Still Life

Developer:  Microids
Publisher:  The Adventure Company

Preview by Rosemary Young (February, 2005)
This preview is based on the review demo of the first two sections of Still Life. It was amazingly smooth and well behaved, a good sign, maybe, and there are other good signs too, which I'll get to in a moment.

It's Chicago in the present day and the city is in the grip of winter, and in the grip of a serial killer. Thus far four women have been found dead with progressively horrendous mutilations, and you join FBI Agent, Victoria McPherson, as she arrives at the most recent crime scene.

The name McPherson might sound familiar if you have played Post Mortem (also from Microids) as Victoria is the granddaughter of Gus McPherson who was the investigator in that earlier game. Although you don't need to have played Post Mortem to play this game, you do meet up again with Gus when Victoria links back to him and experiences an earlier investigation in Prague. Hence you attend to both investigations in Still Life (seemingly they are linked?) and the play alternates between the two characters.

The scene is set by a foreboding introduction with murky, almost colourless images of the murderer and his victim; of dingy back alleys contrasted with art galleries, painters, and paintings. Something to prick the senses and think about right from the start. The powerful strains of Mozart's Requiem adds that extra perilous touch, and you are on your way.

"This game contains nudity, coarse language and violence. It is intended for a mature audience." Take heed of this initial message. Still Life is disturbing and you will visit murder scenes and see the blood and the mutilated bodies. It definitely isn't for the delicate. There is 'coarse language' too but what I heard wasn't too confronting, even if it made one particular character a bit obnoxious. Rather than sounding 'mature' it felt more 'juvenile' to me, but I've yet to see the full game so I can't comment further.

I can say however, that Still Life is looking like a very good mystery. (It's hard to say 'enjoyable' when you're talking about young women being cut up). It's a good cut above Post Mortem with some interesting interplay between the characters, putting them right in the picture, and all dialogue is subtitled. There are no conversation trees to follow but there is a choice of conducting conversation personally or professionally. Personal mode is more likely to invite coarse language so you can presumably avoid it to some extent, but the two strains meld together and lead to the same end. From what I could see you don't need to juggle responses and worry about missing things if you're not perfectly behaved.

Graphics, interface and puzzles
Still Life has a great atmosphere. The initial murder location is suitably drab and well detailed. The lighting is excellent with shadows shrinking and stretching as Victoria walks past various light sources, the light highlighting her features appropriately.

Top marks for the interface too, it's very easy to learn. The cursor changes when there is something to do and the characters will respond with a comment, and very likely a hint. Click the right mouse button for access to inventory and various other controls such as saving, loading, etc. Inventory items can be described and moved into a screen for manipulation. Here you can zoom in for a closer look and rotate the item to see it from various angles.

There is also a document file to peruse and various other aids such as a log of events and of conversations. All this is accompanied by some involving gameplay. Searching the murder scene is reminiscent of CSI if you have played those games, only not so gadget oriented. And Victoria has a camera, something that is sadly missing in CSI. Other challenges are well integrated and not too difficult so that Still Life is not all investigation. Other in context puzzles such as circumventing a blocked pathway and opening a locked box vary the play.

All in all Still Life looks very promising. The opening sequence sets the mood perfectly inserting the intrigue of painters and paintings, and more intrigue is triggered with a mystery surrounding Gus McPherson's reluctance to speak of meeting his wife. Will his strand of the investigation enlighten us? It's also fascinating with the two investigations running side by side. How will they relate? If you have the stomach for inspecting bloody crime scenes and if you are curious about the linking of murder investigations separated by time and place, then you should put Still Life on your must play list.

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2005. All rights reserved.