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
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 more
make 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 of
S.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.