Review by: Phillip Hiner
Published: August 18th, 2005
Julius Gaius Caesar was one of the most celebrated generals and politicians in Roman history. He was also the man who started the Roman Civil War, which led to his ultimate control of the great empire, although he refused the crown itself. On the Ides of March, 44BC, as he was in the process of beginning several major reformations within the government, he was brutally killed. In Shadow of Rome, Capcom alludes to Shakespeare’s historical narrative with the poetic last words, “Et tu, Brute…?
The time is 44BC, 2023 years before Capcom is founded, and the setting is ancient Italy, during the rise of the far-reaching Roman Empire. Julius Caesar has just been assassinated in the great Hall of Pompey, named after one of his fellow generals, and the story becomes a whirlwind of intrigue and intricate layers of mystery from that moment on. For those unfamiliar with William Shakespeare’s play, it truly is a conundrum for much of the time they play. For those who are familiar with it, it is still a terrific story, and very involving.
The player is in control of two characters that are as different from one another as fire and ice: Agrippa and Octavianus. Agrippa, a general as strong as an ox and with brains to match, hastens to Rome when he learns that Caesar was killed. Octavianus is a sly and clever young man who relies on stealth and subterfuge to accomplish his goals. In the Fora Romano, Cicero, the Senate’s most influential member, proclaims to the grief-stricken public that Antonius will take up the mantle of Emperor. The Senator also announces that the slayer of Caesar is none other than Vipsanius, Agrippa’s father, caught literally red handed. Octavianus learns later, after eavesdropping on a Senate meeting, that the executioner of the foul murderer will be determined by a series of great gladiatorial games and that Vipsania, Agrippa’s mother, is to be publicly executed as well. Failing to rescue his mother, Agrippa enters the gladiatorial games so that by winning, he will have the chance to save his father while Octavianus contrives to gather evidence to prove that Vipsanius is innocent and to discover who the real killer is.
Shadow of Rome consists of two completely disparate styles of play. Agrippa is very straightforward hack-and-slash, with a wide variety of combos and weapons to choose from. The combat is intense and gory, and incredibly satisfying. My fondest moment was being surrounded during a Grand Royal melee and swinging my enormous halberd to sever several arms and heads to a great deal of cheering from the bloodthirsty crowds, then hurling the massive polearm at the last combatant, killing him and winning the round. There are times when the combat seems oversimplified, though, and it can be frustrating to reliably reproduce some moves, especially the ones that yield the most points. Completing moves and meeting certain criteria will earn Salvo points, which determine placement at the end of the battle. For instance, when the player cuts an opponent’s head off with a swing from a bladed weapon, they will earn 300 Salvo points, a spatter of gore, and the words “The Guillotine” will flash over the screen.