Publisher: The Adventure Company
Release Date: April 14, 2005
Murder is, well, never pretty. Sure, it ranges widely, but for Victoria McPherson, it's downright grotesque. Some out there is taking great pleasure in this game played in blood and tissue, and she's bent on making sure he stops and stops now. Is there more to it than she knows...?
Still Life is a traditional adventure title from one of the few studios still running strong with the concept, The Adventure Company. Set in the modern day city of Chicago, Agent McPherson has tasked herself with locating a serial killer who's left his mark on at least five women, leaving nothing behind but bloodstains and brutalized corpses. Expect to stick your hands into some slightly unpleasant situations — this is homicide — before you get near the answers. And some of those answers will come from an unexpected place: Victoria's grandfather is none other than Gus McPherson, the detective-turned-artist last seen in Post-Mortem.
This version, designed explicitly for the Xbox,uses a modified control and input method, designed with the limitations of control pads as pointing devices. Instead of forcing the player to fumble about brainlessly with an on-screen pointer, this version instead uses the analogue stick to move Victoria about. Passing near "hot spots" pops up an indicator and allows you to simply interact with them — it's all one button, just like with a mouse, only much easier to control. I'm actually happy with this, for the most part; while it makes actually finding the interactive spots somewhat more difficult, it's far easier than trying to steer everything via a pointer. There needs to be some changes made to the range on this "pop-up" action to avoid having to ram your face into a wall just to get a mark to show, but that's really minor at this point.
Beyond that intrinsic change, every other element is exactly the same as what PC users found in their version. Graphics live up to the Adventure Company standard, with beautiful pre-renders, tight animation loops, and impressive ambiance. It's hard to find fault here, where everything looks exactly like you'd expect out of high-rise offices and demolished Chicago tenements and slums. Even the models are nicely detailed and expressive.
Player take note of the large black "M" on the front of the box (in the US, at least). This title has gone to great measures to earn that "Mature" tag, with gore aplenty, lots of foul language, and a smattering of nudity. This is not The Longest Journey or Syberia, but it all flows and fits into place nicely. The beginnings of a beautifully involved thriller are here, just begging for some poor player to come along and dig them all up. If I were to draw a conclusion, this is almost "The Silence Of The Lambs" only interactive, with bits of Marilyn Manson or Nine Inch Nails tossed in for interesting measure.
The preview build was a short burst, based primarily on the demo currently available in a variety of the usual places. There, our poor Victoria has been dragged out into the dark city slums to examine the fifth body found. After a bit of conversation with the head coroner (and a cute "Silence Of The Lambs" joke) and the agent who got there before you and promptly lost his lunch, you'll investigate the grungy internals of a slum apartment and, well, let's not spoil anything, shall we? Suffice to say nothing is remotely as it seems...
From time to time, you'll switch characters to Gus, the self-defacing detective we met a few games ago. At this point, he's investigating a very similar murder to the one Victoria is wracking her brains on, only several decades before and in Europe. How do these things relate? Who is this sadistic killer who prides himself in bashing women to bits, drowning them, skewering them, and so on? That's your job, king adventurer — to put the pieces together, to solve all the puzzles, and to put this homicidal maniac in his place.
Still Life is set for release early in 2005. At this point, there's a very complete demo available that I propose any adventure gaming fan looks into right away (unless the "Mature" label forces you to shy away). This is a modern themed thriller that deserves attention it may not otherwise get, so keep your eyes open and watch for it. If the actual final release is as tight as the press release for the entire game, this will be another notch in The Adventure Company's gaming crown.
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