Reviewed: April 19, 2005
Reviewed by: Mark Smith

Publisher
The Adventure Company

Developer
Microids

Released: April 14, 2005
Genre: Adventure
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature

8
8
9
7
8.8

System Requirements

  • Windows® 98, ME, 2000 or XP
  • Pentium® III 750 MHz
  • 128 MB RAM
  • 8x CD ROM Drive
  • DirectX8.1
  • 32 MB Graphics Card
  • Keyboard /Mouse/Speakers

    Recommended System

  • Windows 2000 or XP
  • Pentium® III 1.2 GHz
  • 64 MB or Equivalent

    Screenshots (Click Image for Gallery)


  • Adventure games have come along way since the golden era of text-based Infocom titles like Zork. Sierra redefined the genre and for a while adventure games were about the only games you could play on your PC. Then Myst game along and further redefined the genre, taking out a lot of the adventure and replacing it with puzzles and a fancy new point-n-click interface.

    The past decade has seen a marked drop in adventure games as other more action-heavy titles have dominated the PC and console market, but The Adventure Company is doing their best to make sure the genre doesn’t become a distant memory. Their latest offering, Still Life, not only revitalizing the adventure genre, it even brings back the glory days of third-person adventure games and mixes it with both modern and historical timelines, a horrific story, and spine tingling gameplay.

    Still Life opens with a brilliant cutscene full of style and mystery, complete with a rich and haunting score from the same musicians who created the stirring soundtracks for the two Syberia games. The movie is a jumble of images, snippets of a serial killer, an artist’s paintbrush painting what might be blood; it’s quite disturbing and sets the mood perfectly for what is about to come.

    The game starts off with you playing as Victoria McPherson, an FBI agent who is called to a disturbing and very violent murder scene. You’ll engage in a few conversations before searching and collecting evidence around the area. In this way the game play out very much like the C.S.I. titles where you use certain investigative tools in your inventory to reveal invisible blood stains and swap liquid, hair, and fiber samples for research back at the lab. They even do a stylish recreation of the crime, or at least their theory on the crime, much like they do on C.S.I.


    Still Life mixes crime investigation puzzles and techniques with traditional adventure game clichés such as item hunts and item manipulation. Early in the game when it comes time to leave the crime scene your exit is blocked and you must find an alternate exit. This sends on you a quest for a crowbar (assuming you didn’t stumble upon it earlier) to clear the back door.

    Unlike many adventure games where each scene is littered with dozens of hot spots that you can casually click on for scenic descriptions, Still Life only triggers your mouse cursor for gameplay related nodes. This certainly streamlines the gameplay and also takes out much of the redundancy of having text or verbal descriptions for what you can plainly see. If something truly warrants closer investigation a magnifying lens will appear.

    My only minor complaint with the interface is in the direction cues. The variation between the standard cursor and one with a tiny arrow pointing at a possible exit is very minor, and you really have to keep your eye on the cursor to detect the actual hot spot.

    Conversations are rather linear without the traditional topic trees we’ve seen in past adventure games. In Still Life you can pick from one or possibly two threads of conversation by left or right clicking the mouse as indicated by the icon that appears while talking. Left clicking keeps the conversation on topic while right clicks steer the dialogue into a more casual direction. Either way, you click on the left and right buttons until all topics are exhausted.

    The interface is outstanding. Moving around the game world is easy and interacting with the environments is as simple as moving the mouse until the cursor changes then left-clicking the area. Using your inventory items is equally as easy. You simply get within “range” of the target area then open your inventory with a right click, click the item, and click the use icon. You are returned to the game screen where one more click will use the item. It’s fairly ingenious and simple to use. You can also combine items and examine them in your inventory, often spinning them around in 3D for additional hidden clues or functions.

    Still Life delivers two stunning stories. Victoria’s adventure takes place in modern day Chicago, but there is a second story that takes place in the late 20’s in Prague. This story kicks in when Victoria finds a chest in her attic and triggers a flashback to the adventures of Gus McPherson, her grandfather and the detective from the Post Mortum game, who is on a strikingly similar case to the one Victoria is investigating.

    We join Gus down on the waterfront investigating the fifth murder, this time a prostitute, with a very distinct and similar style to the case you just investigated in Chicago. Could there be a connection? The idea of parallel stories is nothing new but the way Still Life handles these two plot lines and interweaves them, both in the story and the way you bounce back and forth between them is simple elegance.

    Not only does the scenery and tone of the game change between the two stories, so does the gameplay. In Chicago you have all the modern crime-solving tools we see on TV every week, but in the 20’s things are a bit more primitive and a bit mystical. Gus uses his physic abilities as a tool to investigate crime scenes and solve mysteries. It’s quite clever actually and gives the game some great flavor.


    The visual style of Still Life ranges from bone-chilling murder scenes to the high-tech FBI office, to some gothic imagery of Prague in the 20’s. There is a lot of disturbing imagery in the game, violent deaths, sinister cutscenes that are more disturbing for what they don’t show than what they do. Your imagination is often more powerful than anything the designers could inflict upon you. I was genuinely “creeped out” numerous times during the game.

    Each background is beautifully detailed to the point of becoming almost photo-realistic. There are hundreds of screens and each one serves a purpose, whether it be for interaction or simply to further immerse you in the game world.


    The music is pretty much limited to the majestic score that accompanies the haunting opening movie then the music takes a back seat to dialogue and environmental sounds, which are all really done exceptionally well.

    The game is M-rated for obvious reason. In addition to the nudity, blood, and violent scenes of death, many of the characters including the first cop you meet on the scene are fond of using streams of profanity, often three or more words in a single sentence. Oddly enough, it didn’t seem terribly out-of-place knowing how cops talk in real life. Some of it even bordered on amusing.

    There are literally thousands of lines of dialogue in Still Life and for the most part each and every line is delivered with a professionalism that is unmatched in the adventure game genre. Sara Leger (Post Mortum) is back to lend her amazing voice to the lead character, Victoria, and mixes in witty repartee with a business-like professionalism at the office and an innocent daughter at home.

    The only character that seemed really out of place, mainly due to the terrible voice acting, was Victoria’s father. Not only was his delivery totally unbelievable, he was forced to say line after line and always end it with …honey, or …sweetheart. I was about to go into a diabetic coma the first time he called her at work, and their exchange at home in front of the fireplace was even worse. But that is the only downside to an otherwise award-winning cast of voice actors and quality script.


    Still Life boasts 12-15 hours of bone chilling gameplay with edge-of-your-seat suspense and a dramatically unfolding plotline full of twists. The inclusion of Gus is a nice treat for Post Mortum fans but Still Life requires no previous knowledge of the character or events from that game.


    This has got to be one of the best adventure games of the year, and even Xbox owners will get to test their crime-solving abilities when the game ships for the Xbox in May. The Xbox translation should be seamless and from what I’ve seen of the PC control system, should play as good if not better than the PC using a gamepad.

    If I had to sum up Still Life in one word that word would be “disturbing”, and ironically that very word appears early in the game written on the wall in blood, perhaps an omen of things to come. If you love adventure games or are hooked on any of the numerous crime drama’s now dominating primetime TV then Still Life is a must-own title.