"Lucy! You got some 'splainin to do!"
The following is a conversation verbatim that I had with a clerk at my local Game Crazy over the phone 3 days after the release of the XBox version of Still Life:
GC clerk: Tanasbourne Game crazy.
Me: Hello. Do you have any copies of Still Life in?
GC clerk: Ohhh...Let me check. I dunno if we have anymore in.
Me: Great...the one other guy in hillsboro who wanted it got to it first.
GC clerk: Oh no! We had like 8 copies in and people have been gobbling it up.
Me: You're kidding right?
GC clerk: No...Why?
Me: Well, It's not exactly a big game.
GC clerk: Well, neither was Katamari Damacy, and look what happened there.
Me: Good point.
*A few seconds pass with some keyboard clicking in the background*
GC clerk: You're in luck. We got one left.
Me: Hold it under the name Jarrod. I'll be there in 20 minutes.
GC clerk: You got it.
As I bussed my way to the store that fateful night, I felt 2 different feelings of excitement: The first being the feeling of getting to play the first major adventure game of 2005 for a whooping $20.00. The second being excited for the game actually doing well for some reason. Ladies and gentlemen, I think our constant whining about the industry finally got to the rest of the gaming crowd because, after many attempts, I think we got some people to give our genre a try.
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.
"Alright, what's the story on her?"
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.
9 Out Of 10
"My gosh. Look what he did to her!"
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
9 Out Of 10
"Did you hear that scream just now?"
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.
10 Out Of 10
"How could someone do this?"
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
We should be able to use images...