Shadow of Rome (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a hybrid game – it contains equal parts stealth and hack and slash action, both taking place in the third person perspective. Developed by Capcom exclusively for the PS2, it was well reviewed but it did not sell very well and it’s sequel was canceled and turned into Dead Rising. I’m always fascinated with these hidden gems that will likely never be re-released on more modern platforms – there is just a sense of discovery playing something that most people didn’t and that’s actually good while trying to see if you can figure out why it failed commercially. Or maybe that’s just me.
Set in an alternate timeline based around the murder of Julius Caesar, Shadow of Rome takes place from the perspective of two protagonists – Agrippa who is a roman soldier turned gladiator, and Octavanius – Caesar’s nephew. Agrippa does the action heavy hack and slash portions of the game, while Octavanius’ chapters are more about stealth. During my brief time with the game, Agrippa was the main character I played as and therefore most of what I’ll be basing this post on. The game begins with a fairly long cinematic laying out the characters and ending with Caesar’s murder. The intro started with a scene pulled directly from Gladiator starring Russel Crowe (barbarian hordes taking on the roman legion) – which I think is hilarious. The development team clearly used this movie as a baseline and they don’t even try to hide it. This game has a TON of cinematics – every small section of gameplay seemed bookended by them. They look good, especially for 2005, and I bet Capcom spent a fortune on them.
Gameplay has you locking onto targets with R1 and then using various attacks. You can pick up various weapons in the environments and they act differently depending on their type. Weapons degrade as you use them and eventually break, forcing you to switch it up (something they kept for Dead Rising). When not locked on, I found myself sometimes swinging with my back turned to the enemy. I’m not sure if this was due to camera controls being too touchy (or not touchy enough) or being locked into swing animations, but it was my only complaint about the combat. Occasionally, you’ll kill an enemy and a phrase will pop onto the screen – I ran into about a dozen in my time with the game and they were always different. Here is an example:
While funny, they do feel a bit out of place with the rest of the game having a fairly serious tone. Despite this, I like them and it makes the game have a little more personality than it normally would.
Sound is fantastic throughout – music is orchestral and epic and sound effects have weight and always feel fitting to the action they are tied to. Usually games of this era have compressed music but I didn’t detect any compression artifacts at all – the soundtrack really is something. Voice work was fair to good, with nothing in particular standing out as great or terrible.
Visually, Shadow of Rome may be one of the best looking PS2 games I’ve ever played. Textures were far more complex than I would expect from the time period and hardware, and character models and environments were very detailed. I really can’t get over how great this game looked – it’s clearly not a modern title but it holds up very well.
Overall, I had a good time with Shadow of Rome. I didn’t get an opportunity to try much of the stealth sections, which may have changed my opinion, but as it stands this is a fun game that’s visually stunning with a fantastic soundtrack – what’s not to love?
Verdict: Play again!
Images courtesy of Giant Bomb