Note: Review was originally posted July 6, 2003
My initial comment is that there is very little I can say about Salammbo that isn’t good. The developers appear to have tried to incorporate virtually everything that the dedicated point ‘n’ click adventurer asks for in a game.
The game is based on Philippe Druillet's cult comic strip, and on the novel ‘Salammbo’ by Gustav Flaubert – a book I don’t pretend to have read – which is derived from a combination of the history of the Punic Wars and ancient Carthaginian myth. Although the Flaubert story seems to have had the Salammbo of the title as its central character, she remains very much in the wings for most of this game and a poor, but clever, traveller called Spendius takes centre stage.
There is a striking full motion video clip to introduce the game, which also proides the background story: in 264 BC Carthage has been conquered by a rival power, Rome, in the first of the Punic Wars. The mercenary soldiers who fought for Carthage during the conflict have not been paid and so have revolted against the occupied city and laid siege to it. Just to add spice to the situation, the commander of the Carthaginian forces, a very nasty character called Hamilcar, has a beautiful daughter named Salammbo – who also happens to be the chief priestess of the city’s major goddess, Tanith. Now, Salammbo and the head of the rebel forces – Matho – fall in love – still with me? Next, along comes Spendius, this poor traveller, who is wandering about Carthage and gets arrested, enslaved and thrown into prison (I never quite understood why). Spendius is your character throughout the game. Through him you must gain the confidence of Matho and the rebel forces, rescue the city of Carthage - virtually single-handed, and enable the reunion of Matho with his true love Salammbo. The game begins as you find yourself in an abandoned dungeon cell, surrounded by skeletal remains…… your first challenge is to escape.
Everything about the game-play has been carefully thought through: It’s fully mouse operated and the interface is very easy, once you’ve identified each of the buttons. There are maps to help you with locations and a logbook which records the major events throughout the game in a kind of sophisticated comic-book format which, if you’re feeling particularly lazy, you can choose to have read out loud, by a pleasant female narrator’s voice. Movement throughout the game is by hyper-strides between locations, with fluid 360-degree vision wherever you are standing - unless you’re riding, in which case the map takes you to your destination. There is an automatic save feature so that you never lose your game and a quick-save as back up, in addition to 10 normal save-game slots. Although you can (and will) die in several places, the game returns you conveniently to the spot where you made your mistake, so that you never have to go over and over the same ground.
There is a definite feel of the Ring about the graphics in this game, and I would suggest that this because Philippe Druillet is a common factor. There is also something reminiscent of Cryo’s Atlantis trilogy in the overall game-play. There’s even a pig shooting challenge - remember that hugely irritating pig you had to shoot with a bow & arrow in Atlantis: The Lost Tales? Well here it is again, only this time, I found it a lot less tricky! The puzzles are well done, fitting logically into the progression of the story, they are challenging without being impossible. I needed a prompt a couple of times (which is not unusual for me) but this was basically just lack of attention to detail on my part. There are no mazes (do I hear a cheer?) But, it can be confusing moving about the various army camp locations and the maps are moderately useful in this respect – without wanting to be picky, they could have done with a bit more detail. It’s worth mentioning that the maps serve a dual purpose, as later on in the game you use them to fight a couple of very easy ‘almost’ strategy-type battles. Don’t let this put you off if you don’t like strategy, because they are a bit different, and quite fun.
Right-clicking brings up the inventory and other useful features such as the menu, your character, the logbook and the maps. The menu is pretty standard: options, load & save mechanisms and exit or return to game buttons. Within the options selection there is also a choice of sub-titles and a ‘hint’ facility. The hints are very basic though and I didn’t find they were any great help, the logbook on the other hand was very useful. Salammbo is not a short game but neither is it long enough to become boring.
The music is perhaps one of the less impressive features (at least in my opinion) – there were times when I switched the sound off altogether as I found the choice of background tension noise quite irritating – especially when trying to work through a puzzle. There was one recognisable classical piece by Dvorak but apart from that, it didn’t strike me as memorable.
The graphics however are outstanding – they are what I would describe as fantasy/medieval/gothic with richly detailed costume and brooding, atmospheric locations. Apart from the pre-rendered artwork of the backdrops, there are several short FMVs throughout the game and all are of the same high standard. I have to suppose however, that a man, or men originated the artwork for the characters, as the females in the story are unbelievably luscious, whilst the males are well….. just a tad odd! (They mainly have red eyes for instance – errr, well perhaps that’s not so odd after all).
Although I said at the beginning that there was very little I could find fault with, there are a couple of purely personal niggles that I want to mention: For those of us not already familiar with the story, it’s a bit difficult to follow. However, the logbook does pop up with a quick summary after each successfully completed quest and gives you the confidence to continue. It’s also a very dark game – you need to have the curtains drawn and lights down to be able to get the full impact of the graphics. Being a person who loves light and colour I actually found the gloominess a bit depressing after a while. Finally, there were one or two places where the game allowed me to progress, even though I was missing an object or action – this was a bit frustrating as it meant a bit of back-tracking.
Technically I should say that the game deserves an A rating but after completing Salammbo I was left with the strange feeling that I ought to have enjoyed it more. I think this was partly due to the subject matter – being a pacifist by nature, war and all of its accompanying paraphernalia is not really my scene. Also the ‘hero’ Spendius is such an unappealing, odd-looking chap that I found it difficult to identify with his plight
Final Grade: B