Still Life Preview

Still Life is a new offering from Microids, soon to be published in the U.S. by The Adventure Company. I recently was able to play an extended preview demo of the game, and immediately became caught up in the intricate web that it weaves. The game is a third-person adventure, in which the player alternates between playing two characters -- Victoria McPherson, and her grandfather Gus McPherson. Victoria McPherson is a present-day FBI agent investigating a serial murder case in Chicago. Her grandfather, Gus, was a private investigator, working in Prague in the late 1920's. As Victoria progresses with her case, unable to find clues to the killer, the pressure is increasing. Along the way, she discovers her grandfather's old case files, one of which reveals uncanny similarities between Victoria's current assignment, and a case that he worked 75 years earlier. As the player moves through the game, the scene alternates from Winter 2004 in Chicago (playing as Victoria), to the 1929 landscape of Prague, Czechoslavakia (playing as Gus).

One of the first things that struck me, as I played through the preview, was the realism of the scenes. Beautifully rendered 3D backgrounds are the norm; incredibly detailed scenes abound. Even the coloring has been carefully crafted to contribute to the somber note throughout most of the game -- with lots of drab hues and dimly-lit scenes. The story line is excellent. The more I played, the more I could see Victoria's personality developing. And the format of a murder investigation is the perfect setting for allowing the story to "unfold", piece by piece, as investigations continue to turn up new evidence, and dialogues with the many characters in the game contribute to the framework of the story, as well. There are many well-crafted characters with whom to interact. (Some are a bit crude in their dialogue -- a case of balancing "realism" with "audience appeal", apparently. See the rating comment below for more.) And what a range of characters! Much of Victoria's time is spent with her FBI colleagues, and in high-technology facilities. (She also has a developing interaction with her father, which adds to the "personality" of the story line.) Gus, on the other hand, spends most of his time amidst the seamy underbelly of 1929 Prague -- the thieves, the hookers, the less-than-desireables. For the most part, from the preview that I played, the characters are very "real". Their actions and reactions -- even the voicing given to the characters -- seem very true-to-life. Rather than being a boring or frustrating task to find -- and speak with -- all of the necessary characters, I looked upon it as an intricate and entertaining part of the overall game.

Navigation throughout the game is quite simple. There are no difficult keystrokes to learn, or icons to decipher. I was able to be up and running in no time, and focus on the game rather than on the interface. The background music is aptly suited to the theme of the story, as well as the scenes themselves (which take place in such places as a graveyard, an abandoned church, and a morgue). The puzzles within the game are more of a "story thread" than pure puzzles. Many are inventory puzzles that require finding and using objects in the proper place. I felt that the puzzles I played contributed to the general flow of the story, rather than interrupting it. The hardware requirements for the game are not terribly demanding -- a welcome relief, after playing several other recent adventure games that function only on the very latest video cards and drivers, and require several gigabytes of hard disk space. I had no technical issues with the preview copy that I played. One note of caution: the "M" rating in Still Life is well-earned. The label on the box denotes "Blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language". None of these are assigned casually. The game focuses on serial murders -- complete with Jack-the-Ripper style dismemberments and disfigurements of the (usually naked) victims. And, as has already been mentioned, a lot of attention has been given to the graphical aspects of the game. While I never had the feeling that this was done gratuitously, it is possible that those with weaker stomachs for this sort of thing may have their enjoyment of the game tainted by its realism.

Still Life is scheduled for release by The Adventure Company on April 14th, and will be available on both the PC and Xbox platforms. I look forward to playing the full released version of the game.

-- Frank Nicodem