Shadow Of Rome

We all know the saying: When in Rome, cave enemies' heads in with unfortunately-named combo moves (e.g. the skull-splitting "Juicy Tomato") or spend your days skulking about the Senate. At least, that's how the story goes throughout Shadow Of Rome, Capcom's first action-adventure targeted at Western audiences. As gladiator Agrippa, an adorable lug whose throaty bellows often lapse into incomprehensible, Fozzie Bear-like warbles, or dandy Octavianus, you'll investigate Caesar's murder via strength of arms and subterfuge, respectively.

Alas, it's precisely that schizophrenic approach that keeps the game from kicking maximus assus. A killer combat system–tapping buttons lets players lop off limbs with swords, scimitars, axes, maces and more–will assuredly leave players thirsting for blood. But pray as you might for additional encounters with massive barbarians, loutish legionnaires, and grotesquely beefy bosses, you'll have to sit through long-winded story sequences and poorly paced stealth scenarios ad infinitum. It wouldn't be so bad if the script was a literary triumph; instead, viewers are treated to plot twists so clichéd that they make Steve Reeves movies look like Ben-Hur. Still, for every agonizing moment you'll spend slowly tiptoeing about or answering guards' incessant questions, there's an equally brilliant beheading around the corner.

Beyond the gameplay: There have been porn films with better casting than this. Amateurs provide character voiceovers, rendering otherwise attractive cutscenes into a painful experience. The easiest way to survive each sitting: Make a drinking game of it. Pound one every time a) someone loses a relative, b) the heroes shriek in abject horror, and c) seemingly interesting individuals lose any appeal the second they open their mouths.

Worth playing for: Random amputations. Lop off an enemy's arm, and you can then pick up the limb and pummel their associates with it.

Frustration sets in when: You realize it's been half an hour since the last save point... and there's no auto-record feature.

Final judgment: Caveat emptor. As much as we adore armed encounters, the sub-par sneaking segments render it a hit-or-miss affair. Hold out hope for the inevitable sequel.

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