Shadow of Rome PS2 Review

It’s horrifying to think that gladiators really did exist and only lived to tear each other apart, whilst the spectators actually enjoyed the resulting massacres leading us to believe that they were nothing but bloodthirsty animals. Capcom’s Shadow of Rome portrays this brutal part of history in an extremely gory fashion and even throws crowd excitement in for good authentic measure.

The games decently acted plot pans out over two different perspectives and works a treat. You commence the game as Agrippa; a Roman soldier who is later dealt a blow when his father is accused of the worst atrocity imaginable in the brutal slaying of the much-loved Julius Caesar. For reasons we won’t reveal here (although linked to his father) Agrippa later becomes a gladiator. Octavianus (friend of Agrippa and nephew of Caesar) meanwhile is tasked with trying to find out the truth of the assassination in a rather twisty and enjoyable plot.

The contrasting gaming styles on show here assures that Shadow of Rome stays fresh throughout and meshes surprisingly well thanks to the drip fed plot. For most of his portion of the game, Agrippa is taking part in the gladiatorial games and therefore doesn’t do much sightseeing other then going around the different arenas, Octavianus on the other hand isn’t bounded by such brutality therefore his sections of the game are where you’ll find yourself outside the arenas for some sneaky Roman-style espionage.

Agrippa’s portions certainly aren’t for the squeamish as body parts are literally sawn off opponents and this obviously results in plenty of the gushing red stuff. Crowd reaction is imperative if you want to earn yourself some big sharp weapons and even a snack. There’s many ways to draw excitement from the spectators, if it’s slashing limbs off your foes or throwing rocks at your enemies, the possibilities are often startling (there’s almost 200 of them to uncover) and finding each and every one became almost an obsession for us. Doing so fills the Salvo meter and when topped an appeal to the crowd will earn you a weapon from the people that could probably cut a tree down with a weak swing. Food can also be earned, which refills your energy meter; a nice touch is the fact that eating one of these snacks leaves you open to enemy attack and bashing the button will speed up the munching.

Weapons are satisfyingly cruel on your opponents and to amputate a limb and then later use it to batter your wounded foe adds a little laugh out loud moment into proceedings. Weapons break after so much use, which leaves you with only your fists to defend yourself with; luckily you are able to retrieve further weapons in each event. To witness an opponent reach a massive axe before you are able to gain possession of it is one of the games many frustrating moments, such weapons do make a difference between victory and defeat after all.

Just when you think you’ve seen all of the gladiatorial events Chariot racing is added to the list. Like the rest of the game it’s pretty solid stuff allowing you to whip your horse to speed up at the expense of stamina, pull on the reigns to slow it down and even use weapons when riding side by side with an opponent. We mostly found victory by bringing death to all our opponents after being handed a useful weapon from a slave.

Octavianus’s stealth sections instantly reminded us of the Hitman series, such is the similar reliance on disguises. Knocking an enemy out cold, allows you to drag their bodies out of sight as well as often steal their clothes. You can even carry items when you are in disguise and hide them from prying enemy eyes, then casually walk behind and send it crashing across their skulls (if you possess something like a jug), very satisfying. Guards often stop you in your tracks when you are attempting to look normal, which then results in a small conversation and plenty of lying on your part. Choosing the correct response will naturally cover your true identity, whilst the wrong one will reveal it, it’s a smart idea, which gives a neat new dimension to stealth play. Octavianus certainly is no Agent 47-style cold-blooded killer though; even an apparent strangulation of an enemy often sees him miraculously return to his feet when found by a buddy.

Whether you are spilling blood in the coliseum or sneaking around a Roman garden, the game looks lovely. Character detail is superb and those tigers and elephants look amazing. It all runs at a tremendous pace over fully 3D backdrops, which often appear grand in scale.

Shadow of Rome is often frustrating but it’s also extremely addictive, which isn’t necessarily a good formula for your patience, but it all contributes to a very stellar title. All the play styles are worlds apart from one another, but fuse perfectly well to make one fantastic game. We hope it becomes another big franchise for Capcom.