Games That Time Forgot: Shadow of Rome (2005)
There was a time -- an ancient, semi-glorious, but overall pretty lame time -- when everyone thought it was cool to go back to ancient Rome and revere the glory of the lowly gladiator in the name of making what's known as buckus maximus.
Russell Crowe thought it was cool. So did HBO with its mini-series simply titled "Rome."
Of course, games had to get a piece of that action. And, of course, there were about a hundred crappy Roman, or at least vaguely Roman, gladiator simulators back then.
There was Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance, Spartan: Total Warrior, Colosseum: Road to Freedom, and 300: March to Glory. Even the Ratchet & Clank series got in on the action with the Dreadzone arenas of Ratchet: Deadlocked.
But no game captured the bloody, gory, sail-on-little-limb-sail-on spirit of the arena quite like Shadow of Rome did on the PlayStation 2.
Now this, my friends, was a game.
Shadow splits time between two characters: the brute Agrippa and the fey Octavianus. Agrippa is where the heart and soul of the game lives. Octavianus' levels are mostly shit. They consist of sneaking around Roman environs where he should not be, while dressed in various costumes, including as a woman. The levels with Octavianus are exactly like Metal Gear Solid 2, only infinitely more terrible.
Octavianus = boring.
In case you couldn't tell, I despised all of the Octavianus levels. To this day I believe they could have very easily been excised from this already overlong game -- the thing clocks in at a very old-school 20 hours. Just get through his levels, and get back to the wonderful Agrippa gladiator battles.
My, what wonderful battles these, um, battles are! Huge, hulking brutes enter increasingly ornate arenas. The arenas have traps around them, like fiery areas and a place that squashes people like a juicer. That's what I called it: People Juicer. Ha, ha!
The idea here is to get the crowd worked into a bloodthirsty craze. You do this by killing your opponents in the most dramatic way imaginable. Bash in heads. Squash them in the People Juicer. The more imagination you use, the more stylish your kills, the quicker you fill up the Salvo meter in the bottom-right-hand corner of the screen.
When the Salvo meter is filled, hit the X and Square button simultaneously, and the crowd will go bat-shit insane. In fact, it will go so insane that it will often toss you a piece of bread, or a block of cheese, or maybe even a turkey leg. Gobble up whatever it tosses for an instant health boost! Cool!
The crowd can also toss a giant-ass weapon. I still chuckle at the memory of the roaring crowd, when suddenly, end over end over end, a GIGANTIC HALBERD comes sailing out of the crowd and lands directly at my feet.
The battles are brutal, dramatic affairs thanks to the fact that the arena designs become increasingly insane. (Not to mention the fact that your opponents become bigger and more intimidating as the game progresses.) By the time you're finished off an arena, you'll inevitably be waist-deep in limbs, caked with the blood of your enemies, arms raised above your head in sweet, sweet victory.
So this is the glory of Rome that I've heard so much about!
"You're all dead!!!!!! Ha, ha!"
Of course, this is still a Capcom-published game, so expect plenty of crazy, surreal and totally nonsensical horseshit, particularly in the game's later levels. There's even a half-cooked series of chariot races for you to partake in, which are designed to give you a break from the Agrippa/Octavianus grind.
The game would have been better off without the chariot races. In fact, it would have been better off without a lot of things. But that could be said of most games, in all fairness. What makes Shadow of Rome special are those super-violent, super-gory, blood-geysering-skyward-like-Old-Faithful arena battles. Even as I type this, I'm wishing I was playing this damn game, damn it all.
So why was this game forgotten? My guess is that it fell into the nowhere zone between Ridley Scott's "Gladiator" (2000) and "300" (2007). And during that lull, there was an awful lot of gladiator stuff already in the media. Also: Shadow of Rome's box cover looked a lot like the box cover for Colosseum: Road to Freedom. Which only confused and bored consumers further.
Alas, the Fates were not on this game's side. But it's not too late, dear reader, for you to right this historical wrong.
Go play Shadow of Rome and you shall rewrite history itself! (Cue end-over-end gigantic halberd.)
Check out more Games That Time Forgot.