Lifestream is another independent game created using the Adventure Maker game software (Harvest and The Arrangement are some others). It tells the story of Father Randolph and his son, John, who are drawn to the mysterious lifestream from different but converging perspectives. Father Randolph is missing, and John is looking for him. You will play both characters and unravel the mystery that is the Lifestream.
The story unfolds in chapters, and in most of them you will play either Father Randolph or John. As Father Randolph, you are playing the events that precede his disappearance, and as John, you are playing the events that come after. As indicated above, the threads come together as the game moves along.
I mentioned Harvest and The Arrangement above, and Lifestream is a lot like those games in the way it is put together. So much so that if you liked those games you will like this one, although there are obvious differences. But it uses the same game design engine, so it looks similar, and it has an unfolding story punctuated by predominantly short, sharp self-contained puzzles.
It also plays the same, being point and click with a pop up menu for inventory items which you access by moving your cursor over the "inventory" label in the top left of screen. You then drag the wanted item into the game world to use it, or onto another inventory item to combine them. You can also examine them more closely by dragging them onto the magnifying glass in the inventory. Right click gets you the menu to exit, save and load. It's a simple interface which generally works well.
Moving around can occasionally be fiddly when trying to get into a particular spot, but on the whole it's a straightforward matter. Cursors will indicate where you can move or turn, and there will be a transition sequence as you move or turn from one spot to the next. Each game screen is a single static screen, which you can explore with the mouse, different icons indicating things can be done. Cut scenes will play now and then. There is some ambient sound for effects. There is also some rather good background music, adding, I thought, quite a bit to the moods in some places.
The puzzles are either situational (eg use the right items in the right way) or straight out puzzles. There are a number of boxes and other objects to open, solving the puzzle being the key. These include a slider, a variant on Chinese Checkers, a magic number triangle, and a noughts-and-crosses (tic-tac-toe) variant. You also have to reassemble a conversation, play a short musical sequence, unscramble a message, and traverse a short maze. None are terribly hard, but there are a reasonable number of them and they all provide a bit of fun.
The story is a strong point. There aren't many games in which you get to play a member of the cloth (Pilgrim and its sequels are the nearest I can think of that I have played) and that adds an interesting dimension. There are aspects of faith and related matters that are touched upon, and Father Randolph as a character is very much a product of his beliefs. This lifts the story above being one simply about a disappearance and a mystery involving secret societies through the ages. Its telling is also well done, bouncing as it does between the two characters you play.
Then there is the ending, which I didn't see coming. Too many games finish weakly, but not Lifestream. I have no intention of telling you about it, except to say that whatever Father Randolph might think, I think his faith took a battering.
The characters are a little wooden in appearance, a little jittery in their movement, but it wasn't a big deal. Facial expression and lip-synching is quite good, probably as good as I have come across in an independent release. The voice acting is good to passable. Father Grandl left a bit to be desired, I thought, but Father Randolph was well done. You could almost feel the burdens he was bearing. There was the occasional clunky dialogue tree, but I haven't seen a game yet which carries on a conversation where this isn't an issue. There are no subtitles, which is something that will make the story difficult for players who rely on them.
The graphics are not for gamers who thrive on eye candy, but are sound if somewhat plain, some screens being more detailed than others. The cutscenes are more impressive. The transition from scene to scene has a fuzzy blurred look, due no doubt to compression. It may or may not bother you.
There were a few hard to find active spots, some being more a product of my lax searching but at least one being simply impossible to see, even when I knew it was there. The minimal information which comes with the game says that you might have to turn up your monitor to see things in the game world, and whilst it is a bit dark in places, I thought it was all quite discernible, except for this one invisible hole.
I enjoyed the 8 hours or so it took me to play, and it is another feather in the cap of independent games and what can be achieved predominantly from home. Set your sights at the right level and you should be pleased with the result.
Lifestream can be purchased on-line from Unimatrix Productions.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2004.
All rights reserved.
Windows 95/98/2000/ME/XP, Pentium 733 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 600 MB hard Drive space, 640x480 resolution, 24-Bit color display, 4x or faster CD-ROM drive, Windows-compatible sound card and mouse. Macromedia Flash Player. XviD codecs (installed with game)