio 2

Shadow of Rome falls into that strange middle ground of licensed games. Clearly inspired by Russell Crowe’s role as framed centurion turned professional tiger stabber in Ridley’s Scott’s Gladiator, but not possessing the licence to digitally recreate the digital recreation of Oliver Reed, it takes the nuts and bolts of the film: stabbing tigers, lopping limbs off for the entertainment of a baying throng of bloodthirsty Italians and builds upon it with some of its own additions. Now you’ve made it through that sentence, permit me to detail what those additions consist of.

There’s only so much story that can be told with an array of grisly scenarios featuring exotic animals and chunky models of angry swordsmen getting publicly ruined for the Roman horde, so Capcom, in a prescient display of poor decision-making, decided that the majority of storytelling should be told through the eyes and ears of future Caesar Augustus.

According to electronic truth machine Wikipedia, “Augustus restored the outward facade of the free Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, the executive magistrates, and the legislative assemblies. In reality, however, he retained his autocratic power over the Republic as a military dictator.” All very impressive, but one doubts that the foundations of those abilities were based on his exploits in Shadow of Rome.

Ouch.

Ouch.

Augustus’ sections involve incredibly basic and not very fun displays of stealth. When a gaming highlight is hitting someone over the head with a clay jug you can be fairly sure that you’re not interacting with the higher-echelons of Metacritic’s Playstation 2 section. That said, it isn’t afraid to mix up gameplay styles, so if you’ve ever wanted to turn the tables and climb inside a large clay jug to hide, then this is probably the game for you (Note: I’m not actually sure you can do this. My memories are vague).

Conversely, what is clearly the game’s Achilles’ heel is probably also the reason I’m writing about it now. Once you clear an Augustus section and watch a fairly unengaging sequence of political intrigue, you’re back to the arenas to engage in what is clearly the game’s selling point: gladiatorial combat. Perhaps it’s the relief of not having to hide inside another enlarged beverage container, but these scenes, involving the heroic Agrippa, provide more fun than is probably warranted by their fairly rote mechanics.

While Shadow of Rome has loftier ambitions, its audience just wants to see it pummel someone’s face in. This is often known as Eubank’s Dichotomy (possibly). Thankfully, the game boasts a level of self-awareness greater than Brighton’s most celebrated boxing champion turned truck driving lord of the manor. It eventually offers a balance tipped in favour of bloodthirsty combat and retires its stealth sections to hide in a large, figurative jug.

Double ouch.

Double ouch.

The arena sections of Shadow of Rome boast a plethora of ways you can dispatch your foes, from throwing swords at them to severing their limbs, breaking arms, launching giant rocks from catapults or just kicking annoying midgets in the face. In a neat touch, the more grue is spilt the more the crowd approve, throwing health boosting items to prolong your existence.

Despite a few change-ups in gameplay within the arena, it is all fairly one-note, but it’s such an enjoyable note that it’s hard to complain. Character models are also suitably chunky and the graphics are impressive though very ‘Capcom’ – with clean textures and a similar art style to (the highly underrated) Dragon’s Dogma.

Unfortunately, Shadow of Rome didn’t appear to sell very well, which is a real shame because it provides plenty of grisly entertainment for those who can tolerate the levels featuring wine jugs. In fact, I think Capcom are missing a trick by not sprucing up the arena levels and releasing it as a cut-price downloadable title. Then again, they’ve missed larger tricks this generation so what do I know?

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Lancaster based writer, blogger and digital navel-gazer. Opinions are, sadly, all his own. Favourite games include: Streetfighter II, Ocarina of Time, Goldeneye, Tenchu, Red Dead Redemption, Deus-Ex and Granny’s Garden.

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One Comment

  1. Looks very ‘Barbarian’. I approve!

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