Mr. Bill's Adventureland Review
Reviewed by Mark Hasley
I've been playing adventure games, and some of their offspring, for a long time now. And I must admit that I've never been a bit concerned about what a given game was rated. I bought a game, loaded it, played it and went on. However this time I looked, and the reader can rest assured that I have a new respect for whoever (or whatever) rates games. I played Still Life, and I can guarantee anyone that this one is exactly what it claims to be. This is a game that is rated, and should be rated, MATURE. It has many characteristics that I usually don't want to see included in a game. There is extreme violence, some very graphic visuals, a few pretty blatant sexual allusions, and a good deal of profanity. Myst it is not. But... I really liked it. As I'll attempt to explain, this is wonderfully conceived and excellently made game.
The game is formed around a pretty straightforward murder mystery. The player follows the life of an FBI profiler named Victoria Macpherson as she seeks clues about a serial killer who is raging around the city of Chicago. There have been several particularly gruesome murders, and Victoria has been on the case for awhile. She is surrounded by a fairly typical collection of associates, including the obnoxiously hostile boss, the vapid bookish partner, and the tough soft-at-heart medical examiner. Interestingly (and this is where the game's uniqueness begins) Victoria is the granddaughter of a detective named Gus Macpherson, whom you may remember from an older game called Post Mortem.
As the game proceeds, Victoria finds and begins to read an old journal that belonged to her grandfather. And as soon as that happens, the game switches to Prague in the 1920's... where Gus is also attempting to find a serial killer who is perpetrating a horrible series of murders against women. While playing, the gamer realizes that these two cases, set eighty years apart, are somehow connected. Now even as I write this I realize that it seems a bit far-fetched. But the game is so wonderfully plotted that the changes and the two cases somehow fit together, and the whole thing seems absolutely reasonable. It is an extremely entertaining story.
The interface is the fairly basic third person, point-and-click type. There is an inventory process that allows the player to read all kinds of reports and notes, and there are also a few items that must be used for certain puzzles. And the various processes used to do these things are easily and smoothly handled. The one really clever idea that I enjoyed was that there are two types of conversation available between Victoria and each of the characters. A simple left click on the mouse provides a basic line of talk that moves the plot along cleanly and provides all the necessary detail. But a right click provides a much more informal, perhaps more realistic (and definitely more profane) conversation that accomplishes these same goals and that sounds a bit more like people would think cops actually talk.
Victoria moves around Chicago using the now-common device of a map in the car. Gus, in Prague, also has a map. Gameplay isn't exactly linear, but Victoria or Gus will comment if the gamer attempts to leave an area before he's done with it. I only used about eight saved games throughout to play, but I got the impression that there were limitless saves available. It's also worth noting that the game ran without any difficulty on my Windows XP. The movements were quick and crisp and the cut scenes played flawlessly.
The game itself, as we have all come to expect from Microids, is simply beautiful. The graphics are all urban in nature, and the buildings look as if they were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for use in a Tim Burton movie. They are highly detailed and really stunning. For no particular reason that I could discover, the main story, with Victoria, takes place during the Christmas season. This didn't bother me, or help the story, but it did allow the designers to add some rather unusual decorations to several scenes.
In general the Chicago scenes seem to be of rather wealthy areas, whereas the Prague scenes are fairly downtrodden. All of the buildings and areas are wonderfully detailed, but there is a certain harshness to every scene. It is almost as if Microids took all the beautifully detailed ideas from Syberia and simply squeezed the romanticism from the pictures. All of the beauty and detail is there. They're simply tougher. And it should be noted that this same detail and harshness is present in the crime scenes. Some of the murders are gorily grotesque, and the game really earns its mature rating here. The crime scenes look just like crime scenes.
The voice acting is as good as I've found in any game. The people all sound like people, and each maintains an individuality which is extremely effective. The only unbelievable character in the whole game is Victoria's boss, and he is simply not that important. There are also lots of entertaining sound effects here. Old buildings creak, people hear footsteps, and cars actually sound like cars. But although there are lots of real sounds in the game, there is very little music. Indeed as I sit here writing, I can't remember any. I will assume that there was music sometime, but it obviously didn't intrude into the game and, at least in my case, it had very little impact.
The puzzles in both plotlines are fun and extremely varied. There are no timed puzzles. Several are of the 'Add stuff until it's solved' variety, and there are the usual slider puzzles, secret code puzzles, and 'Find the secret thing' puzzles. There are two puzzles, one in each plot line, which I found extremely difficult. Note that I'm not complaining. Both the 'Picking of the lock' and the 'Robot through the laser' puzzles were doable, but each took a good deal of time to master. In all cases, once the puzzle was solved I never felt cheated. It always seemed that the answer was reasonable, once I discovered it. It simply took awhile sometimes.A review of this game can't be completed without mentioning that the entire game, including the title, is somehow connected to the concept of painting. Painters and painting are a running theme throughout the game. Victoria's boyfriend runs a beautiful modern art gallery, which is displaying art that was painted in Prague around the time that Gus was seeking his killer (is that a clever tie-in, or what?). The gamer will be spending lots of time looking at, and getting ideas from, these paintings. Not all of them are nice. They are often blatantly violent and bloody. There are pictures and paintings throughout the game that become an integral part of the plot. I was impressed with the idea that these bits of work could add color and flash to some fairly grim moments and still be completely part of the game.
A final thing that impressed me was that the game never took a cheap or tacky way out. It may have been filled with gore and grotesqueness, but there is never a hint of magic or the supernatural. The game remains true to its original 'Cop Story' format. Victoria and Gus remain real people in real cities looking for a real killer who is leaving a trail of real dead bodies. I found that rather refreshing. The only potential problem with the entire game is the ending. Without giving much away, I can safely state that the ending is vague, and clearly sets up a sequel. Of course since Microids has been sold, no one on the net seems clear as to whether or not a sequel will happen.
Even though the gamer spends time looking for clues, solving puzzles, and seeking the truth, this isn't like an adventure game in the usual sense. I didn't care. It had no fantastic 'quest', no magic, no supernatural elements. I didn't care. My characters were never once told they needed to save the universe. I didn't care. It was very much a violent game filled with some fairly mature images of gore and some fairly surprising sexual allusions. I didn't care. I didn't care about all the usual trappings of an adventure game because this game had a marvelously reasonable and complete plot, truly fine voice acting, brilliantly exquisite graphics, and thoroughly entertaining puzzles. To add even more fun to the game, it ran without any frustrating glitches. These are all characteristics about which I do care, a great deal.
It was a completely entertaining and engrossing game. Any gamer looking for a special treat should consider Still Life. It will keep a player completely entertained and praying for a sequel. And that's really all a game can be expected to do.
© June 2005 Mark Hasley
Visit the Official Still Life Website to learn more about the story, view more screenshots, download a trailer or demo, get help on a forum and much more.
Developed (2004) by Microids and published by The Adventure Company.
Rated: M for Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: 800 MHz Pentium III Processor (1.0 GHz Pentium III Recommended); Windows 98 / 2000 / ME / XP (XP Recommended); 128 MB RAM (256 MB Recommended); 16X CD/DVD-ROM Drive (24X Recommended); 32 MB DirectX 8.1b Video Card with Hardware Transform and Lighting Support (128 MB DirectX 9 Video Card Recommended); DirectX 8.1b Compatible Sound Card; 600 MB of Free Hard Drive Space (1.2 GB for Full Install); DirectX 8.1b (9.0 Recommended); Keyboard and Mouse
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