Pompei: The Legend of Vesuvius

Posted by Mervyn Graham.
First posted on 07 October 2010. Last updated on 05 June 2011.
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Pompei: The Legend of Vesuvius
The streets of Pompeii are paved with cobblestones.
Pompei: The Legend of Vesuvius
The Forum can be a desolate place at times.
Pompei: The Legend of Vesuvius
Speaking with Lavinia in her treasured garden is an honor.
Pompei: The Legend of Vesuvius
Adrian pleads his innocence with the city's council.
Pompei: The Legend of Vesuvius
At a distance, Mount Vesuvius shows no signs yet of an impending eruption.

The game is available at GamersGate.

1I experienced a number of technical issues in installing and playing the digital release. The game was listed by Microids as Windows 95/98 compatible. When playing in Windows XP (both Pro and Home), I encountered a number of critical bugs. The subtitles were way out of synchronization with the voiceovers, whilst the voiceovers were often repeated twice and sometimes thrice. There was also a noticeable fade out with the audio, and spoken dialogs were incomplete. Finally, in a particular scene at a later part of the game, a text option of selecting Yes or No should appear. Only the Yes option appeared. Selecting this option resulted in the game being immediately terminated. This scene could not be bypassed, and the game could not progress beyond this point.

The city of Pompeii immediately conjured up images of the cataclysmic event that took place in August 79 A.D. An earthquake shattered the walls of the city, followed then by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The 20,000 or so inhabitants were buried under some 20 meters of volcanic ash, stones, and pumice. For nearly 1,700 years, the lost city of Pompeii was just that—a city lost and entrapped in a time capsule. In 1748, a farmer rediscovered the lost city by chance when digging in a paddock. Excavations since revealed in intricate detail of how the city once thrived and perished, with its inhabitants, architecture and history, all perfectly preserved.

In 2000, French developer Arxel Tribe collaborated with France's Réunion des Musées Nationaux to develop a series of historical adventure games as edutainment titles. The plan consisted of releasing a trilogy of games, with each title being part of an overall story. Pompei: The Legend of Vesuvius was the first (pilot) title in the series, released by Cryo Interactive in the same year. (The game was also published in 2000 by Dreamcatcher Interactive in North America as Timescape: Journey to Pompeii.) Jerusalem: The Three Roads to the Holy Land was the second title in the series, released later in 2002. The third title in the trilogy series was abandoned and was never produced.

Pompei: The Legend of Vesuvius retells the epic story of Pompeii in its heyday, culminating with its destruction. The protagonist of the game is the world renowned explorer and cartographer, Adrian Blake. The story begins with Adrian digging in a cave at Erevan in 1918. He stumbles upon an apparition of the goddess Ishtar who offers to save him in exchange for his fiancée Sophia. Adrian rejects Ishtar's offer and returns home to attend their wedding.

On arriving home, Adrian finds that Sophia is missing, and searches through ancient scrolls show that Ishtar has cursed him. Invoking a meeting with Ishtar, she challenges Adrian to go back in time to Pompeii, just 4 days before the cataclysmic explosion of Mount Vesuvius. Sophia is there somewhere, in a brainwashed state, where she is unable to recognize or remember anything about her fiancée.

It is up to you, as Adrian, to arrive at the city of Pompeii (on 20 August 79 A.D.) as a complete stranger, befriend the local citizens, and search for the love of your heart. You must win the love and trust of Sophia in only 4 days, and then you must convince her to leave with you before you are both destroyed along with all the other inhabitants of Pompeii. Not every inhabitant in Pompeii is friendly, so choose your friends wisely, be resourceful, and escape back to the future.

The game begins with a long introductory scene explaining why Adrian has been transported back in time to the city of Pompeii. The game controls are very basic and simplistic to say the least. The only controls you can adjust or personally configure are the volume for the background, music and sound effects, and the dialog. There is no choice to enable subtitles. The game only supports a resolution of 640x480 pixels which cannot be adjusted. Significant pixelation thus occurs, to the detriment of the quality of the set images and especially to animated characters.

The game engine boasts the use of CIN View technology which enables 3D imaging with 360° rotations. You can look up, down, right or left, and can rotate a full 360° simply by manipulating the mouse. This technology is still quite effective, even after a decade.

In the game, you will explore many set scenes including the Temple of Isis, exotic gardens, cobblestone streets, the Forum, Amphitheater, and much more. The main characters are Adrian, Sophia (his lost fiancée), Popidius (Adrian's host), Locusta (Pompeii's resident witch and magician), and Fructus (the insane soothsayer predicting doom and destruction). In all, there are 27 identifiable major characters with whom you can interact, as well as numerous other minor characters.

Communication with the characters is done via a dropdown dialog box. The exchanges are short with only few choices available to use. Still, you must exhaust all the options. If a particular task is not done, the game will not progress.1

The game is a classic first-person, point-and-click adventure game. An in-game encyclopedia offers great detail of the actual events recorded about Pompeii and its history. This historical perspective gives the game unique interest for gamers wanting to learn more about the lost city.

The game is totally linear in that all the tasks must be completed in a set sequence. If an object from a particular scene is not located or used, progression to another scene may not be possible. As an adventure game fan, I find this quite restricting and annoying at times. The advantage of linear gameplay is that it is much easier to finish, as you cannot get lost and your perception cannot diminish through aberration or confusion. The game utilizes a single cursor controlled with a left mouse click. When the cursor is a rolled up scroll, you are in an idle state. When the cursor is an opened scroll, you can interact with other characters and pick up or use objects. The inventory is accessed with a right mouse click.

All 35 objects you need to locate and use in this game are very easy to find (they stand out clearer than Mount Vesuvius in the distance!). The objects are generally used soon after they are found, so that they are not carried long enough to make you wonder when they will ever be used. There are only 4 standalone puzzles to solve in the game: 3 are ridiculously easy, while the remaining puzzle is a little harder. Even a novice gamer will have no problem with the puzzles in this game.

Taken in context, the storyline is solid. It is disappointing to see this game is only a part of an anticipated trilogy which unfortunately has never eventuated. The prologue does well in explaining the reasons for Adrian losing his fiancée and why he finishes up back in time looking for her. With only days to find her and escape, time is of the utmost essence. The story cleverly intertwines fact (as in history) and fiction (as in adventure) to produce a poignant love story.

The highlight of the game is undoubtedly the immaculate and intricate detail of the city of Pompeii itself. The game's artists have worked hard to produce detailed recreations of architecture and environments, based on extensive research by internationally renowned experts done in collaboration with help of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei. The exact replicas of streets, buildings, and statues rendered in the game give you a feeling of actually being in Pompeii at that time. The game also provides you a detailed map of Pompeii to help you navigate your way between locations. The other highlight of the game is the in-game encyclopedia which is accessed through the main menu. This accurate and highly detailed encyclopedia gives you a great insight of Pompeii as it has once existed. It is worthwhile to spend some time reading the encyclopedia and enhance your own knowledge base about this period of history.

If the highlight is the beautiful landscape render, then the lowlight is the poor character model. All the characters in the game look like stiff cardboard puppets with slow exaggerated movements. When they speak, there is no lip movement or lip synchronization at all. Facial expressions are nonexistent. The models for the animals are also noticeably very poor.

Sound effects are nonexistent. Character voiceovers are very ordinary. The background music is quite acceptable, with string instrumentals being predominant. This is consistent with the musical instruments used around that time period.

In the end, Pompei: The Legend of Vesuvius has left me feeling a bit flat after playing it. There are some highlights, but also too many lowlights. The puzzles are far too easy for a seasoned adventure gamer. Moreover, the game can be completed in just 8-10 hours. I cannot personally recommend the game, but I feel gamers who are also students can gain valuable knowledge from playing the game, if not for education than for historical curiosity.

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