Senatus PopulusQue Romanus.
"The Senate and People of Rome" the motto and watchword of the Roman Senate, the center of power and machiavellian politics of the glorious Empire. An empire now in a state of calamity, threatened by the subversive actions of the anonymous, and aptly named, "Calamitus". It is the month of Ianuarius in the year 205 AD, the time of the villain whose scourge was foreseen by prophesy. A villain whose actions may tear apart the fabric of the Empire. You, the young apprentice to the great inventor Cornelius, are the only hope. With the aid of your mentor's visionary inventions you must go into the heart of Rome and uncover clues to the true identity of the "Calamitus".
Your range of suspects include five of the most influential players in Roman Society. Sibyl, a soothsayer who immigrated to Rome and took advantage of her mysticism to open a seer's shop, she is suspected to moremake rather than reveal the future. Xanthus, a barbarian from the north who holds a grudge against the Roman empire for the death of his family. Verania, the head priestess in the House of vestal virgin, questions her faith as her feelings for Xanthus antagonize her beliefs. Lucius, a private investigator hired by the empire to look into the work of Sibyl, he bears a torch for the love of Verania. Gordian, the chief city engineer disgusted by the corrupt bureaucracy that has led the city into decline, his motives are under close scrutiny. This cast of intertwined suspects must be carefully watched by you, young apprentice. Only one can be the true "Calamitus."
Do, or do not, young apprentice. There is no try. (The wisdom of the Jedi.) The fate of the empire rests on your shoulders.
Thus the game is afoot. S.P.Q.R. is a graphical mystery set in the beautifully recreated city of Rome. The game world is viewed through the eyes of the protagonist as he maneuvers around the city of Rome scouring for clues. Movement through the city is conducted largely with the aid of a device known as the Navitor. The Navitor is a construction of the player's mentor Cornelius. It is basically a monitor system that allows the player's character to maneuver an invisible camera-eye through Rome and enter the private chambers of any of the buildings in the city, as long as they are unlocked. This device also possesses a series of drawers in which the player can store his inventory and has shelves with which to organize the journals of each of the suspects. The Navitor also provides the player with the edition of the daily newspaper, the Acta Diurna. The game time can also be altered to bring about certain events before their time. Complementing the navigation interface is a compass, city map and plans of the buildings of the city.
The Navitor isn't the only invention at the players disposal. In Cornelius' lab are a host of strange devices each of which plays a role in solving various puzzles in the game. In fact, puzzle-solving is largely the core ofS.P.Q.R. In order to uncover scraps and journal entries of the various characters, the player has to solve some puzzles to open secret doors and uncover hidden rooms. The puzzles are largely thematic, relating to some aspect of the games plot. (e.g. In Gordian's room you will have to solve puzzles dealing with architecture and engineering.) The various clues thus acquired helps to explicate each of the suspects roles in the various criminal situations of the game. Sometimes incriminating, sometimes vindicating the evidence obtained through journals and such tends to be colored by a character's emotional bias requiring the player to see through the misinformation to uncover the real truth.
S.P.Q.R. has been billed as a true 3-dimensional reconstruction of the original Rome allowing the player to wander through the city as it really was. This vaunted boast however fails to reach it's mark in numerous ways. For the most part, the city is abandoned. As the player navigates the passages and alleyways, he walks in a city forsaken, nowhere are there any NPC's just randomly milling around. The lack of such a minor detail removes from the feeling of being in the capital of world's greatest empire. Another fault is in the manner in which navigation is handled. Although the player is in a 3D world, it feels almost as if one is maneuvering through a photo album. When a player steps in a certain direction, the change in position is handled through screen wipes that magically transport the character steps ahead of his original position. This sort of pseudo-motion coupled with the random change in direction the character makes as he walks around make navigation difficult and extremely irritating. A major flaw in a game whose appeal relies largely in running around scavenging for clues.
The game manual is also highly inadequate, providing the player with just the bare essentials to learning how to play. Although the interface is explained in the manual, it's effective application in various puzzles in the game take some time to fully understand. This is a nother cause for irritation as the player is sometimes left wandering around aimlessly unable to progress the game, simply because he couldn't get the bloody door of a room open!
For the most part, S.P.Q.R. is an interesting and well defined murder mystery. The city of Rome has been well recreated and is an effective setting for such an interesting plot. The game will also find special appeal to those who love detailed graphical settings or the mythos of ancient Rome. Those who know S.P.Q.R. from it's days as a Rome on the internet, this should be their fodder. To all however I say, beware. The interface is extremely irritating and annoying at the onset. It does take time to truly immerse yourself in the feel of the game, but once there I think most won't be disappointed.