Here's a different sort of incipit to a review of the video game Shadow of Rome at

I'm not quite sure why, but of late the Roman Empire has been pretty popular. I think it's mostly due to aftershocks from the movie 'Gladiator,' but I've seen an upswing in Roman-themed entertainment being promoted. Mind you, this isn't to say that more fiction is being made about the days of the Caesars, but that more marketing is put into it. Along those lines, Capcom came along with their own revision of the tumult in old Roma, Shadow of Rome. It's Capcom's bold idea to retell history, but instead comes off as something much less.

The game takes place immediately after the Ides of March, 44 BC. As history tells us, this was when several Roman senators, including his protege Marcus Brutus assassinated Julius Caesar. The game follows two of the late Caesar's most ardent supporters: Julius' nephew Octavianus (usually just called Octavius in English) and Agrippa, Roman centurion. Agrippa's father Vipsanius is accused of the murder, and the winner of an upcoming gladiatorial contest gets the right to be his executioner. Octavianus doesn't believe it and decides to gather proof of Vipsanius' innocence, while Agrippa decides to become a gladiator to prevent anyone from killing his father.

Now, right off, let me say this: history did not happen like this at all. The various personal feelings are actually based on how the historical versions interacted. Agrippa was a really good friend with Octavianus in fact, when the latter became Augustus Caesar; he named Agrippa his successor (which didn't happen because Agrippa died first). However, the actual course of events did not happen at all like this ' if anything, this is an alternate history, which could have theoretically took place but didn't. If anybody actually plays this game to get information about a history report, then you deserve the big fat F that your paper is going to get. This is just a warning.

As for the alternate history we actually get, it's actually pretty lousy. The characters speak almost completely in cliche, and even if you don't know your history, you can quickly figure out who precisely is behind the murder of Julius Caesar. Moreover, they play up modern morality way too much. I'm sure that Capcom had to throw in a scene of Agrippa, in the midst of a gladiatorial combat, bemoaning the barbarism of his new profession in order to secure the Mature ESRB rating (trust me, I'll get into why this should have gotten an Adults Only soon enough). However, that really rings hollow when you don't have any sense that Agrippa cared about such morality before (when he was a soldier in charge of conquering new lands and securing them for Rome). I'm not saying that an 'alternate history' game is inherently bad. But it is inherently bad to speak only in cliches and to make the ending perfectly obvious with each character's introduction.

Perhaps the most egregious example is when it's revealed that the jovial gladiator manager Sextus is actually the child of Pompeius, former Roman ruler overthrown by Caesar and out for revenge by destroying all of Rome. Now, I'll grant you that the historical Sextus really was Pompeius' child and conspired to take down the Caesarian line. But because there is no historical refresher in the game, you never have any idea who Pompeius is or that his family would want revenge on Rome. Thus, it acts like an incredibly improbable deus ex machina (hey look, actual Latin!) and makes the game feel cheap. I must give Capcom credit -- it's really difficult to make actual history feel like a cheap ploy for plot advancement, but they pulled it off.

Also, just as a side note, Capcom barely even bothers with Latin at all, and what bother they do make is half-hearted at best. Sure, Octavianus is called by his Latin name, but they don't even try with the Roman general Decius Brutus (that's Shakespeare's name; his original name was Decimus Brutus). They also don't even bother with proper Latin pronunciation in the game ' the letter V as we know it is a product of Germanic languages and didn't exist in Latin. And the only actual Latin uttered in the game is the famous 'Et tu, Brute'' from Julius' death scene. But those are just the minor gripes of an amateur linguist; they really won't matter to the vast majority of the players out there.