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Shadow of Rome
  opened by paleface at 03:42:02 03/01/05  
  last modified by paleface at 03:50:07 03/01/05  
  paleface [sys=PS2; cat=Adventure; loc=NA]
A good example of one of those games that wants to be two-games-in-one, and how it backfires. People, this is never a good idea.
Game number one is you as a "Gladiator"-style guy fighting in the Roman arena, fighting Germans in the northern forest, and so on. Some of the CGI scenes in particular are straight out of the movie "Gladiator," oh well. The fighting engine isn't very deep: mash X, sometimes square to keep people off-balance with a jab or bow shot, triangle can throw your weapon, L1 blocks, hold R1 to lock on. As you fight you get "Salvos" which look like combos at first but really they're just sort of coincidental things tha happen, like chopping through three guys at once.
Yeah, you can do that, if you get a polearm big enough. The gore is a little silly at times (you can turn it down in the menus, I think)--how often did people really club fighters to death with severed limbs, for instance? Eh. On the plus side, although it's pretty simple, the combat feels nice and gritty, with lots of smashing against the opponent's guard, grappling for weapons, beefy slicing sounds, and so on. You often face multiple opponents at once and they usually have a variety of different weapons among them, so simple tactical strategies come into play.
Character models and animation deserve special kudos: fighters really look colossal in this game, and they move very smoothly and fluidly through all their combat states. Even up-close they look good, and I think the subtle cel-shading, that gives models a faint, darker-colored line border, helps here somehow, in conjunction with a nice rich glow effect to boost the color saturation and give things a sort of thick dusty hazy look, the kind of thing the PS2 actually does pretty darn well.
That's all to the good: now for the not-so-good stuff.
The story is laughable. Really, really bad, and if you know anything about Roman history, you will probably be kidney-punching yourself in disgust at what Capcom's writers pulled out of someone's deep, dark nether cavity. It's really bad, and makes the game just feel silly. Why couldn't they have just stuck to a non-instrusive story around the periphery of the death of Caesar? Why involve the player in a completely fabricated (not that history isn't fabricated, but at least it's an old fabrication that everyone is mostly happy with) set of ridiculous plot twists that don't even fit in with what is known of Roman society of the time? Gad.
But you can kind of play all that off as an elaborately silly joke. The real bad comes in the second game they packed in here: stealth action! Yes! As "Octavianus," nephew of Caesar (argh!), with pink (?!) hair, you stumble around Rome, having to talk to random people and knock other people out with jars to the back of the head. Each area you have to "stealth" through is laid out like a rather arbitrary puzzle--for instance, you may have to get into a room by knocking out the guard, but to do that you have to walk past three guards, disguised, pick up the rope at the very end of the hallway, then go back, hiding the rope from their view, and strangle them one by one with the rope. Helping this is definite arbitrary mechanics: you can only jump, drop, crawl, whatever, at certain designated spots. Can I jump up on that bench? Well, I don't know: run up to it and see if you get an "Action" marker on it. If you do, it must be part of this area's stealth puzzle! If not, then just forget about it because it's completely useless. Whee!
Guard AI is, of course, pretty damn dumb, but it has to be in stealth games because, well, trying to portray real stealth and infiltration, particularly when it's supposed to be action-packed, just doesn't really work without taking huge liberties with the "reality" that you are so desperately trying to portray. Gah. I hate stealth games, and this one is particularly bad. For instance, when you're disguised (knock someone out from behind, rip off their clothes) you have to walk rather than run if you don't want to attract suspicion, and to do that, you have to push the analog stick just a *little* in the direction you want to go; press too hard and oops! you just run and blew your cover, and you'll die in a single guard hit and then it's back to doing the whole area over! Yay!
And then there are the riddle parts. Like, when trying to get into the forum, you just wander around outside with a guard and a few lingering civilians to talk with. Talk to them all once and absolutely nothing happens. You have nowhere to go. But wait! What talk to the guard again now! Bonanza! You are a puzzle-solving genius. Now he gives you a stupid quiz about why you should go inside, and if you get the questions mostly right, in you go!
Then, after painfully "stealthing" your way through four or so areas, knocking out about a half-dozen guards, you get into the forum, only to discover something that your character should have been able to find out fifteen minutes later in the public square, in plenty of time to take the same useless bystander action he eventually takes. See? Not only is the stealth action painful in practice, it's even rendered pointless by the plot. Yay!
The voice actors sound professional, but for some reason the script is incredibly stilted and forced. Contractions seem to be taboo, for instance (because Latin doesn't have contractions? does it? should that matter? No!), and everyone ends up sounding anal and dead inside.
I'm not really sure how much of the total play time ends up being the gladiating part...I really hope it's the majority of it. Those parts are fun; the stealth parts are awful.

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