Reviewed: June 19, 2005
Reviewed by: John Bowlin

The Adventure Company


Released: June 6, 2005
Genre: Adventure
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature


Supported Features:

  • Dolby Digital
  • HDTV 720p
  • Xbox Live Aware

    Screenshots (Click Image for Gallery)

  • Serial killings stir up emotions and interest like almost nothing else, and as such, make for a great subject for an adventure game. So then, when I got the opportunity to review Still Life, the latest adventure from Microids and The Adventure Company, I cackled with morbid glee. Microids has an excellent and well deserved reputation as an adventure game developer, what with their very successful and high praised Syberia series, and other memorable titles like Amerzone and recent ones like Obscure and Post Mortem. And The Adventure Company certainly knows adventure games and is probably the biggest publisher in the US for this genre now. So I had good reason to expect much from this title.

    Still Life tells the tale of FBI field agent Victoria McPherson. You start off at the scene of the fifth murder in winter Chicago done by a vicious serial killer and collect evidence with small hope of actually finding anything you can use to catch this smart but extremely psycho killer. The killer likes to drown his victims, and the victim in this latest killing, all women, was found drowned in the bathtub of frozen water a dilapidated apartment building that is literally falling apart. Victoria is having a bad day and this case is starting to drag her down, but it's Christmas time so she decides to visit her fatherís house.

    Victoria's dad had recently discovered an old necklace of her grandmothers in the attic, and so Victoria heads upstairs in the hopes of finding some lost memories to cheer her up. What she finds instead is an old case file of her grandfather's who was a private detective in the 1920's. As she reads the case file, she discovers some shocking parallels between that case and the one she is working on, too many to be just coincidence. So the gameplay switches back and forth between the tale of Victoria and Gustav McPhearson, and the player uncovers more and more clues as to the nature of the murders as they go along.

    Still Life is a traditional point-and-click adventure game. You find objects, and you combine objects with each other or with things in the scene to discover clues to a puzzle. In Still Life since you are a detective a lot of what you do involves looking for clues to the murders, collecting evidence, taking photos, etc. But the game also features "traditional" puzzles. For example, unlocking the chest in Victoria's father's attic requires solving a puzzle by manipulating a curious lock. The puzzles fit in naturally within Still Life's story, and never feel arbitrary or out of place.

    The interface for Still Life on the Xbox is fairly easy to figure out and works fairly well. There was only one time where I felt that a mouse would have been a lot easier to use instead of the Xbox controller. You use the left analog stick or the D-pad to move your character around. The A button is the action button and is used to perform actions on items in your inventory or on the main screen. Holding the X button while moving causes your character to sprint. The Y button accesses the game's inventory screen, which is where you will spend a lot of time interacting with objects. B is the cancel button for when you want to leave a screen like the Inventory screen or cancel an action. In the inventory screen you can use the D-pad to rotate objects and examine them, and you can combine objects and select an object to use in the main screen.

    While navigating the main screen your cursor will change icons if you are able to perform an action at that hot spot. For example, you may see a pool of blood on the floor, and your cursor will change to a magnifying glass when you hover over it to indicate that an action can be performed at that location. When you see a person on the screen, your cursor will change to a chat bubble if you can initiate conversations with that person. It all works very well and is pretty much intuitive, I never needed to look at the manual to figure out how to operate the interface. Saving the game is painless and can be done at nearly any time so that you can come back where you left off if real life intrudes into your Still Life.

    The puzzles of Still Life are never too difficult or non-intuitive. There was never a moment where I thought "this is stupid" or "I'll never figure this out, no one could figure this out!" There were a few times when I wasn't sure what to do, but wandering around and clicking on anything and everything and especially searching through my inventory to examine my objects for clues got me by. There aren't a lot of locations open at one time for you to wander around and get lost. Pretty much you will know what you are supposed to do and where to do it.

    Some of the puzzles were very satisfying to complete, tricky enough to feel good about solving them, but not so hard that you need a PhD to figure them out. You can also go back and review Gus or Victoria's journal if you think you might be forgetting something. Adventure game experts may find the puzzles somewhat easy, but the story will probably keep them interested even if the puzzles aren't a challenge for them. Even though the game has a journal, I found it helpful to keep my own pad and pencil handy for jotting down notes related to clues for puzzle solving.

    The twin stories of Victoria and Gustav definitely keep you glued to the screen to find out what is going on. The cut scenes, especially those involving the murderer and his methods, were both gruesome and somehow captivating. If you have a weak stomach this might not be the best game for you to play, the game gets an M rating for a good reason. Grisly crime scenes are commonplace. If you're the kind of person who enjoys movies like Silence of the Lambs or Se7en, you will probably really enjoy the story of Still Life.

    I hesitate to call the graphics of Still Life beautiful, since much of it involves horror and gore. The style of the graphics differs depending if you are playing Victoria in modern Chicago or Gus in 1920's Prague. The backgrounds are very detailed and some of the scenes felt like they were taken right from Se7en's sets. The mood evoked is one of decay, decadence, and decline.

    There were times when the animation looked a bit stilted, or when the details were too fuzzy to make out what it is you were looking at, but those were the exceptions, and for the most part the visuals in Still Life are well done and especially good at carrying the mood of horror and dread, and of course, intrigue. I do not have a digital television, however, so if you are lucky enough to have one, the game does support 720p HDTV, and I'm sure the graphics will look quite a bit sharper on such a display.

    Especially good were the cut scenes, which were doled out kind of like a reward for solving some difficult puzzle. The main menu offered a cinematics viewer, so that you can go back and review the cut scenes in all their gruesome details. The artistic style of the cut scenes were straight out of a horror flick - you can't help but look between your fingers while you cover your face.

    Every line of dialogue in Still Life is spoken, and the voice acting was particularly good. Even the main character, Victoria, has a voice that is interesting, which for some reason is unusual for a main character in most video games. The supporting cast does and excellent job, everyone from the regular uniformed officers to your forensics expert friend Clarice. You will be hard pressed to find another video game that has voice work this solid, regardless of the genre.

    The sound effects during the exploring phase sometimes helped invoke the dystrophic mood that the graphics did, but at other times things just felt a bit too empty. One problem is that you spend so much time looking for clues in a small space that the ambient sound keeps looping until you get tired of hearing it. The cutscenes, however, offer excellent orchestral music that definitely fits in well with the adult themes of this adventure. The sound is Dolby Digital, but I do not have a system set up to take advantage of it.

    Still Life, like most adventure games, doesn't really have a lot of replay value. You can finish this adventure in 15 or 20 hours, unless you really get stuck and refuse to go to a walk-through for help. The price, however, is pretty great for what you get. You can find this game for under $20 street price, and for that pittance I consider Still Life to offer an excellent value for people who enjoy the adventure genre and psychological horror.

    Excellent visuals and voice acting really draw you into this film-like adventure experience known as Still Life. The plot is well done and the dialogue and characters intriguing. Puzzles are hard enough to feel like you actually did something while not being so hard that you'll be tearing out your hair. The subject matter is definitely not for the kiddies, but non-squeamish adults who enjoy psychological horror films like The Ring, Se7en, or Silence of the Lambs should find a lot to like here.

    Overall Still Life is a throw back to the classic point-and-click adventure, where manipulating objects and having lots of conversations with on screen characters reveals clues to keep the story moving forward. You do not need to be an adventure game expert to get something out of Still Life, but even if you are, Still Life's strong story will carry you through to the end and leave you salivating for more.