Then there are the little touches to discover. If you are walking through a decayed structure, don't be surprised to see a very healthy looking rat scuttle across the room, or a bird flapping out from smoke-blackened rafters. These small animations are randomly generated, so expect to be creeped out as various things scurry along your peripheral vision. Each of these touches show the artful hand applied to the game's look and mood.
The voice tracks range from exceptional to merely acceptable, which segues into the one real flaw of an otherwise stellar game. The story is neatly split between the past and present, featuring Gus and Victoria. While Gus' world seems entirely credible, the present day world of Chicago at times feels strained and hard to swallow. Now, the game does carry with it a rating of "Mature," earned in no small part by the foul language used in these segments. For some, like the shivering street cop, it seems a perfectly realistic treatment of the character. However, I do think the designers took a slight misstep with Victoria, who frequently offers that same gritty, expletive-laden commentary. While this might have been believable had she risen through the ranks in the dirty Chicago back streets, as a female senior FBI agent, the characterization just felt wrong. Combined with the occasional valley-girl overtones, this effort to make her character seem more street savvy detracted at times from immersion in the game. Though a noticeable flaw, however, it certainly wasn't enough to diminish my enjoyment. In fact, the character's lines are redeemed by the genuinely funny delivery of many of them, despite their incongruence with her assigned professional role within the game.
The dialogue scheme is also a refreshing change from past games. There are two choices for the gamer with every interaction. A left click on your mouse gives responses that are related to the game goals, while for those interested in a bit more tête-à-tête, the right button gives backstory comments and character asides. Unless you are a person who really can't stand exchanges more than a few words deep, I highly recommend exploring all the options on both sides of your mouse. The characters make up one of the best things in this game, and they become far more personal when all their dialogue is heard.
Of course, the true test for any game is how it plays, and Still Life is firmly grounded in reality. For example, in the first chapter, Victoria has a tray of coffee she has brought to the crime scene. A nice gesture to warm up the chill of the night air and earn some cooperation along the way, except that until she hands out her goodies, she can't access a forensic kit and begin processing the crime scene. Your character has a run option available with a double click of the left mouse button, but would you run with a full tray of coffee in your hands? Nope, and neither does Victoria. There is a natural logic to what you do in the game that makes the gameplay an intuitive treat and never stops you dead in moving through the game. Even in those moments when you wonder what to do next, you never feel completely stuck.
Going back to our initial crime scene, you can look at any number of items as you make your way towards the newly discovered victim, but until you have the proper tools of the trade at your disposal, there is not much to do other than take a note of where the evidence might lie. Once you do have an item and wish to use it, select it and Victoria automatically uses the item. Once it's used, the item vanishes from your briefcase. The same applies to your travels through the streets of Prague with Gus. There are any number of things to make note of and some may be important later on, but you can't interact with what isn't logical to that moment in the story. Such items barely register until their significance is raised at the proper time to interact with it more closely. This adds to the near seamless feel to the gameplay.
The game features an intuitive cursor, which makes these interactions flow well. The developers also built in an auto-recording feature of events and dialogues as the game progresses. These game notes, along with documents you uncover, the inventory, and the main menu are stored in one easily accessible separate screen. The inventory screen may seem cumbersome to some people at first, as it takes up the whole screen when opened, but really it's a minor detail that you'll quickly adjust to. For those who dislike taking notes, there really is no need to have a pen in hand while you play Still Life. Like I said, there is nothing that takes you too far away from flow of this game as you move through its twisted paths.
The natural progression of the game is further enhanced by the integration of story-based challenges. When the game opens with a crime scene, logically the gameplay consists of a thorough search of the premises with appropriate devices. When you are infiltrating a locale, the challenges turn more appropriately to hidden devices and lock mechanisms. There are moments when dialogue challenges occur, or an inventory item is needed to pass a more pedestrian obstacle. There is even a hands-on stealth puzzle; perhaps the first in an adventure game that is clever and fun rather than frustrating.
All this is not to say that the puzzling is a complete walk in the park. Several are very ingenious and involve some time to master. The designers managed a masterful balance between making puzzles challenging without being unduly obstructive or obscure. The mix is diverse, and at no time did a challenge feel like it was put there to kill time or to simply be a puzzle. Granted, there is a slider and a maze of sorts, but they work well within the story and fit the design.
When you get to the end of Still Life, you'll feel as though you have been through a well-crafted tale, challenged along the way, and met memorable characters to keep you thinking past the credits. And should you linger there, you'll find a hint of something more to come… or perhaps not. For not all mysteries are tied up with a nice red bow -- either in life or in fiction.
With Still Life, there are the few inevitable flaws -- there always are even in the best of games. But if it isn't an instant classic, it is nipping at the heels of the all-time greats. Regrets? The only downside to this game is that it represents the last creative effort of the Canadian design team that used to be the heart and soul of Microïds. Still, if there had to be a final curtain call, this is what you would like to leave behind. Let the applause continue on after the lights have all been turned out. What a great game.
|Worldwide||April 14 2005||The Adventure Company|
Posted by Niclas on Apr 28, 2013
Posted by Lucien21 on May 27, 2012
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