If you're mature enough to handle it, you'll enjoy this fine yarn
In a couple of my other reviews, I touched on the idea of mature content in games. Now usually when I see that big 'M' on the bottom left corner of the box, I think that, because of previous experiences, the game will have a plethora of blood, violence, sexual innuendo, and more cursing then happy hour at a biker bar. Now in most 'M' rated games, they're about as mature as a 10 year old who just discovered the many uses for the 'F' word. Still Life, the new game made by the makers of the Syberia series: Microids (Now called MC2), has a big 'M' on the bottom left corner. It also has blood, violence, sexual innuendo, and more cursing then happy hour at a biker bar. What sets Still Life apart from most 'M' rated trash is the way that Still Life carries itself. Simply put, this gate has class, and not many games can say that.
Victoria McPherson is an FBI agent working out of Chicago. She's looking at her boyfriends new exhibit at the museum when she gets a call. That sicko just nabbed his fifth victim in a run down apartment, and you gotta depart early to get to the crime scene. Ewww...Not a pretty sight. Looks like he had some fun with her. Well, after that rough night, and since it's the holidays, it's time to visit daddy. At his house, you do some snooping around, and you find the diary of your grandfather Gustav, who many of you might remember was the star of the game Post Mortem. Now I wouldn't exactly call Still Life a sequel to Post Mortem since you don't need to have played Post Mortem to understand what's going on, but fans of that game will be happy to play as Gus again. While reading his diary, you discover that he worked on a case in Prague during the 1930's that is very similar to the case you're working on now.
The best thing about Still Life is how it seamlessly blends together two separate stories into one. You see, when Victoria sits down to read Grandpa's diary, you are transported back to Prague and actually play as Gus during his part of his story. Now usually when a game does this, the flashbacks always seem to come at the worst times, and always when you least expect it. Kinda like in Final Fantasy VIII when you're just walking around in a dungeon or something and BAM! Dream world time hits you like a freight train and it completely sucks you out of the experience. Not here. Still Life blends both worlds into one seemless expirence without missing a beat, and for that it deserves major props.
Because of the dual worlds, the story always stays fresh, never drags it's feet, and is exciting to the end. But what will keep you truly enthralled is the truly gritty subject matter. Usually when a game tries to be gritty or edgy, the game always ends up having a case of artificial aggression that makes the game feel like a Limp Bizkit video or something lame like that. This is not the case in Still Life. It's not the blood, it's how the blood is shown. The game is able to strike a core with the player by having these truly brutal, disturbing, and raw crime scenes. It's not overdone, and it's fits just right into the subject matter. And not many games with dismemberment can say something like that. Because of this intensity, the player makes a strong bond with all the characters to the end.
Speaking of end, if the game has one glaring flaw, it's the ending. It ends very abruptly, and without any closure whatsoever. There is a planned sequel in the works, but I have some doubts whether the end of this trilogy will be made or not. Other then that, this is one great story with some truly emotional moments.
Well, this is a traditional adventure game, so you should know the drill when it comes of graphics. Pre rendered backgrounds and character models. Microids is famous for their beautifully rendered backgrounds, and Still Life is no exception. But MC2 went one better by adding one awesome feature: Light and shadow effects. This might be a first for the genre. I was just astonished I was seeing real shadows that react to the environment in this kind of game! Gone are the days where a black circle on the ground was the only shadow in the game! It needs to be stressed that this is a feature that is commonplace in most all other genre. It only took a few extra years for the adventure genre to catch up in that regard...
Other then that, the game looks sharp and is able to carry the gritty subject matter well. If the corpses you encounter weren't as detailed as they could've been, it would have sucked you right out of the experience. Also, the game features tons of hand painted artwork that all look absolutely amazing. It is a testament to the designers who went the extra mile to give this game the artistic edge it needed to be truly one of a kind. The only downside is that the games character models are pretty blocky and look a little stiff. Also the lip synching is a little off. If I could describe the games graphics. I would say that Still Life is good enough technically, but artistically, the game is far above most all other games
If there's one place where Still Life has no flaw, it's the audio. The first thing that really struck me about the game is that my subwoofer got a serious workout. I wasn't really expected it, and all the sudden some quick cuts of the camera and my floor went nuts. Pow! Boom! Bam! Once again this is commonplace in most other games, but hearing something like that in a genre as, dare I say it, dated as this one, and hearing it in Still Life was refreshing to say the least. But, alas, that's just how loud it can be. What's important is how good it sounds. This is where Still Life really excels. The music in this game is absolutely superb. In most of the cutscenes, the music is fully orchestrated complete with opera singers, and it sounds amazing. While in game, the game has a great mechanical sound that fits the mood perfectly. It kinda has a Nine Inch Nails vibe to it and, while not as fantastic as the cut scene music, sounds great in it's own right. The sound effects are good too. But there really aren't enough sound effects to make this a worthwhile compliment. I do however like the noise the game makes when you get an invite over XBox Live (This game features something called XBox Live Aware. That means that while playing you can receive invites to play other games and people can see that you're playing Still Life. It's a nice touch).
Voices are always important in adventure games, and Still Life is once again up to the challenge. The actors all do a great job with their parts, and there isn't one sore thumb or bad apple in the whole bunch. Every character is voiced professionally, and done very well. Some may say that Tate is a little stereotypical, but I think he does a good job. It also doesn't hurt that the actors are working with a well written script. It's also important to point out that this game runs in game Dolby Digital 5.1, and it really adds to the immersion. If you have an XBox and a good sound system, this makes the XBox version the best choice. The audio in this game is a real standout, and the best compliment I can give it is that it has no flaw.
Throughout this review, I've said how much I love the things that Still Life does that defy conventions. When the game first started, I was doing something different in a adventure game. You see, in the first area of the game, you're at a crime scene. The cool part is that you're given all kinds of tools like tweezers to get hair strands and black light filters to see things that the naked eye couldn't. It's just so cool doing something different then the mundane puzzles that we have come accustomed to. Unfortunately, this section lasts a half hour max, and after you're done, it's right back to the same old puzzles we've been doing for years. Thankfully, these puzzles are varied, but some of them are a little on the absurd side, and just seem out of place (Baking cookies?!?). Also, it seems that the game could've made more puzzles. I'm not sure if this is a complaint, but the game seemed a little empty and easy in some places. I'll give you an example. You need access to a prisoner, but the guard won't let you in until you get his medal back from one of the prostitutes. Now, I'm thinking this sets in motion a fetch quest where I go to the prostitute, ask for it back, but she wants something in return blah blah blah , you've played it before. But no. You go to the prostitute, ask for it, and she just gives it to you without any fuss. Granted, I was relieved that I didn't have to go on a fetch quest, but I felt that it was all too easy, and it could've made the game longer (more on that later). Also, the game's puzzles rely too much on twiddlers. For those of you who don't know what those are, twiddlers are puzzles where you just kind of screw around with it until you get it right. Think of those 8 piece square puzzles with the one piece missing so you can move 'em around until it looks like. Yeah, alot of those. I would've preferred more item collecting. One or so twiddlers are alright, but this game just has too many.
The one nice thing about the game play is that the game translates well onto the XBox controller, and doesn't lose anything in translation to the big, black box from the PC. One problem I did have is that there is a run button, but it isn't much of an improvement from walking, and you wish they would run faster instead of a light jog. So overall, the gameplay is good at sticking with the conventions of the genre, but it doesn't strive for anything greater, and all the twiddlers will get on your nerves.
The only real problem with this game is that you wish there was more of it. There are 7 chapters in the game. 3 with Gus and 4 with Victoria. For an adventure game vet, each of these will only last about an hour, so you're looking at about an 8 hour game. That's not much at all, and especially considering how the game ends, you know they should've added some more content. An ending would've been nice...
Anyway, the game does retail for $20.00 ($10.00 cheaper then the PC version), so that eases the longevity pains. Also, the game does fall under the crutch that most of these games have in which once you beat it, you're not really gonna wanna play it again. Overall, I'd give the length of the game a...
Overall, Still Life is better then the sum of it's parts. Sure, the gameplay is a little stale, the ending sucks, it's short, and it's not exactly a technical marvel, but the story is fantastic, the art direction is superb, it sounds incredible, It's only $20.00, and the game handles the subject matter very, very well. Even though the gameplay isn't new, the game feels fresh because of all the other great things it does so well. If you need an adventure fix, you can't go wrong with Still Life.
+A truly mature game
-you've played it before
-why do you run so slow!??!
Bottom Line: Buy it, even with it's flaws.