Shadow of Rome E3 2004 Hands-On Impressions

We try out Capcom's upcoming PlayStation 2 action game.

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Shadow of Rome is the upcoming action game from Capcom being developed under the guidance of Keiji Inafune, the veteran developer whose resume includes the Capcom and Onimusha franchises. The game is set in ancient Rome and offers two distinctly different play experiences. We had the chance to try out a work-in-progress version of the game at a Capcom press event prior to this year's E3 to see how the experience is shaping up.

The demo allows you to play through two levels, one for each of the two playable characters, Agrippa and Octavianus. Each character's level showed off the distinct play styles they'll offer. Agrippa is a gladiator whose gameplay revolves around combat while Octavianus is a more stealth-oriented character and uses his brain to solve his problems.

Agrippa's level revolved around kicking ass in gladiatorial combat. The level was then broken into separate chunks that were in the form of different competitions. You'll start out in the ancient Roman equivalent of a locker room and head off into battle. The initial fight you'll participate in is fairly simple and introduces you to the basics of combat. You'll have two main forms of attack: a main attack and a secondary attack, both of which can be charged up by holding down the respective buttons for a few seconds. R1 will lock you onto your opponent so that you can shoulder-ram him, which is important for knocking the weapons out of his hands. As you'd expect, weapons are a vital component of Agrippa's combat regime. However, in addition to knocking them from your foe's grip, you'll be able to get the crowd to lend you a hand and toss you some arms by appealing to them. By holding down the square and X buttons you'll be able to mug to the masses and do some old-fashioned arm-pumping (which fills an onscreen meter) to get them on your side. Once the meter has filled up enough, the masses will start showing their favor by tossing weapons and shields into the ring for you. This is a vital part of your battle experience as both weapons and shields will break after repeated use over the course of a battle, forcing you to mix up what you use. We were pleased to see that it's ultimately your choice as to whether or not you use a weapon and a shield or two weapons; this helps you tailor your experience to your preferred play style. In addition to armed combat, Agrippa is no slouch in the hand-to-hand department, as he offers a number of brutal moves, such as suplexes, and he uses a foe as a human shield. While the combat system is very solid, we have to say our most favorite thing to do in the demo is to take over a fallen foe and use their arms as blunt instruments in battle. Granted, severed arms aren't terribly durable and don't last as long as a good sword or a spear, but it sure is cool to use them.

While Agrippa's level is all about being a killing machine, Octavianus' level is much more stealth-focused. Your goal is to make your way through an area, subdue a senator, steal his robes, and escape. While this sounds pretty straightforward, it's not, as Octavianus can't power through his task thanks to the presence of well-armed guards. To keep from being skewered you have to use your head and anything else you find in the environment. The first order of business is to get past a few rooms filled with guards. In order to do so you have to disguise yourself as a guard. You'll be able to obtain a moderately convincing disguise by using a vase to knock out a guard and steal his costume. However, due to the notable discrepancies in your builds, you don't fit into the armor too well and you will have to walk quickly, yet purposefully past several guards without them scrutinizing you. An onscreen meter allows you to track how many suspicious people you encounter and who you think is on to you, which helps you determine when to walk or run. While you're spotted shortly after making it through a few guards, you're able to avoid being caught by hiding in a massive urn. The next part of the demo has you collecting rope and overpowering a senator for those much-needed robes. The mechanic requires you to sneak up behind your target and start mashing buttons until you get the upper hand. After you get your new threads you'll have to hide the evidence and drag the senator's body out of sight before leaving. Once out of the area, you'll have to avoid bandits in similar fashion, however, this time you're able to use your head and some fruit to get past them. You can enter a stairwell and leave banana peels strewn about, and then you can move up to the second floor where you can throw apples at the bandits to get their attention. Once they start to come after you they'll slip on the banana peels and get knocked out, allowing you to steal their outfits. However, to complete your disguise you'll need to look around for a helmet to hide your face and make it past the last cluster of guards.

The graphics in the demo for both characters are impressive and they offer detailed character models and environments. Animation is well done for both combat and sneaking and gives the characters a nice, smooth look. You'll also see little touches, such as sand kicked up in the arena and confetti from the crowd once they start rooting for you, that help bring the world to life.

Audio in the demo was strong and helped to draw you into both play styles effectively. The audio in Agrippa's levels is pretty slick and initially stands out; however, the subtle sounds in Octavianus' area were also impressive.

From what we played, Shadow of Rome is coming together quite nicely. The different play styles are a good contrast to each other, and they should have a lot to offer in the final game. Shadow of Rome is currently slated to ship exclusively for the PlayStation 2 this fall.

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