Hello all! Last week, we took a trip to Japan, where we played as a samurai that did whatever the hell he or she wanted.
Today, we go from Japan to ancient Rome, and get entangled in a (very) fictional take on the assassination of Julius Caesar. And there’s a chariot race!
Shadow of Rome is a somewhat under-the-radar release by Capcom. It wasn’t a commercial success, and it’s largely forgotten these days. It’s one of those games that disappears as quietly as it appeared. Sort of a blip.
It’s still a riot, though. Taking place in, um, Rome, Shadow of Rome tells a fictionalized account of the death of Julius Caesar. Everyone knows Caesar was killed by a group of conspirators and all that, but here, the blame is placed entirely on a man named Vipsanius, who is the father of Roman soldier Agrippa (one of two playable characters). A gladiatorial tournament soon begins, the winner of which wins the right to execute Vipsanius.
Agrippa enters the tournament after the execution of his mother, killed in retaliation for Caesar’s murder. Meanwhile, Agrippa’s unlikely friend and Caesar’s nephew Octavianus (the other playable character) investigates the murder on his own.
The game is a bloody good time, and also cheesy in the best way.
Your time with Shadow of Rome is split between Agrippa’s and Octavianus’ separate but related adventures. Agrippa takes up the meat of the game, as you take him through one gladiator arena battle after another, each with more, tougher enemies and different rules and objectives. The combat, from a technical standpoint, is serviceable. It’s simple without being bland; typically, you’ll grab a weapon and hack the nearest enemy to pieces. You can charge up strikes to make them more powerful, which is enough to relieve an enemy of his limbs.
It’s an incredibly bloody, violent game, and we’d tolerate no less in a game about gladiators. But it’s also got a sense of humor; you can pick up bread and cheese and eat like a maniac to regain health, and appealing to the crowd after building up Salvo Points (which represent the crowd’s excitement) results in a crowd member tossing Agrippa a new weapon. It’s pretty hilarious to hear a fan yell “Use this!” and hurl an enormous axe mere feet from you. It’s also necessary, as weapons break after short use, forcing you to mix it up. Also keeping the game fresh is objectives that have to be completed while you’re doing all this gory hacking; they’re all pretty simple hit-switch-to-open-door stuff, but it still keeps the game from devolving into endless hack-and-slash gameplay. A chariot race nicely breaks things up at around the midway point.
It’s a pretty cool segment.
Of course, it’s not all fun and games (bread and circuses, if you will). See, you also have to play as Octavianus, and his segments are...well, they’re awful.
Octavianus isn’t a gladiator like Agrippa. He’s more of a scrawny waif, and you can probably see where this is going. Being bad at combat means stealth missions. Now...I’m not against stealth games at all. I’m a fan of Metal Gear, Splinter Cell, I snuck through all of Dishonored...but one thing I can’t stand is games that shoehorn in a stealth segment when said game isn’t designed for such a thing. This typically means clunky controls and insta-fails when—when—you get spotted by a doofy enemy, likely because the camera wasn’t cooperating.
These sections (which number a few more than there should be), bring Shadow of Rome to a screeching halt. It’s a pretty jarring disconnect, considering you go from exciting gladiator stuff to peering around corners and hiding in giant jugs (really).
You can trip dudes with banana peels, though. That makes this almost worthwhile.
Still, the Agrippa sections are more than worth the price of admission. They’re fun as hell, and the story isn’t half bad if you’re willing to accept some (read: lots of) nonsense. There’s a “twist” towards the end that makes zero sense. But the game is a riot regardless; it’s better than its generic title and near-obscurity let on. It’s also pretty good looking consigering its age; it’s a bit simple looking, but the characters look pretty good save for some odd facial expressions. Or maybe that’s part of the fun. Who knows. I can’t really tell anymore.
All I know is this silly game is good, stupid fun. It’s like a “B” game, and sometimes those are just great, right? Track it down and check it out if you get a chance. It’s a hoot.
Thanks always for reading my stuff! As always, leave comments, suggest future games to be featured as Game of the Week, and find me on Twitter!
Next week is an EA-published title that everybody likes and never stops talking about, because they never made a sequel. Technically, you play as a plumber in this one. At the start, anyway.