The commander pulls back the scout lens from his eye, half blinded by the glinting of the thousands of shields from below. Atop the hill, all that can be heard is a low hum, but from ground level, the rumble of the thousands of oncoming armoured boots sounds like an earthquake. Hopelessly outnumbered and with only the advantage of a few hundred feet of altitude, the throats of the defending army tighten as the sweat drips over their clenched fists.
The drama of this game's title and cover may suggest scenes like the above, although hopefully your imaginings may be a little less hammy. And if this is what you've come to hope for from this game then prepare for disappointment, because Shadow of Rome is another matching puzzler.
Adopting an inverted Super Collapse mould, you have to hit '5' over groups of similarly coloured enemy units at the top of the screen to make them disappear. Every few seconds, a new row of coloured soldier symbols will appear from the top of the play area. Should the oncoming horde reach the bottom, it's game over.
Getting over our initial disappointment that Shadow of Rome is in fact just another puzzler wouldn't have been difficult if the game turned out good. But unfortunately it's not. It's unimaginative, poorly paced, ugly and fairly clumsy to boot.
But march on we must. There are two main game modes: Quick and Story. The second is level-based but appreciating that fact is pretty tricky when every stage looks and feels depressingly similar. To finish a level, you need to match up three special symbols that crop up after ambling through a few dozen symbol matches. Once enough are onscreen to make the match, the rate of incoming 'enemies' increases dramatically.
What this means in practice is that before three or more special symbols are displayed, you're left yawning into your handset, waiting for the next row to appear, only to then find yourself scrabbling across the keypad once they decide to turn up. This would all be fine if there was any real strategy to preparing for the arrival of the special last symbol, but there isn't.
Morale might also be boosted if the visuals actually tried to take on some believable likeness of soldiers but, unfortunately, Shadow of Rome is lacking here also. With their shields constantly raised, the oncoming troops look more like the coloured balls we're so painfully used to in this genre, rather than the armies of Caesar.
Even this slightest smidgeon of originality is stolen from Shadow of Rome. There's an attempt at weaving a story in between the levels, but all this boils down to is a series of pictures that has no real bearing on the in-game action.
To an extent, Shadow of Rome is a game that's difficult to damn entirely. Sure it's irritating, disappointing and ugly, but it still works in an attritional fashion that might be argued to be deliberate if you are the type to be desperate enough to clutch at the straws of optimism. The point we'd counter with is that there have, however, been about a million and a half more entertaining games made in the same style. And against those, Shadow of Rome doesn't have a hope of victory.