by Tanuvien
July 9, 2004


System Requirements:
Pentium II 222 MHz
Direct X Compatible Sound Card
Direct X Compatible Video Card

Pentium II 450 MHz
128 MB RAM
12x CD-ROM
Direct X 7 Compatible Video Card
Direct X 7 Compatible Sound Card

Pentium IV 2.53 Ghz
GeForce 4 Ti 4600
Windows XP
52x CD-ROM
SoundBlaster Audigy 2.0

For a considerable amount of time, I was having a 'dry' gaming period. I was still playing and thoroughly enjoying many games, but none had really absorbed me to the point of non-stop playing for several months. It's games with that sort of drawing power that keep the passion of gaming alive, so those apathetic periods are always the harshest.

It's those times when a gem like Salammbo is most appreciated. It is the valuable water in a parched dessert that keeps you going and gives you hope, in this case, the hope that I'll run across other such games.

Salammbo is an accumulation of history and fiction. It is based on the comic strip adaptation of Gustave Flaubert's Salammbo, a classic novel which adds Salammbo to the real history of the Roman slave Spendius who escapes and, along with Mathos, rallies the mercenaries to rebel against the Carthaginians for not paying them.

As far as the history goes, it is delightful to see those historical figures, as well as Hamilcar, portrayed in a video game. It is especially wonderful because of the almost perverse way in which the world is portrayed, a sort of twisted image of a psychopath.

The unique take is on the ancient city of Carthage (circa 240 BCE in this instance). Everything is warped into a brutal, malevolent version of its true self. Instead of horses, people ride upon demonic steeds that react dangerously to provocation. The architecture is twisted and morbid, featuring skulls and spikes galore.

The game has a predominant palette of purple and black, which creates a sort of warm feeling. It surely pants a dire picture, from fields littered with bodies to the prisons of Carthage, to the dragon like birds that fly around the city limits.

You will view the details of the world through the eyes of Spendius, the escaped slave. The people you interact with are beautifully created. When you speak to them, they appear as CGI characters, exquisitely detailed from the scantily clad prostitutes of Carthage to the threateningly armored mercenaries.

The perspective is in first person, allowing you to pan a full 360 degrees around your character, which you navigate in a simple point-and-click fashion. Every location is simply astonishing to look at, a dark beauty prevalent throughout the adventure that truly makes it a piece of art.

The immersion factor is high on this game, and the voice acting is top notch. There are about two dozen characters that speak in the game, and all perform excellently. The flesh eaters in particular impressed me with their hissing speech. Everywhere you go, you can hear the environment about you, even the birds flying about high overhead.

The music is of a lesser quality, but still not approaching anything less than good. It stands out simply because while the rest of the game is great, this is only solid. It does not interfere with the game, and at times, it even adds to it. Overall, it's a solid score, but is easily surpassed by other soundtracks.

A nice touch is the interface, seen even in the game menus. It's actually difficult to explain, but it is akin to some sort of cyberpunk style made up of archaic runes as opposed to a bar saying 'Load Game'. Sure, it doesn't actually effect gameplay, but it just adds to the polish. This is also depicted in the comic book like frames that show parts of the story, mingled in with full action cutscenes, which also makes up your journal.

With all of this building up to an exotic yet almost tangible environment, it's sad that Spendius is rather shallow. He doesn't really deal with any character development or history. The story is his quest from bondage to riches, yet you never really care for him. In fact, this is a problem with all the characters in the game, despite the believable dialogue. It is as if they begin and end with the game. It would have been a true pleasure to see into the head of Spendius, even if it is in a fictional state.

Other than that, there is really nothing to complain about with the game. There aren't even really any small nitpicking cavils. The puzzles range from the obvious to ones that require a few minutes of thought, but are always realistic. They aren't all cakewalks, but even the most difficult ones never fall into the category of 'game logic' as opposed to real logic.

It does have a few timed sequences, which is slightly irritating, but it nonetheless only took me two tries at most. They considerately make the puzzles rather easy here, but I still stand on the grounds that timed anything is an annoyance, especially in adventure games. Though you can die in these timed sequences, you actually get treated to an extra bit of story. Story of your failure in different forms true, but I found it entertaining just the same, and actually intentionally died just to experience them.

There is really no reason you should not pick up this game. There is mild nudity and violence, but none of it is done in an offensive manner, thus sitting safely in its Teen rating. The game is very cheap, only $10 in most instances, and readily available everywhere.

Salammbo was a true treat to play, and will forever be one of my favorite adventure games. The shockingly bizarre atmosphere and eloquence in which it mixes fantasy and history will forever mark itself pleasantly in my mind. This is something that every adventure gamer should thoroughly enjoy. It has the perfect balance of story and puzzles, never faltering in either area.

If you don't own this game yet, you should remedy that error and acquire it right away.

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