Lifestream

 
 
 

 

Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Christopher Brendel & Unimatrix Production

Released:  2004

PC Requirements:   Pentium 733 MHz, Windows 95/98/2000/ME/XP, 64 MB RAM, 700 MB Hard Drive space, 640x480 resolution, 24-Bit Color display, 4x or faster CD-ROM drive, and a Windows-compatible sound card and mouse

 

 

 

by Jenny100

Lifestream Review

Lifestream is the first game from independent developer Christopher M. Brendel. It began as an idea he had back in high school, but at that time the idea didn't progress further than an outline of the plot. Six years later, in May of 2004, he returned to the project and the result is Lifestream.

Story

The story begins as John, a young man who appears to be in his early 20's, awakens from a nightmare. He is troubled because his father, Randolph Holton, has gone missing and he feels powerless. He can't report his father's disappearance to the authorities because his father is a priest, and isn't supposed to have children. To admit he was Father Randolph Holton's son would ruin his father's reputation as a priest. So John decides to investigate on his own. He isn't sure where to begin looking, but starts out at the house where Father Randolph often stayed when he needed a rest from his responsibilities.

In the course of his investigation, John learns of Father Randolph's search for something called the Lifestream. The Lifestream seems to be a sort of parallel dimension to our own - a place where dreams can come true. But the Lifestream has a dark side. Those who learn of it can become obsessed with it. And once inside the Lifestream, it may not be possible to leave. Is Father Randolph trapped in the Lifestream? If so, is there anything John can do to free him?

Lifestream is divided into ten chapters and a Prologue. The gamer plays in alternate chapters as John in the present and as Father Randolph in the past.

Puzzles

Lifestream has both inventory puzzles and a few standalone puzzles. By "standalone puzzles" I mean puzzles that would still be puzzles if you removed them from the game environment. For example, a slider on the lid of a box that you solve to open the box would be a standalone puzzle. Most of the puzzles are not difficult, and there are usually plenty of clues about what you should do next. Often your character simply tells you. And the game areas you have to search for hotspots are not that large. There is no illogical use of inventory.

You meet and talk to other characters in the game, but there are no real conversation puzzles. Conversations sometimes serve as triggers for other events and the availability of inventory items and other hotspots.

There is more than one maze, though one of them was more a matter of finding the "key" to moving through the maze than mapping. There is a 4x3 slider, a type of Chinese checkers game, and a few other little standalone puzzles that you solve to open locked objects. There was also a game you have to play against another character which can be tricky to win. (There are hints and solutions to these puzzles in the game guide. The slider even has a puzzle skip.)

There is one dexterity-based puzzle that requires steady hands and a smooth mouse more than speed. Unfortunately if you have coffee nerves (or just nerves) it may take quite a few tries to get through and some people may get stuck here. (I found it much easier to solve this puzzle after reducing my mouse pointer speed in Windows Control Panel.) There is also a timed puzzle toward the end which some people have had difficulty with. It is much much easier if you know where to click. You may die a few times in this puzzle before you learn what to click on, but the game restores you to before your "mistake" and loads quickly. It also warns you before you enter the dangerous area by telling you to save. A save point is useful if you need to go back and look for clues in your inventory, which isn't available during the timed sequence.

Controls

Lifestream is a first person point-and-click adventure game. It was made using AdventureMaker software and the interface is very similar to the one used in other independently produced games like The Arrangement and Harvest. The default cursor is a big orange X. It changes to a "^" to indicate where clicking will make you move forward or to a "v" to show where you can back up. A "<" or ">" indicates where you can turn, and a sort of diamond shape shows where you can interact with the gameworld or inventory. A few areas have an up or down arrow to indicate where you can look up or look down. When you can pick something up, the cursor changes to a little blob with the word "TAKE" spelled out next to it.

A small black rectangle that says "Inventory" is visible in the upper left of the screen during most of the interactive parts of the game. When you move your cursor over this box, your inventory appears along the top of the screen. A ToolTip-type description of an item will appear if you hover your cursor over it. You use items in inventory by dragging them to where you want to use them, whether the target is something in the game environment or another item in inventory. There is a magnifying glass at the left side of inventory that you can use to zoom in on items in inventory. Dragging the magnifying glass over the item will give a full screen view of the item along with a spoken comment. Nearly all inventory items can be examined in this manner, but there are a few rare exceptions, like the different herbs. Sometimes you'll collect reading material, and you can zoom in on it to read it. You turn the pages by clicking on a left or right cursor.

One difference between Lifestream and games like The Arrangement is that Lifestream has transitions that play when you move from one node to the next. This is an ambitious undertaking in an independently produced game, but unfortunately these transitions are highly compressed and most of them don't look very good. They may even be hard on your eyes after a while. The transitions can be skipped by clicking the Escape key on your keyboard once or twice (it was usually twice on my computer). Doing this makes it less clear where your character moved to, but the option is available if you don't like the transitions or simply want to move around the gameworld faster.

Saving

To save, you right-click and a taskbar appears at the top of the page through which you can Save, Load, or Exit. Saves are located in the game folder. You can delete unwanted saves through the save interface (not the load interface) with the "Remove Selected" button. You can also delete unwanted saves by browsing to the game folder and deleting them as you would any other file. You are allowed an unlimited  number of saves.

Options

There aren't any game options that I could find.  

Graphics

The graphics are in 640x480 resolution. Still shots aren't photorealistic, but look reasonably good. Characters' faces were nicely done and the animation of the 3D character models in cut scenes is probably the best I've seen in an independently produced game. Lip synch was especially good, matching mouth shape to speech. Care was taken with the way the cut scenes were put together - how the characters were placed on the screen, when closeups were used and from what angle, when and how music or sound effects were used, etc. I was impressed by this, especially since these are details that even commercial game developers often fail to consider. 

The graphics weren't perfect. Sometimes the characters have an odd way of posing with rigidly straight fingers, which looks a bit unnatural. But the only place the quality of the graphics really falls down is in the transitions which play as you move from node to node. These were highly compressed so the game would fit on one CD. Some gamers say they get used to the look of the transitions and don't notice them after a while. Others are very bothered by the compression artifacts.

Sound

Sound was very well done in Lifestream. Voice acting was mostly very good. John Bell did many of the male voices and the other voice actors were also convincing.

Sound effects and background sounds were well used. The ones that played during cut scenes were particularly good. I only remember a couple of sound effects that bothered me. A fire burning in a the fireplace sounded more like a big furnace. And the sound of your character's footsteps often seemed too fast considering how fast he appeared to be walking. But for the most part sound effects and background sounds were well done. The sounds that played as you click on puzzles gave good feedback. I didn't care for the "music" that accompanied the star puzzle. It was shrill and somewhat atonal and not conducive to coherent thought processes. Perhaps it was meant to confuse the gamer and make the puzzle harder.

The music was one of the high points of the game. It was used very effectively in cut scenes and worked well to set the mood during the game and build tension. Much of it was also nice by itself and I'd have liked a soundtrack CD like The Arrangement had.

Installation

Lifestream comes on one CD and installs completely to the hard drive. After installation you can put away your game CD. The installation process will prompt you to install the XviD codec toward the end of the install. The game needs this codec in order to function.

The game also needs Flash and Shockwave installed in order to run. Most computers that have been used for browsing will already have these installed. But if you have a brand new computer or a computer you don't use for online browsing, you may need to install them. The Lifestream CD includes installers for both. The "Install Flash Player 7.msi" is obvious and the sw_pub.msi file is the Shockwave installer. You can install them by double-clicking on them. Don't worry if they just open a box that says "preparing to install..." and then appear to quit. They do install. They just aren't very obvious about doing it and don't notify you that your install was successful. You can also download and use the Flash and Shockwave installers from the www.macromedia.com website, which are more obvious about doing something when they install.

Required Specs (as listed in the Install.htm file in the Help folder on the game CD) 

IBM PC or compatible

Pentium 733 MHz

Windows 95/98/2000/ME/XP

64 MB RAM

600 MB Hard Drive space

640x480 resolution

24-Bit Color display

4x or faster CD-ROM drive

Windows-compatible sound card and mouse

Macromedia Flash Player

The computers I played it on

Windows 2000 SP2

Athlon XP 1800+ (about 1533 MHz)

512 MB system RAM

16x/10x/12x/40x Toshiba SD-R1202 combo drive

Matrox G550 graphics card with 32 MB

SBLive Value 5.1

 

Windows XP SP1

Pentium 4 3200 MHz

1024 MB system RAM

16X Samsung SD 616E DVD drive

ATI X800 SE graphics card with 128 MB

SBLive (OEM version from Dell)

Additional Comments

The long cut scene that unfolded at the end of the game explained most things, while leaving some mysteries. I thought the ending was satisfying. It was sort of bittersweet and poignant rather than being a completely happy ending. But I don't see how the story could have ended otherwise without seeming forced. I generally don't like unhappy endings unless they work with the rest of the game. I felt this one did.

Lifestream and its companion guide are available through the Lifestream website at http://www.unimatrixproductions.com/

I recommend getting the guide along with the game, as it contains tips on where to find Easter eggs (Lifestream had some of the funniest Easter eggs I've ever seen in a game) as well as a walkthrough and a separate section for help in solving individual puzzles. There are also darkened "Spoiler" sections interspersed throughout the walkthrough which may help clarify plot details. I suggest you not read the "Spoiler" sections until you've played the game through at least once. But they are interesting to check during a replay. The game guide is available at a discount when purchased along with the game.

Recommendations

Recommended for fans of independently developed and published games and those for whom story is more important than a state of the art game engine. Not recommended for those with severe hearing difficulties because of the lack of subtitles and one sound-based puzzle.

Overall Grade   B+

It's hard to know how to rate a game when you know some players will be very bothered by the fact that the graphics aren't state of the art and the node-to-node transitions suffer badly from compression artifacts. But I think this game has enough going for it that it rates a B+. If I were rating it solely as an independently produced game, it would easily get an A.

October 12, 2004

design copyright 2004 GameBoomers Group

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