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Still Life

Score: 95%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Developer: Microids
Media: CD/2
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure


Graphics & Sound:

Still Life is an adventure game that takes place in two different time periods and two completely different locations, following what should be two completely different cases. But the similarities between the crimes of a serial killer today and a string of murders 75 years ago makes Victoria McPherson (your character) wonder just how different these cases might be.

The graphics of Still Life are gorgeous. Each pre-rendered location is filled with little details that help make you feel like you’re standing next to the investigator as he or she looks for clues and talks to everyone around. From the warm, friendly house of Victoria’s father to the clean, cold and sterile autopsy room in the basement of the local FBI headquarters to the blood-stained bricks of the morgue/cathedral in 1930’s Prague, the environments give off just the right atmosphere.

The characters also have a nice look to them. Each model is detailed and their animations aren’t jerky or rigid. I was most impressed when I studied the faces of the characters as they talked to each other. They showed just the right amount of emotion – never going overboard, and rarely underplaying the severity of the conversation. One of the times this was most evident was just after Victoria read through her grandfather’s journal and then went to talk to her father about how his parents met and what her grandmother’s profession used to be.

The audio aspect of Still Life compliments the visuals well. Both the music and the sound effects come off clear and clean. The music (subtle as it may be) feels different depending on which time period you are in. The present time has some heavier music while the past leans more to the classical sound.


Gameplay:

Still Life starts off with FBI agent Victoria McPherson (you) arriving at the scene of a murder. You find a woman naked and dead in a bathtub, the victim of a serial killer she’s been tracking for some time. This is your first exposure to a lot of what you will be doing in Still Life. After briefly talking to the on-site forensic-scientist (an old friend and teacher of Victoria’s), she instructs you to get some tools out of her bag and see what you can do. You do everything from collecting fiber samples to turning on black lights to taking cotton swabs of liquids. In the end, every piece of evidence you collect helps you and the rest of your team nail down who exactly is committing these murders.

So what does this have to do with Victoria’s grandfather and Prague? After a hard day’s work, the tired FBI agent goes to her dad’s house and starts rummaging through some of her grandfather’s old belongings. She finds a journal where he talks about some of his cases as a private investigator in Europe. When she starts reading one of these cases, you (the player) take on the roll of her grandfather (Gus McPherson) as he explores a case in Prague. Victoria soon realizes his case is eerily similar to hers.

The game’s inventory and item-usage system is very intuitive also. Most of the time, if you have an item that can be used, a little hand icon appears in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. When you open up the inventory screen, you simply have to click on the object you want to use, then the use icon. If it is the right item, then your character uses that object accordingly. If you want to combine objects (or at least try), then all you have to do is click on the first item, then the combine icon, and finally the second object. This is a much simpler method than I’ve seen in a lot of adventure games and it goes a long way to streamlining the game’s feel, keeping the player from getting too frustrated too quickly.

Besides the normal assortment of tools and trinkets that you typically carry around with you in an adventure game, Still Life also has you taking and gathering photographs from time to time. If you are given a picture of some place you’ve already been to, then there is usually something different about how that location looks now, and how it appears in the photo. There is probably something that will advance the story near that difference. It is little things like this that keep you examining all of the clues throughout the entire game, and really pull you in.


Difficulty:

Still Life has the standard “move the boxes around” puzzles like any other adventure game, but besides that, it also has a nice assortment of unusual puzzles that make you have to actually sit down and think. Early on, you find situations where you have to roll tumblers on an old chest in a certain way in order to unlock it, or you have to find your way off of the second story when the only staircase is broken. Most of the time, the puzzles ended up being in two parts – in order to move all the boxes around, you have to arrange them a certain way, break them apart, then rearrange the boxes. There were a few times when I had to pixel-hunt on the screen to find tools that I knew I needed but couldn’t find, although these times didn’t happen all that frequently.

Game Mechanics:

Still Life’s ability to easily move you from one time to another without interrupting the overall flow of the story is probably one of this game’s greatest assets... and consequentially what makes Still Life stand out. It seems that whenever Victoria goes digging through her grandfather’s belongings, she has a reason and it wasn’t thrown in there as a change in scenery. And, when the FBI agent leaves the past behind, there is a good reason, whether it is because of a phone call or she has realized something about the case she is working on. This flow from one time to another just helps add to the game’s overall story and really helps to pull the two cases together.

The menu system is also clean and transfers well between the two times. The menu holds information about all the evidence you’ve collected, the items in your inventory, as well as logs of the people you’ve talked to. In the present, the menu looks like a PDA screen, while in the past it is a rusty metal panel. Both the shiny new menu and the older, used one fit perfectly with the feel of the time periods and only enhance the feeling that even though these cases are separate, there is something oddly in common between them.

Still Life is a great adventure game that gets more involved than just pointing and clicking your way through puzzles. You have to employ various items (both forensic and household) multiple times in order to find out who or what is behind these murders. If you are into adventure games, do yoursef a favor and check this one out.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows 98/ME/2000/CP, 800MHz Pentium 3 Processor or equivalent, 128 MB RAM, 16x Speed CD/DVD-ROM, 600 MB HD Space, 32 MB DirectX 8.1b Video Card with Hardware Transformation and Lighting Support (NVIDIA GeForce or Better), DirectX 8.1b compatable Sound Card or better, Keyboard and Mouse, DirectX 8.1b or Higher
 

Test System:



Windows XP Professional Ed., AMD Athlon XP 2400+ 2GHz, 2 GB RAM, DVD-RW, Radeon 9800 Pro, DirectX 9.0c

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