The premise behind S.P.Q.R.: The Empire's Darkest Hour is an interesting one: using a device called the Navitor, you have been called upon to save Ancient Rome from ultimate destruction at the hands of a person known only as Calamitus. All you have learned from the imprisoned Cornelius is that this person is one of five suspects. In order to find out which one is the Calamitus, you begin your year- long adventure and seek out the suspects' journals. While this all sounds fine and dandy, S.P.Q.R ultimately collapses under its own weight and mind numbing, boring gameplay.
One of the main problems is how Rome and the storyline are presented to you. It is nothing more than a series of photo-realistic scenes you point and click your way through, much like Myst. The quality of the visuals isn't the problem; some of the scenes and landmarks you come across are absolutely breathtaking to look at. The problem is that in your travels, you rarely see another human being which totally contradicts what you have read and learned. You read about these large religious festivals, parties and other kinds of gatherings but never actually see one. Because there is so little human interaction, the game relies heavily on reading. Of course reading is not always negative in games, especially historical selections, but the quantity of literature you must read is simply uncalled for. There are documents after documents, seemingly endless journal entries and scrolls and parchments that you are forced to read if you wish to advance in the game.
Holding everything together is a shoddy interface system. For instance, some of the books you have to read don't start at the beginning and there is no button that will automatically place you at the beginning. You must click manually to get there which becomes very redundant. Who wants to click for five minutes just to get to the end or the beginning of a book? There are also hot-spots (places) intended to guide you to your chosen destinations. At times, you'll see an arrow and try to click it but nothing happens. The game simply will not go to that location. Also, the game manual did a very poor job in explaining all the interface buttons, leaving it up to the game player to figure out their purpose.
What it all comes down to is that S.P.Q.R.: The Empire's Darkest Hour is a very boring experience that offers little or no enjoyment. The plus side is that it is a very educational game but you could get that from reading a book or doing research in a library. Because of the massive amount of reading and non-linear storyline, you never feel like you're accomplishing anything. This really brings it down in the end. Only if you're into Roman history and have the patience of a statue should you even consider taking this caper through Ancient Rome.
Graphics: The photo-realistic scenes are absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately, you cannot really interact within them or look all around in 3D, which the game box would have you believe. You're stuck looking at still screens, which isn't necessarily bad, it just would have been nice to have been able to interact more within the environments.
Sound: There isn't much sound to be heard except for ambient noises and a few musical scores. There's really nothing spectacular in the sound department.
Enjoyment: If S.P.Q.R.: The Empire's Darkest Hour didn't rely so heavily on reading page after page of Roman history and concentrated on being an actual game, then it could have been a lot of fun. The premise was sound but because of the poor pacing (you rarely feel like you accomplish anything), lackluster interface and burdening amount of information to read, it isn't a very fun game to play.
Replay Value: Because of the sheer amount of reading, some players will get bored within minutes and quit playing. There just isn't enough to keep players around for very long, except those with a high tolerance and interest in history.
SPQR is a point-and-click Myst-style game set in Ancient Rome. Journal entries, newspaper articles, and various puzzles must be dealt with as the player unravels a conspiracy which threatens the Empire.
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