Next Life (Reprobates)



Genre:   Adventure

Developer:   Future Games

Publisher:    The Adventure Company

Released:  November 2007

PC Requirements:    Windows® 2000/XP/Vista, 2.5 GHz Pentium® 4 Processor or Higher, 1 GB RAM Memory, 4.0 GB Disk Space, 16x CD/DVD-ROM, 128 MB DirectX® 9 Compatible Video Card with Shader Model 2.0, 16 bit DirectX® 9 Compatible Sound


Additional Screenshots





by nickie


Do you remember that childhood game where you snatch up a hapless daisy and pull off the petals one by one, intoning “He loves me, he loves me not”? Next Life reminds me of this.

I grab a virtual daisy (don’t want to hurt real flowers, do we!) and brandish it in my mind while I consider the possibilities. I love it; the story is an unusual idea. I love it not; the pixel hunting is annoying. I love it; the character models are outstanding. I love it not; the puzzles and arcade are a nightmare. I love it; the ambient sounds transport you to the strange island. I love it not; there is little music in the game.

Several daisies later, I have to concede that my expectations for this game from the developers of Black Mirror were too high. This feels like a game that was completed prior to Black Mirror, with none of the polish and flow that made that game such an instant favorite. Still, there are moments in Next Life that remind the gamer of how very good these developers can be, and ultimately I did have fun with most of it.

“My name is Adam and I come from Bohemia.”--Next Life

The game begins with a cut scene showing the main character, Adam Raichl, getting in his vehicle. He is temporarily blinded by a white light but shakes it off and speeds down a dark road. Grabbing a cell phone to tell someone he’s on the way to them, he ignores a yield sign and runs into a gasoline tanker truck. A big explosion occurs, and the next scene shows Adam unhurt but in a different location entirely. This is where we gain control of Adam in this third person perspective game.

Adam finds himself in a weather-beaten metal hut on a lovely island in the middle of nowhere. As Adam, we explore our new surroundings and meet other people who don’t have any idea why they are on this strange island either. Each person has been in a horrific accident and has arrived at this exotic locale unscathed. They come from different countries and different circumstances, and some from different time periods as well. Adam has to interact with them all in an attempt to answer why he is there and how he can leave the island to get on with his life. A motivating factor for leaving is that everyone has nightmares on the island, and it becomes apparent that one’s actions in a dream may have very real consequences.

The screens are static with no panning, though there is movement within them, with a seagull swooping gracefully by or waves lapping at the shore. The 2.5D graphics are quite nice, and are greatly enhanced by the excellent ambient sound. The wind whistles, seagulls caw, and rocks thrown into the water make a satisfying splash. In a nightmare sequence, liquid falling on construction pipes is well done and serves to make the atmosphere eerie. What little music there is in the game is unobtrusive.  

“I did not pay for a holiday in the Caribbean as far as I know.”--Next Life 

There’s a kind of oddball charm to the main character’s accented and stilted English, and I found him quite likable. The varying accents of those he meets serve to enhance their somewhat stereotypical characters, and good voice work makes them come to life. The excellent 3D character graphics made me feel like I was meeting real individuals, each with strengths and flaws. From the kind-hearted American to the womanizing German to the crafty Scot, I enjoyed the banter (although occasionally it didn’t make much sense).

There isn’t as much dialog as I would have liked, but there is just enough to move the story along. Adam often makes comments that give a clue to what your next action should be. On the other hand, Adam sometimes makes comments that don’t seem to apply to the situation in the least. Salty language is sprinkled here and there. There is partial nudity in one scene, which I thought was tastefully done and one toilet scene with accompanying toilet humor which I could have lived without.

Somewhat less charming are the awkward subtitle translations. These are filled with incorrect English and sometimes don't match the spoken word. This strangeness also appears on-screen when identifying locations, which are named “under the hill,” and “at the gap,” and so on.

While on the topic of locations, it might be pertinent to divulge the fact that I always read the game manual. Unfortunately, in games for review, I have the habit of reading it after I play the game for the first time. This way I can judge if it is particularly helpful or innovative in some way. If I had read the manual prior to playing Next Life, I would have had fewer hair-pulling moments. Important to note in regard to this game is that the exits on the screen can be revealed by pressing the “E” key on your keyboard. There are entirely too many pixel hunts already -- when picking up inventory, for instance, and especially when accessing a climbing icon for negotiating difficult terrain -- without adding to the equation.

“Locked! Who would have thought so?”—Next Life

Most of the puzzles consist of picking up items that one might readily find in the surroundings and utilizing them to solve a puzzle (although there is an exception or two). Occasionally items need to be combined in inventory before they can be used on-screen. Sometimes it is necessary to right-click an item in inventory to gain information from it. While on the one hand it makes sense to use sticks and rocks on the island to gain your objective, it becomes tedious to continue doing this over and over again. When puzzles were available that used other components, they were significantly more interesting.

The game is linear, and you may have to find a character and initiate a dialog before a puzzle can be continued. The other characters do not stay in one place; considerable searching for them may ensue. I liked this facet of the game, with the individuals going about their lives -- one jogging, one trying to trap a bird, one ogling another. Each new day in this game world has the camera angles changing, so you will have to reorient yourself to available locations.

Sometimes an article is too large to fit into Adam’s pocket (your inventory), and has to be utilized in that same screen. This can be problematic when nothing appears to be an item with which you can interact, but that item only becomes active once you have climbed to a certain position by way of the ascent icon (which in turn is not always easy to locate on the screen).

Adam can die by failing at some puzzles, but the game will automatically take you back to the sequence before you made a mistake. It is still a very good idea to save often, because repeating these sequences can be a long process, especially if there are cut scenes involved. Outside of cut scenes, the game can be saved anywhere -- even in the middle of a puzzle. There are ample saves and it is beneficial to make use of them.

“A stamp collection would be more pleasant at this point.”—Next Life

However, in the midst of this slowly emerging story, you are suddenly in one of Adam’s nightmares and are facing a timed arcade sequence without any explanation as to the objective or the rules of the game. There are three of these sequences. I had to ask elsewhere for help with what I was supposed to do when I encountered the first one. Once I understood it, I was able to complete it easily with my weak hand on the keyboard.

I have played many action-type games, so a pure adventure gamer may find this more difficult. But stunningly, the second and the third such sequence were difficult for me to complete, and I had to keep trying many times before I was successful. A bypass key or an automatic win after a certain number of tries should have been implemented here. This almost certainly will be a game stopper for some gamers who find that they are required to go from the point-and-click interface of the main game to a keyboard arrow frenzy -- even if they haven’t the ability or the inclination to do so.

After a failed attempt, you are returned to the beginning of the sequence. On the third such puzzle, that return takes you to the beginning of a particularly long combination of exploration and inventory acquisition and implementation with another timed aspect to it (although there is ample time to successfully conclude that part once appropriate steps are taken). Again, it is very important to save often.

There are at least two other times in the game when it is necessary to have a quick response, but they don't differ from what you would find in many other adventure games. One of these quick reaction sequences does require you to hide without indicating an icon to do so.

“I regret for the first time in my life that I am not Spiderman”—Next Life

I experienced no crashes or bugs with this game. There is a strange quirk, however, when on occasion the game seems to pause as an action is initiated. In addition, twice my character had to stand in place doing nothing until the storyline kicked in -- once in a cave and once toward the end of the game.

A double-click makes Adam go to the next screen more quickly. Given that there is no map for fast travel and a lot of going back and forth between characters and locations, this is a welcome feature. However, by having Adam “run” by double-clicking, you also reduce his stamina, which is reflected in a bar at the top of the game screen. Usually this doesn’t matter, but there are times when Adam may announce that he is too tired to do a certain action. At that point he needs to drink water or eat cookies.

“A morgue? What’s next? A cemetery and a crazy grave digger?”—Next Life

This is an interesting story with a twist. But I’m not sure gamers will get to that point due to the aforementioned pixel hunting, the shock of going from a slow point-and-click pace to timed arcade sequences with keyboard arrows, and other oddities. However, I enjoyed the story, especially getting to know the diverse, life-like characters -- each with a unique, tragic tale.


December 2007

design copyright © 2007 GameBoomers Group

 GB Reviews Index