(This is a review of an old game. I published it on the Amazon site first, but was allowed to reprint it here. I hope you enjoy it!)
A game with good educational potential, but subpar gameplay and character design
I hesitated between giving this game two stars or three stars overall. I settled on three, because I appreciated the generally detailed historical reconstruction of the town of Pompeii. I also liked the smooth playing interaction with the map and the well-written, extensive and nicely illustrated encyclopedia, by means of the spacebar and the amulet, respectively. The fact that you can look around the town, various houses and establishments at leisure in a visit mode (which I would recommend to players to do first, to get your bearings) is a very nice touch. It's a 360 degree view too, which allows you to look up and down and zoom in (with the up-arrow key) from any spot. In this way, Timescape
aka Pompeii: The Legend of Vesuvius
in Europe, can serve as a welcome educational tool.
However, I felt really disappointed with the design and gameplay, both of which leave a lot to be desired.
First of all, the image is way too dark. I knew that Romans just had oil lamps to light their homes, but even out in the open, the shadowed areas obscure lots of details.
Also, the streets look so deserted the town already seems evacuated before the eruption, or indeed like the excavation site it is today! It's weird to see the forum always completely empty, and that there are only about two dozen Pompeiians around in the whole town!
Even when the game came out in 2000, its design looked dated. The Atlantis
series, also published by Cryo, which started in 1997, had synchronized lip movement, and used animated transitional cutscenes between locations. In Pompeii
, characters don't move their lips and don't appear in close-ups when they speak, which can be very confusing. Sometimes, they don't even face each other when they talk! The characters often resemble elongated plasticine puppets, like Modigliani on a very bad day, with awkward movements and gestures. Also, you jump straight ahead to another location on a mouse click, a bit like in Myst
, and often end up facing a wall, which won't help your sense of direction.
And then there is the gameplay ...
Puzzles often seem random and have little bearing on the social and political implications of the storyline. For instance, the first timed riddle (which can even kill you and end the game instantly!) involves putting together a strange contraption where simply luring the mule with the bait would have done. So, save the game often by entering sequential names or the like on the save screen, because you can get arrested, wounded, or killed at the drop of a hat.
While leading man Adrian appears to be a very shrewd character with strong bartering and negotiating talents, a lot of his actions seem very arbitrary, sometimes even ridiculous. The problem already starts with the preface in the various languages on the DVD sleeve: Adrian is either a Scottish cartographer or a geologist, does not sound Scottish but American in the English version, and his love Sophia is either his wife or his fiancée! And I know that the game is supposed to be part of a trilogy, but in the sketchy introductory scene, you learn that he was put under a spell in a cave in Armenia by the Assyrian goddess Ishtar and then magically transported to Pompeii! Wouldn't it have made 100% more sense if he was an archaeologist already working in Pompeii, who became so obsessed with a statue or painting of a beautiful young woman, that he dreamed about finding out her true identity?
In the course of the game, after all this silly business with a stubborn mule, I got really annoyed when I found myself suddenly randomly throwing javelins, and playing several games of tali (knucklebones), a chance game
you can hardly influence, and where what little control you have is totally inconsequential
Finally, there is one general quibble I have with the limited view you get of Pompeii. You basically have one main street to roam, the Via Dell'Abbondanza, which allows you to visit only two private houses. This means you cannot visit some of the most beautiful residences of the city, with their famous murals and mosaics, such as the House of the Faun, the House of the Vettii, the House of the Tragic Poet (so no "Cave Canem") and the Villa of the Mysteries. I know a broader view would complicate hunting for clues, but the creators could at least have given them a well-defined role, and included them in the visit mode. You can't even get a closer look at the Vesuvius!
If you want more and better 3D reconstructions of Pompeii, I would advise to get the Italian Capware DVD Viaggio a Pompeii
(Journey to Pompeii), though this is not interactive, and unfortunately, of limited availability, mainly at museum shops.
P.S. I played this Windows 95/98 game, without any glitches or compatibility adjustments, on Windows XP Home Edition, in the game's 24-bit, fullscreen mode.