You ever think about those old games you used to play and wonder what happened to them? Maybe you wonder why there was never a sequel, or what the dev team moved onto. They probably never sold enough copies, went out of business, or got consumed by one of the giant publishers (probably EA…). But we can at least dream about them! And that’s what I intend to do right here. Somet of games from the past that I always wished for a sequel to actually came true, but they almost never meet expectations (Star Wars: Battlefront…), so what I really want is probably just a remaster of old games so I can play them again with better controls and modern graphics. Instead for now I will make do with some good old fashioned reminiscing!
The first game I decided to talk about in this topic had to be Shadow of Rome. A historically themed hack and slash / stealth game made by Capcom in 2005, one year before the PS3 but still a height of the PS2 era. This is a game that I find creeping into my mind on a regular basis, worryingly often actually. I think it was an absolute gem, and yet I’ve never met anyone else that has played or even heard of it.
The basic premise of the game, is that it’s obviously set in ancient Rome, and is loosely based on real events and people. The story revolves around the assassination of Julius Caesar. You play as two main characters in different segments of the game, first as Agrippa, a centurion based on a real historical general. Agrippa is the son of Vipsanius, the man who gets accused with the murder of Caesar. A gladiatorial tournament is held and the winner to be given the honour of executing the supposed assassin, so Agrippa becomes a gladiator to try and save his father. Meanwhile, you also play as Octavianus, Caesar’s nephew, and friend of Agrippa (based on a young Augustus), who infiltrates the senate and other important places in Rome to uncover the truth behind Caesar’s murder. The game does a surprisingly good job in general of portraying the period for what it is (a better job than Ryse at least). Of course the story is very loosely based on real characters and events, and is mostly a work of historical fiction, but the presentation is quite nice, albeit with some typical Japanese videogame quirks such as giant oversized weapons and huge hulking warriors.
The stealth sections of the game are clearly the weakest, but they are where most of the plot development takes place. This is the part where you play as Octavianus, and it plays like a very simple version of an old Metal Gear Solid or Hitman game. There is very little to do if you need to defend yourself, so this part of the game revolves around staying hidden, using disguises and sometimes knocking a guard out if they are conveniently not wearing a helmet for some reason. These sneaking parts could get very hard and frustrating, but there were some more cool parts in these segments, such as being able to explore different parts of the city of Rome, interacting with different people on the streets, and investigating the plot in different ways such as with dialogue and puzzle solving.
Where the game really shines, and what makes me think about it so often is the gladiatorial combat. Playing as Agrippa in his own Russell Crowe Gladiator style story was just amazing. You work your way up through the tournament, starting with some easy one on one fights in small arenas across the Empire, until you eventually get to the Colosseum, and fight in various match types, such as a huge battle royale, team battles, obstacle course battles, hostage rescue challenges, and even incredibly hard fights against various animals such as tigers and elephants. A surprisingly departure from basic fighting matches was the chariot racing segments, which were also pretty brutal too.
The combat system, while fairly clunky to go back to now, I remember feeling very fluid and visceral at the time. It was truly brutal, with plenty of blood and dismemberment. There were a lot of combos and special moves, as well as grapples that I remember feeling like a fighting game at times. There was also a huge variety of weapons, all with differing combos and play styles, ranging from small and fast knives and swords, to big two handed weapons, giant maces and mauls, different shields, some with spikes, various ranged weapons such as slings and bows, throwing weapons, and the ability to throw any weapon. You could even pick up severed limbs to use as improvised weapons. A key element to the combat was the durability on the weapons, which degraded very quickly. In most other games I would find this annoying, but here the matches were mostly over quite quickly, and the need to scramble for new weapons added some extra desperation and excitement to the fights. Another big part of the gladiator matches was the ‘salvo’ system, which was represented by a meter on screen. This essentially showed your popularity with the crowd at any given moment, and you could improve this by performing more elaborate moves and killing your opponents in various ways. When you thought the meter was high enough, you could then perform a taunt move which prompted someone from the crowd to throw you an item, sometimes this could simply be food do heal you, or maybe a helmet to protect yourself with, but the higher your salvos were, the better and better items you would get, including some more rare and powerful weapons. This system played perfectly with the way the weapons degraded, as you could often get something usable from the crowd. You’d better be quick about picking it up though, or your opponent could grab it first! And then you’d have to perform a button mashing QTE to snatch it back off them!
Overall, this game was great mostly because of the really solid and varied combat system that was placed in an equally varied array of matches and battles. But I’ve also always been a sucker for a historical game. Evidently this is not the case with everyone thought, because the game did incredibly poorly in sales, most likely due to the general console audience at the time being less interested in the presentation of the game and its setting. There were supposedly multiple sequels planned for this game, but the series was dead on arrival, and they were scrapped. The combat system went on to become the one we see in Capcom’s zombie action game Dead Rising one year later on the next gen Xbox 360 system. The huge hype around zombies at the time and the capabilities of the new console saw the game to great success, and Shadow of Rome was left in the dust. I think this was a huge shame, as Dead Rising had nowhere near the level of interesting combat situations or variety and challenge in enemies, but zombies were unfortunately just more popular than gladiators