Shadow of Rome is the upcoming third-person action game from Capcom that's set in ancient Rome. The original game blends action and stealth gameplay elements to create a unique hybrid. We've been keeping an eye on Shadow of Rome since our exclusive first look at the game earlier this year. Our latest update came recently when producer Yoshinori Ono demoed a more complete work-in-progress version of the game for us that showed off much more of what to expect from the upcoming title.
The focus of our demo revolved around showing off the different aspects of Shadow of Rome's gameplay. While the basics have been common knowledge since the game's announcement, Capcom hasn't really shown off everything it has to offer in the game until now. For those who are unfamiliar with Shadow of Rome's mechanics, the game features two main characters--Agrippa, a gladiator whose gameplay is more action-focused, and Octavianus, a friend of Agrippa who features a stealth-oriented gameplay style. The pair is working to uncover information that will prove the innocence of Agrippa's father, who has been accused of murdering Caesar and is slated to be executed.
While it may sound as though the mechanics in Shadow of Rome are straightforward, especially given the apparently cut-and-dried difference between the play styles for each character, neither one is easy to label. Although Agrippa's action segments may appear to be from your run-of-the-mill hack-and-slasher, there's quite a bit more to them than that. The game features a full-fledged combat system that incorporates all manner of weapons and attacks with interactive environments and some totally different mechanics, which appear in the form of chariot racing.
The arena combat sequences are lively mixes of straightforward hacking and slashing that also present some cerebral aspects that will require you to use your brain in conjunction with Agrippa's brawn. The early assortment of enemies you'll face consists of very disposable grunt-level forces that you can dispatch without much trouble. However, later on, in the face of enemies that are larger in size, greater in number, and simply better armed, running and trying to hack everything that moves isn't going to work. You'll have to be aware of your surroundings and be prepared to take advantage of any opportunity.
During certain match types, the ring will be flooded with foes you'll have to take out using one of the game's nicer surprises--a full-fledged combo system that gives you a healthy selection of ass-kicking moves for your death-dealing pleasure. Other matches will be thinner on the weapon presence in the ring, thus forcing you to make do with whatever's on hand, in addition to forcing you to use whatever your foes might be carrying. The audience mechanic factors into this, because if you appeal to your fans enough, they'll start to hook you up with weapons by throwing them in the ring.
The chariot racing sequences use some of the same crowd mechanics as you try to outpace or kill your opponents in a battle to the death that finds you behind the reins of a team of horses in a chariot. The attack system when in a chariot isn't as deep as the standard arena sequences, but you'll still find a healthy combat system that lets you beat on your foes or their vehicles. The chariots can actually be seriously damaged if you target their wheels. While this is very satisfying when you're doling out the hurt, we expect it's going to be considerably less fun when you're trying to maneuver a jacked-up chariot to exact some revenge on your foes (but that's gladiatorial combat for you).
Octavianus' stealth segments are likely to be the most misunderstood element of Shadow of Rome's gameplay. While you'll be sneaking about à la Solid Snake and Sam Fisher, there's much more to the experience than this. While sneaking is obviously an important part of Octavianus' play mechanics, it's just part of what you'll be doing. In his search for information to clear the good name of Agrippa's dad, the young Roman will be doing whatever it takes to get his leads on so that he'll know where to go. To this end, you can certainly plan on sneaking around while doing a healthy amount of listening at doors and looking in keyholes. But you'll also have to put some time into solving puzzles, such as how to take out physically superior enemies by using subtle means.
This isn't to say Octavianus won't be getting his hands dirty, although he won't be taking on trained guards or warriors head on. Octavianus is, however, a whiz at taking out wimpy senators when he's got a blunt object in hand and their backs are turned. Both opposition guards and senators will yield important items, such as information or keys that you'll need to progress. In some cases, your quarry will give up his clothes, allowing Octavianus to disguise himself so that he can sneak into places that he wouldn't ordinarily be able to.
The catch is that you won't be able to get too close to guards, because if you linger too long, Octavianus' book-smarts physique will give him away. Besides being able to disguise himself, Octavianus will be able to use a limited inventory system, in conjunction with the environment, to deal with his foes. You'll be able to use pieces of fruit to both bonk enemies from long distances and attract their attention, or you can use items such as banana peels to jack enemies (by carefully placing the peels on stairs).
The graphics Shadow of Rome, which make use of the impressive technology used for Onimusha 3's stunning visuals, are shaping up nicely. The main characters are large and feature a high level of detail that's well done. Non-player characters fair nearly as well, with generously sized models, impressive amounts of detail, and smooth animations. In addition, the members of the animal kingdom that are thrown into the mix, both in the chariot racing and in gladiatorial combat, are looking extremely sharp.
The environments in the game reflect a comparable level of thoroughness in their looks. Both the indoor and outdoor settings appear very good and feature little touches, like dynamic lighting, or interactive elements, such as dirt that you can throw in your opponent's face. (No one said the game was about a pair of Boy Scouts, people. It's kill or be killed.) The game's frame rate is currently hovering on the high end of the spectrum, even in the incomplete work-in-progress version that we saw demoed, which bodes well for the final game. In addition to the impressive in-game graphics, Shadow of Rome features some lush computer-generated movies that help propel the story along and set the game's tone.
The audio in the game is still a little rough, because it is still being implemented. However, it already sounds like a solid accompaniment to the impressive visuals. The game's score, while not fully implemented yet, is a dynamic assortment of tracks that reflects the onscreen action. The tunes we've heard during Agrippa's arena fighting have a very big feel to them that suits the scale of the gameplay. The full-bodied tracks are contrasted with much-more-understated pieces that frame Octavianus' more-deliberately paced stealth sequences. Voice in the game is being put to good use, since both characters are doing a fair share of speaking, and all the duo's opponents are doing quite a bit of talking as well. The most impressive element we've heard so far, though, has to be the roar of the crowd, which sounds like a massive creature as it reacts to Agrippa's battles.
Based on what we've seen so far, Shadow of Rome appears to be headed in a good direction. The varied gameplay is coming along well and should offer a good mix of stealth and action that will keep your tasks in the game from getting stale. We're curious as to exactly how everything is going to be balanced to ensure that the game is as user-friendly as has been stated, but so far, development appears to be going well. The visuals on display are ranking as some of the best on the PlayStation 2 and should provide ample eye candy for those who are looking for it. Shadow of Rome is currently slated to ship this fall for the PlayStation 2, so look for more on the game in the coming months. Until then, check out our exclusive interview with Mr. Ono--complete with a new direct feed of the game in motion--on our media page.