Salammbo: Battle for Carthage

Developer:  Druillet
Publisher:  Ontario Europe
Year Released:  2003

Review by Steve Ramsey (December, 2003)
Based on a comic, based on a book, based on a 3rd century Greek historian's account of the battle of Carthage, Phillippe Druillet's Salammbo doesn't really offer anything new as far as gameplay is concerned, but packages some tried and true adventure gaming into a game that looks amazing.

Lavishly and strikingly designed and coloured, it reminded me of Ring, not surprising perhaps given Mr Druillet's involvement in both. The sky seethes and the landscape howls, a perfect setting for the armoured mercenaries and their prehistoric looking beasts. The blaze of colour for the mercenaries' eyes is a splendid touch, infusing them with an almost alien quality. The 360 degree panning, which has great range both up and down, expands the canvass, and the fluid animations in the short cut scenes rounds out the whole visual experience.

The rest of the product is solid if unremarkable. You play Splendius, a Carthaginian slave who starts as a fugitive but ends up a General. If you manage things just right, and if his silver tongue can keep Splendius alive, then Carthage will fall, the boy will get the girl, and Splendius will be rich.

I confess I didn't much care for Splendius. As a child, I have no doubt he poked ants nests with sticks and threw stones at hornet's nests. Much mayhem and fighting could have been avoided if Splendius had simply been dumped in the nearest pit. Which in fact he had been, but you start the game by getting him out. You could leave him there, but then there wouldn't be much of a game.

There are plenty of opportunities, though, for Splendius to meet a sticky end, and you are unlikely to be able to prevent them all. Should that occur, the game will helpfully return you to just before the fatal moment, so frenzied saving is not needed.

Pants on fire
Salammbo is played in the first person, and is completely point and click. Gauntleted cursors will help with hotspots and actions. They will also indicate those characters to whom you can speak, and the art of conversation is one that Splendius must master. The sticks and stones of his childhood have given way to the creative tale-telling of his adulthood. More than one conversation can result in death, but if so, you just try again and choose a different path.

You will collect and use items, never terribly many at one time, and redundant items disappear from the inventory. Gameplay is extremely linear, one thing at a time being required and possible. This was most apparent on one occasion when, despite having spoken to all the right people and said all the right things, a new character would not "appear". This would only occur if the key conversation was the last one.

To solve the puzzles, you will need to occasionally listen to what is said (or even sung), but a comic book of your exploits is produced as you go, and it is the source of much helpful information. Note taking is therefore unnecessary.

Some puzzles simply require use of the right item, reasonably logically on the whole, others will require some more brainpower. Several will probably require repeated attempts, most notably firing the flaming arrow. Interestingly, winning is not always everything.

Bad timing
There are a few puzzles with a timed element, nuisance value most of them, but the last of them I found to be a giant pain. It's a fairly lengthy sequence, and the detail to achieve the objective must be worked out as you go. Repeated dying is needed to sort it out and then to work your way through to the end. It was a dud as far as I was concerned and it was probably just as well it was near the end.

Each time you load a game, it opens in a framed screen with a little gameplay hint at the bottom, then reverts to full screen. It ran and played without any problems. You only need the second CD for gameplay so there is no swapping discs. You can fiddle with the settings to suit your system and your own desires, but if you like the subtitles off, you will have to turn them off each time you play. However turning them off prevents you from being able to "translate" at least one inscription that is important to solving a puzzle. I spent ages looking for the parchment I assumed I had missed before stumbling across this aspect when I failed to remember to turn the subtitles off one time.

A right click gives access to the inventory and the menu, as well as a map (not that helpful) your comic and Splendius himself. At certain times you will need to disguise Spendius, and even make him eat, and you do it through this screen.

The comic book I referred to is more than just a note taker. It is a pictorial record of the unfolding story that can be reviewed and read at your leisure. It also punctuates the gameplay, plot advancement being shown (and read to you) via the comic book. I quite enjoyed Salammbo the comic, and read it from beginning to end when the game was over.

It is a good length game, although I had just about lost interest by the end. The last timed puzzle didn't help. As I said, it's solid but unremarkable - except for the way it looks. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2003. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 98/2000/ME/XP, Pentium II 333 MHz processor, 64 MB RAM. 8x CD ROM. DirectX 7 compatible sound and video cards.