Publisher: The Adventure Company
Release Date: June 7, 2005
Ah, the adventure game genre, how far the mighty have fallen. While other genres have redefined themselves and continue to add new elements so they remain fresh, adventure games have barely changed in the last 15 years. Back in the early and mid-'90s, adventure games enjoyed the same popularity that FPSes do today. Now they are but a memory in the eyes of many, which is a real shame. Two companies determined to stop the death knell from sounding are Microids and The Adventure Company. As an avid adventure game fan, I have been waiting with bated breath for Still Life, which will hopefully bring a more mature audience to the genre. So does it measure up, or is this just one more bump on the adventure game's rocky road to demise?
You play as Victoria McPherson, an FBI agent investigating a series of grisly murders. The game begins with the discovery of the fifth victim in a dilapidated apartment building. The atmosphere of the game is immediately conveyed through the gritty look of the building and the cold, dark winter night. The pre-rendered backgrounds are gorgeous, and since the game is displayed in 720p, those with HD TVs will get an added benefit. The oddity with this game is how bland the characters look in comparison to the beautiful backgrounds. With pre-rendered scenes, developers can usually make the characters look superb because the game isn't spending any horsepower drawing the backgrounds, but with this game, they look ho-hum, and their animations are fairly awkward. This was the first sign that there were going to be problems with Still Life.
The second sign comes in the first few seconds of the game, when you walk up to the cop outside the crime scene and begin a conversation. One of the "gameplay" elements of Still Life is the conversation system. Basically during a conversation you can click the left trigger for normal game-related conversation and the right trigger for more personal conversation, but no matter what you choose, the game plays out exactly the same. Many conversations do not even feature a personal conversation option so you are just constantly pulling the left trigger to progress the conversation, which is rather pointless, as the developers could simply have let the conversation play out without user input. I'm not sure if this was supposed to make the gamer feel more involved, but it doesn't. This could have been a very cool new aspect of adventure gaming by adding some sort of RPG element and having multiple branching paths. Maybe next time, eh?
The major gameplay element revolves around the puzzles, though, and it is here where the third problem comes into play. There are basically two types of puzzles: one type requires you to find an item and use it in a specific location, and the other is the traditional problem-solving puzzles, which are great in this game. Their positioning is logical, unlike many adventure games that randomly throw them in. I would have preferred that these puzzles became increasingly harder as the game progressed, but their difficulty level was acceptable. There were far too few puzzles in the game, and had the developers doubled the number of puzzles, it would have lengthened this short game, but still would have seemed a little slim. Most gamers will probably beat this title in 10-15 hours.
Still Life isn't all bad, and in fact, there are several areas where it excels. One example of this is the story, which you are drawn into from the get-go, and the mystery never lets up. Despite many of the game's flaws, I could not put down the controller. It's been some time since I stayed up till 7 am to beat a game. The cut scenes were fantastic and really helped to convey the story; audio during these segments was perfect. Beautifully rendered and eerily edited, the cut scenes can scare you more than many Hollywood horror movies. Although the audio is fantastic, it can get quite sparse in some parts, so the game definitely could have used more audio throughout.
As a rabid adventure gamer, I was a little disappointed with this title; it definitely needed more puzzles and a fresh take on the gameplay. The bottom line is this: if you like adventure games, you should enjoy Still Life, but it will definitely not change the mind of the masses.
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