Rome is burning, so let's jump right into it: Shadow of Rome tells the story of Agrippa, a disgraced figure who has to enter the coliseum, and Octavianus, Julius Caesar's nephew, who sneaks around Rome investigating troubles. Agrippa's adventure gets more of the game's attention, if only because Capcom has been so keen on making it such a bloody spectacle, that I don't think a frame of the action can be put into a TV commercial, and probably shouldn't be left out in a Gamestop playable kiosk.
Octavianus's comparatively quiet missions of sneaking around the political world of palaces and opulent architecture serves as an interesting foil to the decadence below and far away. Though, of course, the sneaking missions don't hold a candle to the amoral activities to be had within the coliseum. Bloodlust bubbles in the stomach. And then there's the itchy fingers. Who's being disemboweled without your consent and not at your hands while you're made to sneak around Rome and hide behind boxes? Down in Agrippa's world, the garishly bright colors of the combo names and announcements that flash across the screen and the beautiful confetti thrown in the air as paean to your supreme studliness serves as another foil to the uncompromisingly violent spectacle, like a chintzy holiday celebration of blood, guts, and exposed muscle.
Truth be told, neither the coliseum battle or the sneaking around modes are particularly memorable, though they're created and executed as well as they probably could've been considering their shallow subject matter, and together they're enough to cover each other's flaws: the sneaking portion is enough to mollify the inherent tedium of the beat-em-up section, of which Agrippa's game essentially is, though disguised in history and blood. And the Salvo system is simple and an addictive enough trick to propel the eager and lightning-fast pace of coliseum battles. During combat, you tap between the O button and the X button, and depending on what weapon you have and your distance and location relative to the target affects what kind of attack is executed. For example, a running unarmed attack might knock the armor off a suited guy, while a running unarmed attack against a guy without armor might knock his weapon out of his hand, or start a grappling match where you tap the X button as fast as you can and try to steal the weapon from him. Successful combos and gruesome blows and kills earn points, or Salvos, and some levels require that you meet a certain Salvo number to claim victory.
Attacks will also fill up a rainbow colored bar that acts as an audience approval gauge. Pressing O and X together at anytime will have your character appeal to the crowd and, assuming you're not a total shlub on the field, they'll throw a nice care package onto the ground. Usually it's something sharp to maim your opponents with, though occasionally it'll be some cheese or meat or a rose you can throw to blind opponents.
And that's where the player degenerates to the level of the morally bankrupt audience, and that's where the thirst for conquering flesh comes in and, for me, it's tremendously fueled by the fact that the preview disc has no save spots anywhere. I want to fight, I want to kill, God, I just want to live, because starting all the way back at the title screen really, really sucks. As the approval bar increases, that's when one really craves for audience approval because the more maxed out your approval bar is, the better the item the audience will throw at you. Of course, the bigger the weapon, the less strategy that's required to use them since all there is to do is to frantically tap the X button and weave the halberds and the giant swords back and forth like a garden hose. But when the floor becomes one chaotic bloody moving gauntlet, these mindless weapons the audience throws down are the only decent defenses and the only way to make it out with your appendages intact. In the coliseum, button mashing isn't a right, man, it's a damn privilege.