As Memento Mori opens, the voice
of a scientist announces a new technology that will reveal evidence of
forgeries in famous masterpieces of art. The technology will be used first
in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, which funded the research. The
scene changes, and a voice on the phone informs a shadowy figure that an
assassination must take place, and soon. Who does this new technology
threaten, and why?
The phrase, memento mori, speaks of our
mortality, and by implication, our limits: “Remember, you shall die,” or
“Remember that you are but a man!” The game reveals a series of
intertwining events, set against the backdrop of various European cities,
that (depending on the action of the gamer) may result in demotion,
dishonor or death.
A one sentence description of this game would be:
Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis meets Shadow of Destiny. Like
the Latin titled Puritas Cordis, Memento Mori has a spunky,
redheaded heroine and a handsome young hero named Max. Also like
Puritas Cordis the game has conspiring cultic figures clad in monks’
As in Shadow of Destiny, Memento Mori
offers alternate endings influenced by choices made by the gamer
throughout the game. Unlike Shadow of Destiny, the endings are not
fully-realized unique cut scenes revealing different futures, but consist
of the same cut scene with a voiceover revealing each future. The more
endings you see, the more you are likely to understand what is going on in
Memento Mori’s intricate backstory.
Memento Mori is distinguished by its ability to immerse the
gamer in an alternate world. This is partly due to the game’s characters –
particularly the protagonists, Lara Svetlova and Max Durand, both of whom
are playable at different points in the game.
Lara is bright, tempestuous and has a satiric sense of humor. She works
as a liaison officer for Interpol (the International Criminal Police
Organization) in Lyon, France. Lara’s specialty is investigating crimes
involving stolen works of art. She is the type of person on whom everyone
relies to get things done – even chores at the office that don’t actually
fit her job description.
Max is Lara’s longtime friend. He also is an expert in art – creating
it, lecturing about its history, and (when desperate) forging it. His
illegal activities were what originally brought him to the attention of
Lara and her former boss, Colonel Ostankovic of the Russia Militia.
Ostankovic is an overweening egotist who defines self-absorption. His
knowledge of Max’s past empowers him to use Max as a sort of art
investigation errand boy.
Immersion is also aided by photorealistic environments, some of which
are shown at different times of day and night. Perspectives are
intriguing and more varied than the elevated angle often used in third
person adventure games. Dramatic orchestral music at the appropriate times
also intensifies the gamer's immersion.
More than just a sense of place, the game gives a sense of culture –
the corruption filling the air like the smoke in Colonel Ostankovic’s
office, the despair in the bar below the housing projects, and the barren
apartment with small touches of aristocratic grace where Lara’s aunt
resides. Authenticity is manifested in the details. For instance, when
Max attempts to place a call from the Hermitage, he extinguishes the flame
from his lighter, puts it away, then pulls out his cell phone, which glows
in the dark.
Now for Memento Mori’s cast of villains in monk’s garb. Men in
monk’s habits appear so frequently in adventure games that it is now a
cliché. Surely there is some other way to clothe conspirators and to
signal their motivation – anything but those overused long, brown
The voiceover work for the characters, with characters’ accents
matching their nationalities, is appropriate and enjoyable. The narrator’s
voice, however, seemed too solemn, almost as though he relished the times
when things were looking the worst. The endgame provides an explanation for his morbid tone, but until
then, I felt like smacking him and telling him to cheer up a bit.
Cut scenes are many and varied in this game, and some are lovely -- in
3D with sepia tones that make the action look dreamlike, almost as though
drawn from one of the character’s memories (as a few clearly are). Other
effective cut scenes are placed in a small frame, set against the full
screen background. However, for some cut scenes, with extended dialog
between the characters, the animation is odd, almost crude – heads turn
while bodies don’t, for instance.
Memento Mori contains plot twists and genuine surprises. The
bulk of the puzzles are less difficult than in other adventure games, but
they still provide sufficient challenge. This is a game in which you
aren’t just solving puzzles, but are trying to piece together who the
characters are, who is on the up-and-up, who is deceptive, and what is
really going on behind the scenes. It’s perhaps appropriate that the
puzzles are not multi-stepped head scratchers, since the plot itself is a
multi-stepped head scratcher.
The most difficult puzzles were a lock pick puzzle and a challenge
concerning a photograph. These were especially tricky because they
required placement of an object/person at just the right time.
The game contains dialog challenges where a bar appears displaying the
time to answer either positively, negatively, or questioningly. These kept
me on my toes, but weren’t difficult. Twice I let the timer run out, and
it simply started again, though I can’t be sure this happens in every
instance. A few challenges involve quick movement – clicking on something
or using an inventory item within a specific time. These were easily
doable once I figured out what worked.
The interface is simple. Left-click to interact, right-click to
observe, double-clicking makes the player character run, and
double-clicking on an exit brings a fade-to-black and immediately brings
up the new location. The tab key shows all hotspots – this feature is
sophisticated enough to display both the important hotspots and hotspots
that provide added information or opportunities for exploration. I thought
the animated cursor felt a bit sluggish, so I disabled it in the Settings
In inventory, items can be turned 360 degrees to see what’s on the
back, which is sometimes important. Some close-ups of the environment have
the same feature -- you can pan around the specific area you’re examining.
The game installed smoothly and I encountered no glitches. This third
person perspective, point-and-click game does not have a hint system, but
occasionally one of the characters remarks about how something ought to be
done – these “hints” are (usually) reliable. Some events in this game are
violent and, in one location in particular, vulgar language is heard. The
game is not appropriate for children.
About halfway through Memento Mori you will realize that
something very strange is going on. In addition to the immediate mystery
(an inexplicable failure of the security system at the Hermitage) there
are deeper quandaries. Tangential characters have superhuman knowledge,
among them Lara’s aunt, who insists on doing an alarmingly accurate Tarot
reading for Max. Why is Max having such disturbing dreams? Why is his
younger brother dogging his footsteps? Is Lara in love with Max? Can
individuals beat the stultifying system? Can Max defy fate?
To figure out what’s going on, you must play the game at least twice.
One reason – it’s almost impossible to get the “good” ending, which has an
important extra cut scene, on the first playthrough. The plot depth makes
playing a second time rewarding, as you know much more of what is really
going on in the background.
Endings are affected by what you have failed to do, and you don’t
always know (until the end of the game) how or why you failed. Replaying
while changing your actions at the key “trigger” moments results in the
different endings. Thankfully, save slots are unlimited, so you can replay
from a saved game to see another ending. Unfortunately, however, some of
the trigger moments occur early in the game. Though you can click through
dialogs to speed things up on the replay, I couldn’t find any way to click
through animations, and the game does require a fair amount of back-and-forthing
between locations, all of which take time.
A second replay is definitely worthwhile to get the best ending. But
playing through in order to see the various other endings (reportedly,
there are seven) will require hours of repetition.
Quick List for Memento Mori
A mystery game with many layers, absorbing atmosphere, dramatic tension
and memorable characters. Good voiceovers.
Detailed, photorealistic graphics, cinematic camera angles, many cut
scenes, plenty of character interaction. Occasional stiff animation.
Alternate endings that are triggered by what you do (or don’t do) at
specific moments in the game. You will probably need to play the game
twice in order to figure out what’s happening behind the scenes of the
mystery. Replaying to get each of the endings involves significant
You play as two different characters; one cannot die, the other’s death
is a possibility late in the game. Violent scenes and an emphasis on the
darkness in human nature make this game inappropriate for children.
Thought-provoking themes may have you thinking about events and
interpretations long after you’ve finished playing.
Mostly inventory challenges, some timed dialog choices and actions that
are fairly easy. Two difficult challenges that require placing an
object/person at the right place at the right time. The tab key reveals
all hotspots. No sliders, no mazes, no color or sound-based puzzles.
The game installed and ran smoothly with no glitches. Third person
perspective, point-and-click interface. Unlimited save slots.
Aimed at mystery lovers, art aficionados, and those who enjoy unwinding
intricate conspiracies and trying out alternate endings.
Final grade: B+
My Computer Specs:
Windows XP Professional
Pentium 2.80 GHz
2.00 GB RAM
Direct X 9.0c
512 MB NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX
SB X-Fi Audio
*Information about the phrase “memento mori” was taken from Wikipedia.