Review of Salammbo

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Tanuvein
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Review of Salammbo

Postby Tanuvein » Fri Jul 09, 2004 7:48 pm

System Requirements:
Pentium II 222 MHz
64 MB RAM
8X CD-ROM
Direct X Compatible Sound Card
Direct X Compatible Video Card

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

Reviewer's:
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 Philippe Druillet's 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.

Rating:
Interface -100
Graphics - 98
Sound -95
Story - 98
Puzzles -95

OVERALL- 98
Last edited by Tanuvein on Mon Jul 12, 2004 12:51 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Ghostlady » Fri Jul 09, 2004 8:04 pm

Excellent Excellent review Tan. :salut:
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Postby Ghostlady » Fri Jul 09, 2004 10:12 pm

Tan, your review has been posted in the Conservatory. :cool:
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Tanuvein
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Postby Tanuvein » Fri Jul 09, 2004 10:46 pm

Thank you very much, Ma'am. :)
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Postby Fairygdmther » Sat Jul 10, 2004 8:29 am

Very good review, Tan - I have the game but haven't yet gotten into it - I'm sure from both yours and BJ's recommendations, that I'll enjoy it.

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Bacardi Jim
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Postby Bacardi Jim » Sat Jul 10, 2004 9:20 am

Good review. Why no mention of Druillet?
Ford had formed a theory to account for this strange behavior... if human beings don't keep on exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working.
Tanuvein
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Postby Tanuvein » Sat Jul 10, 2004 9:51 am

You're right, BJ, that must have slipped my notice. I shall edit it in.

I've never actually read... or even heard of... his comic until this game though. I'd love to see it.
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Postby Bacardi Jim » Sat Jul 10, 2004 9:58 am

You've heard of the magazine "Heavy Metal" though, I hope? :wink: He was a regular contributor there as well as the co-founder of its French parent mag, "Metal Hurlant."

"Heavy Metal" came out in the late 70's and was extremely popular through the 80's. It was the America's primary source for "adult" comics for a long time. This was before Dark Horse started publishing "adult graphic novels." And, of course, it spawned the movie Heavy Metal. A few of the stories in it were taken directly from the mag, while a couple of them were new for the movie.

Druillet also worked with fellow French comic artist Moebius on the game Ring.
Ford had formed a theory to account for this strange behavior... if human beings don't keep on exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working.
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Postby Tanuvein » Sat Jul 10, 2004 10:06 am

I'll have to pull ou some of my old Heavy Metal and look at them then. I just have to see this guys artwork :D
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