Salammbo: Battle for Carthage
Review by Jen
"Her hair, which was powdered with violet sand, and
combined into the form of a tower, after the fashion of the
Chanaanite maidens, added to her height. Tresses of pearls were
fastened to her temples, and fell to the corners of her mouth,
which was as rosy as a half-open pomegranate. On her breast
was a collection of luminous stones, their variegation imitating
the scales of the murena. Her arms were adorned with diamonds,
and issued naked from her sleeveless tunic, which was starred
with red flowers on a perfectly black ground. Between her ankles
she wore a golden chainlet to regulate her steps, and her large
dark purple mantle, cut of an unknown material, trailed behind
her, making, as it were, at each step, a broad wave which followed
her." Gustave Flaubert, Salammbo
Flaubert's Salammbo (1858) is among the first works of
heroic fantasy. It's a love story about Salammbo, daughter of
the great Carthaginian general Hamilcar, and Matho, a Libyan mercenary,
in the time of the fall of Carthage to the Roman Empire. (Carthage
still exists near modern-day Tunis; all that is left of the once-mighty
empire is some broken columns and rubble.) Flaubert's Salammbo
is rife with tales of treachery and deceit, much of it spearheaded
by the slave Spendius.
From 1980 through 1986, French author/illustrator Philippe Druillet
published three graphic novels based on Flaubert's Salammbo.
Druillet moved on from comix and became involved in multimedia
some years ago; he provided the illustrations for the Arxel Tribe
and Ring II. It is this latter little tidbit, in combination
with the fact that work on the game Salammbo was begun
by Cryo before that company's unfortunate demise, that gave rise
to my grave misgivings about this game. However, these turned
out to be unfounded.
Salammbo the game deviates considerably from Flaubert's
original work but at heart it is still the story of the love between
Salammbo and Matho, the rivalry between Matho and fellow warrior-chief
Narr'Havas for Salammbo's attention, and how a once-great city-state
was sacrificed so that Matho and Salammbo might finally be together.
You play as Spendius, the slave who is instrumental in bringing
the two lovers together, only in the game you are portrayed as
heroic and scheming rather than oily and scheming. Carthage is
a fantastic place full of mythical beasts and magical powers.
Given the license taken with story and settings in the Ring
duo, all of this should come as no surprise. However, while
it worked largely to the detriment of the game in Ring (I
have not played Ring II), it succeeds in Salammbo.
In playing Ring, I was never quite clear on who the players
were or what the goals were. It ended up being merely a matter
of solving puzzles by sheer guesswork and seeing what happened
as a result and sitting in front of my computer scratching my
head a lot. It probably didn't help that the whole Viking mythology
was translated to some outer-space futuristic setting, or that
I had only passing familiarity with the opera's story. With Salammbo,
however, the story unfolds very linearly, in discrete chunks,
in such a way that the game stands alone even for those who may
never have heard of Flaubert. Plus, even though Carthage has been
turned into a fantasy world, it is still Carthage and still set
in the correct time period.
As Salammbo opens, the slave Spendius is thrown into a
dungeon, we know not why. He escapes into the Sacred Precinct
and is caught by Salammbo herself. Salammbo promises to help Spendius
out of Carthage if he will agree to take a message to Matho, a
mercenary camped outside the city. Spendius agrees, setting into
motion a string of events leading up to the fall of Carthage.
You play as Spendius in the first person, although cutscenes are
third-person (at least you get to see what you look like; you
Gameplay is variedyou will encounter many different puzzle
types as you play, ranging from conversation puzzles and simple
chess-like battle strategies to old standards like a memory game,
the much-reviled timed puzzle, and even a couple of (easy) shooting
gallerytype sequences. All of it is mouse-driven, pure point-and-click
goodness, although you can, and will, diefrequently. However,
when you perish, you automatically are resurrected at a point
just before you made your fatal decision.
Your cursor is fixed at the center of the screen, and you revolve
the world around it. Salammbo has the worst case of inside-a-sphere
panning that I've ever seen. This doesn't matter to me; I know
it bothers some, which is why I brought it up. A right-click brings
up your inventory and the in-game options; with the interface
open, you merely click on what you want to use or do. There is
no combining items within the inventory, although sometimes you
must put one item down and then use another item on it.
The various stages of the game are divided by comix-style artwork
overlaid by a narration of the events that occur in between each
segment. Basically, you solve a puzzle or group of puzzles in
a small area and that part of the game is finished for good. There
is no backtracking, and all gameplay takes place in manageable
areas, a la Largo
Winch. Navigation around the mercenary encampments was
confusing for me, even with the aid of the in-game map, but everywhere
else getting around is very straightforward.
Aside from the spherical distortion issue, the graphics are phenomenaleach
scene is moody and dramatic and overlaid with just the right level
of unreality to make you believe you are in a different place,
a different time, and yet not out of the range of believability.
Characters are exquisitely rendered. The Maxfield Parrish-ish
skies and detailed backgrounds, while lovely and atmospheric,
are heavily pixelated. The in-game options settings include three
different resolutionsI played at the maximum 1024×768
(all of my screenshots are reduced to 640×480 in the interest
of preserving server space).
Most if not all of the music consists of existing classical pieces.
All are well placed and appropriate to the onscreen action. Voice
acting is passable, not great, not awful. Subtitles are available.
All in all, Salammbo gives us a good story, well told,
and it's fun to play through. It offers us an experience familiar
enough to be comfortable and at the same time different enough
to maintain our interest. The high production values, unique setting,
beautiful graphics, and lack of old chestnuts in terms of puzzles
make this a refreshing alternative to the usual generic Egypt-Atlantis-maze-sliding-tiles
pabulum we've been force-fed for the past few years.
Publisher: Ontario Europe (distributed by Dreamcatcher)
Release Date: 2003
Four Fat Chicks Links
PII 333 MHz (450 MHz recommended)
64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended)
8X CD-ROM drive (12X recommended)
DirectX 7 compatible video card
DirectX 7 compatible sound card
Where to Find It
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