Next Life / Reprobates
Known as Reprobates in Europe (and by its makers), Next Life is much like the TV series Lost. It takes place on an island and starts out rather intriguingly, introduces some interesting characters and then slowly reveals their stories. Soon though it wanders around, effectively padding the middle to maximise the output before getting to the end. I wanted to like both of them, but found them both ultimately disappointing.
I did get to the end of Next Life. I abandoned Lost after the first episode of the second series.
I would probably have liked Next Life more if being a little aimless had been its only fault. Aimlessness in an adventure game is not in and of itself a bad thing. It depends though on how it is handled and what else is going on. In Next Life, some of the goings on will likely lead to palpitations.
The main culprit is a series of timed arcade games, with little point as far as the game is concerned. The heart puzzle I understood; CPR has to be performed in time or the patient dies. The fear puzzle left me clueless; I just did it and moved on.
These aspects will be enough to put off many players. But there is more.
A lengthy sequence in the middle of the game combines these arcade puzzles with quite a few time critical tasks. I actually quite enjoyed this part, but I did fail to complete more than one of the tasks before time ran out, and failing was in fact a key to moving on. The tasks involve saving yourself and numerous other characters, and various items and puzzle elements are garnered from different locations. A series of little icons indicate who is in most danger of expiring next, so it's that person who must be saved first. But how to do it and what is relevant? I had to search in the old fashioned way, thinking about what might be useful, and often time would run out before saving one of the persons. I learnt though what wasn't useful for that character each time I failed, allowing a more efficient path to the solution next time.
Again, this need to fail to see what works will likely annoy some players. Given it wasn't completely random, and involved some methodical thinking, I quite enjoyed it. Save the game though as you go - failure will throw you right back to the start of the chapter, and it's a long one. That will maximise your time, but you may well not want to do everything you did successfully again.
The aimlessness mentioned earlier will seem like a breath of fresh air to many after some of these sequences. But it is all a bit the same. Walk around, talk to people, find a conversation trigger that propels you forward, walk around some more, talk to more people to find the next key conversation and so on. And gather stuff. Sticks and stones will break your bones, but they also accomplish just about anything else it seems.
It isn't all like that, but I thought there was a lot of ... well, aimless wandering. And stick collecting.
Which is a pity, because as I said earlier, Next Life has some intriguing elements. You play Adam, who is involved in a car crash and wakes up on an island. The others on the island clearly come from different times and places. New people arrive, others apparently disappear. A bell tower rings three times, and you awake in your cabin. Time passes, you sleep again, and you dream.
A clue (perhaps) to what is going on can be found in the original name for the game. A reprobate is a person predestined to damnation, and much of what occurs on the island is indicative of something far less than paradise. Some of the characters think they are in a candid camera type reality show, but others have beliefs far more metaphysical.
By the way, have you read the novel Millenium by John Varley? That might provide another clue.
The characters and the dialogue are the strongest part of Next Life. It's well scripted, adult in places, and strikes the right mood and tone on most occasions. Finding yourself in a strange reality is not likely to engender feelings of glad tidings and it doesn't do so here. Jealousy and acrimony, antipathy and depression, longing and even lust are present. So too is whimsy and determination, fear and hate.
Like this life, the next one is full of mundane things. People go to the toilet, they shower, they sunbathe. Some sit idly and await their fate. Others attempt to overcome it.
There are quite a few characters and the voice acting is on the whole perfectly fine. Some are better than others. I liked the laconic and taciturn Adam. Some may find him a little flat. I thought it suited his tenacious stoicness.
The dialogue can be lengthy at times, but is generally worth it. It can be insightful, or just gossip. In the morgue sequence it overwhelms the gameplay at times, but not elsewhere. Some may disagree, finding it instead all a little ponderous.
Indeed, the game design leans towards an overall ponderousness. I think it needed to be shorter (how often do you say that), and less labour intensive. A little more direction would have lessened the need to wander, and a few less screens where 5 or 6 separate sequences were needed simply to move from one side to the other would have helped. So too a little less pixel hunting, especially when you can't see (quite literally) the object you are hunting.
Adam too could have done without his little shoe shuffle when he moved, but that is a small point. And I did not like the couple of puzzles where you just had to stand and wait for time to pass.
There were some other nice aspects. Although the first half (at least) of the game occurs on a small island, your view of the island is different once the bell has tolled and a new day starts. By that I mean that even though you visit the same places, they are drawn from a different viewpoint, so there is some variety in the sameness. Character modelling is excellent, and some scenes are especially detailed. Ambient sound is also rather good.
Savings games deserves a mention. Bring up the menu, choose save, and click a spot. You get a screenshot of where you are at with date and time, and the game just continues. No questions asking am I sure I want to save, do I really want to overwrite that game, what do I want to call it, and now what do I want to do. It might not suit your preferences but I found it very refreshing.
You can die in Next Life, but the game simply returns you to before the fatal action, although as mentioned earlier, in at least one part you get sent right back to the start of the chapter. You also have a steadily declining health bar throughout the game, which you replenish by eating and drinking. It's an odd characteristic, because if it empties you don't die, you just can't complete certain actions. You can still walk around, but if you get Adam to try and eg climb a rock face, he will say something like "I don't have the strength". So it's more like a fatigue bar, added I presume to bring some realism to this life.
Food and drink is present in your cabin each time you awaken, and only in the second part of the game does food management seem to be an issue. I rarely ate and rarely ran out in the first part. However, it happened once or twice, and had I not remembered to pick up my food, I can envisage it being possible to get stuck. On one occasion Adam was down a cliff, and the only way back was up a rope. He wouldn't climb it without some food, and there was no way back to the cabin from where he was other than up the rope. So whilst I can't confirm a dead end (had he not had food he might not have climbed down in the first place), taking your rations with you would be wise.
The adultness of the some of the dialogue has I believe been toned down for the English version. There are though some conversations and some actions which some might find not to their liking. So too there are some "adult" graphics.
There are some excellent cutscenes, and I liked the final one. However whilst there are some hints throughout the game as to what is going on, it all falls into place in one, rather unsatisfying, rush. From there, it truly is about Adam's next life. One which perhaps inevitably involves an Eve.
I think Next Life could have been awesome. Shorter, sharper, and throw out the arcade puzzles. Eke out the punch line, and then get to the resolution. Like the TV series I mentioned, Next Life got lost. I desperately wanted to rate it higher, but in the end what it wasn't smothered what it was.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2008.
All rights reserved.
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