Shadow of Rome
Iím having a really hard time with games lately. Three big games in the last, I donít know, maybe six months or so, have disappointed me. FarCry, which I thought was brilliant up until itís last two levels which completely ruined the game, and then Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, which I dogged because of some terrible dog-fighting portions that had no place in the game and some bad night segments. Now, I can add Shadow of Rome to my list. Hereís a game thatís wonderfully presented and uses a lot of new and innovative ideas, but once again hereís another game thatís yet again plagued with a couple of shitty faults that ruin the overall experience.
Shadow of Rome has an awesome, awesome premise. Imagine the turmoil going on in ancient Rome after the assassination of Julius Caesar. The sheer chaos is what starts the events in Shadow of Rome. No one knows who has actually murdered Caesar so finger-pointing is running rampant. Finally, the Senators of Rome point there fingers at a man named Vipsanius. The good citizens of Rome trust their government so much that few even question their judgment, and cries for Vipsaniusí execution can be heard all across Rome.
To some though, it seems impossible for Vipsanius to be Caesarís murderer. Vipsanius was always a loyal and devoted friend to Caesar and his family. There would be no logical reason for him to be the assassin. Unfortunately for Vipsanius, the demands for his head overpower the voices questioning his crime. All seems hopeless for Vipsanius, but his luck begins to change when Octavianus, Caesarís nephew, hears about the accusation. Octavianus is in such disbelief that he begins his own private investigation. As Iím sure youíve figured, smart reader, you play as Octavianus, and itís your job to find the real killer of Caesar.
Octavianus isnít exactly the strongest guy in the world. In fact, heís the type of guy youíd push into the mud in elementary school: long blonde hair with deep, sunken in blue eyes and almost a complete lack of muscles. Since he canít fight his way through the vast armies of Rome to find the answers he needs to prove that Vipsanius is innocent, heíll have to rely on his intellect, like most nerds do. As Octavianus, youíll have to do lots of sneaking past guards and donning of costumes in order to get the clues to move on in the game. Youíll have to pick up apples and throw them at guards to get them to move out from doors. Youíll also have to deal with a frustrating amount of trial and error and some really, really dumb AI.
When sneaking around as Octavianus, youíll have to do a lot of avoiding of guards, since like I said; heís a weakling and canít handle combat at all. Thankfully, the guards heads are filled with seemingly the same rocks you can throw to distract them. When seen by a guard, theyíll catch you and strike you down in one shot, unless of course you run away or climb on top of something. If you run away, theyíll give chase to you, but most of the time wonít be able to find you if you duck behind a box or a wall. Unlike in other games like Metal Gear Solid, the guards donít do room clearing or anything like that, instead opting to look around in a stationary position. Sometimes youíll even be able to climb on top of objects and just stand there and they wonít be able to see you, even though you could probably spit in their face from where you are.
Most of Octavianusí missions can be solved through looking at the map of the area and memorizing guard patrols, so in the later portions of the game the number of guards per area increases and their patrols tighten, so youíll have to resort to lots of trial and error in order to move on. The extra guards and the shorter patrols make your path even more linear than it is normally, so thereís very little room to experiment which ultimately leads to many of these missions being frustrating. The save system incorporated in the game does alleviate some of the frustration by offering unlimited continues and unlimited saves, but sadly you can only save at certain points, which sometimes are spread too far apart to be helpful.
ďBut dear sir,Ē you say, ďwhat about the blood that I saw in the trailers? Swords and maces, chariots and arenas!? What of them!?Ē
Because of Octavianus inability to do much of anything but hide like a girl (actually, in one sequence, you actually do dress up like a girl), he decides that he should alert Vipsaniusí son, Agrippa to the events unfolding. Agrippa is the polar opposite of Octavianus. While weíre to assume that since heís a great hero and a General in the Roman Army that he has some brains in his head, heís more of a muscle man, with buff arms akin to Vin Diesel. Even his poor voice-over, which is plagued with slowly delivered lines that never really added anything to the storyline or even the progression of sequences, give off the idea that he is in fact a retard.
Nope, Agrippa believes that ďactions speaks louder than words,Ē so every sequence you play involving him will inevitably be combat oriented. Think of the combat in this game as a cross between Onimusha (which the game borrows the engine from) and Devil May Cry, with it being faster than the former and slower than the latter. Youíll have lots of access to different weapons, each with their own weaknesses and benefits and the like. Maces are great for destroying statues and enemy heads, but are pretty challenging to use against fast moving enemies because of their lack of speed. Scimitars are great for chopping off limbs (which, I might add, can then be picked up and used against your enemies), but the weapon breaks rather easily.
All the weapons break eventually, so youíll have to cheer to the crowd for a new one to be thrown in. The crowd isnít going to toss in a weapon for nothing though, in return you have to build up their excitement, which is represented through an on-screen applause meter. If itís really low, maybe youíll get a sword, if youíre lucky, but if itís full, youíll get access to the best weapons in the game, like giant swords (very reminiscent of Cloudís in Final Fantasy VII) and two-handed maces that crush nearly everything. There are also very few healthpacks in the arenas, so youíll also have to beg the crowd for food which heals you, which is again based on their excitement. If they love what youíre doing, theyíll want to keep you around longer. If theyíre bored, consider yourself as good as dead.
Agrippaís events are based largely on actual gladiatorial games from ancient Rome, but a few are entirely fictional. Thereís an awesome sequence that puts Agrippa into the driverís seat of a chariot over the course of five races that was one of the most entertaining parts of the game. One battle has oil barrels scattered all over the arena as well as torches, so throw the barrel at an enemy and then toss the torch at them and the crowd goes wild.
Ultimately, all of these attacks are added up based on their value (combos earn more points) and the summation forms the ďSalvo System.Ē Salvo points are mainly earned to collect cups in the events (there are four rankings: no rank, bronze, silver, and gold), but sometimes a certain point requirement is necessary to progress. One particular battle required me to get more points than my foe and more kills than the hulking giant as well. This took almost half-a-dozen tries to accomplish. Either Iíd get enough points or Iíd get enough kills, but it took a while to get them both. These battles are annoying, but they can be accomplished much easier than some of the boss battles.
Of course, no game is perfect. Sometimes, youíll be asked to participate in team battles where youíre required to destroy all of the opposing teams statues (ďaskedĒ in the sense that you donít have to do it, but you canít progress in the game if you donít), which seem really cool but since the AI sucks these fights can be annoying. The computer controlled players will often stand around and not attack, leaving you to fight against an endless stream of enemies (if you kill one of the three on the board, a new one appears with full health) while youíre also expected to destroy the statues all by yourself.
There are also battle royals, which I didnít much like because the enemies usually gang up on you and donít really attack each other. Granted, it could be said that theyíre all teaming up to take out the toughest opponent, but it could also be said that itís dirty and cheap. I would have rather had lots of separate battles going on and be pitted up against a really strong enemy at the end instead of having to fight swarms of gnats. Couple this with an obnoxious targeting system that enjoys targeting enemies who arenít hitting you over the ones that are destroying you, and youíll be wanting to toss your controller into the floor (I did, and it broke. My bad.).
During combat, you have no ability to control your character after youíve started a move (canít duck or dodge once your attack sequence has started), so youíll often get pummeled with cheap shots. There will be times youíll strike an opponent across the face with a blade and he wonít even flinch nor have his attack sequence disrupted. This can be an incredible annoyance during battles where youíre going against quite a few enemies at once, especially when your backs to the wall.
Bosses will frequently use cheap tactics (like, you canít block their strongest attacks but they can block all of your attacks unless youíre incredibly fast) and also have multiple health bars. Instead of making fun, inventive battles, most of them rely on you exploiting the one weakness the boss has over and over again until they die. Of course, since they have so much more health than you theyíll kick your ass several times until you finally get lucky enough to kill them, which made me incredibly pissed off to the point where I wanted to snap the disc in half, especially later in the game.
Shadow of Rome uses the Onimusha 3 graphics engine, so if you do decide to pick up this game, be prepared for some nice graphics. All the characters in the game are designed very nicely with detailed clothing and facial features. The environments you fight in feature some solid textures, and there are some awesome flame effects incorporated in the game. It isnít all great though. While the cutscenes are very fluid and well animated, sometimes your character will have a different weapon than the one you selected or will be wearing different clothes than you had on. Also, when large crowds of Romans have gathered together, most of the Romans look incredibly flat and bland. As previously mentioned, most of the voice-overs suck, but the orchestrated score for the game is very pleasant to listen to repeatedly.
The two styles of gameplay found in Shadow of Rome are integrated surprisingly well. Just when youíre probably growing weary of the action sequences, the game will leave the arena and youíll have to mess around as Octavianus for a while, and when you get bored with that, itís back to combat. You donít really have a choice in the matter as the game is incredibly linear, but it works well either way. Ultimately though, both of them have their faults, which leads you to wonder what would have happened if Capcom had focused instead on just one of them. Instead, weíre just left with one more game that relies on frustrating elements to make a short game seem longer, and one more game that settles at just average.
Five out of ten