Static: Investigator Training


Genre:  Adventure

Developer & Publisher:   Ethereal Darkness Interactive Games

Released:  November 2009

PC Requirements:   Windows XP / Vista, 1 GHz Processor, 1 GB RAM, 128 MB video card, DirectX 9  



by Becky


Berkshire Paranormal is looking for a new employee and Julie Masters wants the job. STATIC: Investigator Training opens as Julie approaches the historic Houghton Mansion in North Adams, Massachusetts. Nick Mantello of Berkshire and his investigative team are Masons who started researching the paranormal when they realized that they were sharing their mansion headquarters with a ghost.

Julie's prospective employer tests her suitability for the job by challenging her to uncover new evidence of the wraiths that inhabit the mansion. Berkshire supplies her with an assortment of ghost hunting gadgets and sends her off alone into the mansion and grounds, accompanied only by auditory "help" through a communication earpiece.

Oh, To be Young and Goth

STATIC is riding a revival in Full Motion Video (FMV) adventures, including the Casebook series and Yoomurjak's Ring. It lacks the extensive FMV and professional polish of those games, but charms and perplexes with its avid ghost hunting funkiness.

The opening music is a head-pounding, angry tune by a band named "Blind Faith and Envy"-- an unusual introduction to a mystery investigation. But then, Julie is not a typical job applicant/investigator. She is very young, sarcastic and fearless, and is attired in a plaid mini-skirt, a red corset, high heels and large ankle tattoos. I am advised by a younger family member that the costume and music are markers of the "Goth" subculture -- a movement that, according to Wikipedia, mixes gothic with post-punk music and style. The blood red color of her clothing makes Julie easier to see in the dark, and a mini-skirt is an improvement over more clichéd costumes (such as a monk's robe.) Still, trudging about darkened rooms, fields and a cemetery at night in high heels and a corset is really odd.

Pay No Attention to the Masonic Temple in the Garden

Three rooms in the Houghton Mansion comprise the environments, plus a side view of the mansion (including an unidentified, large and mysterious building), a field, and a cemetery. The stone building in the garden (perhaps Mason-related?) is inexplicably off-limits during the game.

After an initial interview and slideshow training session, all of the dimly lit locations are viewed via flashlight. Outdoor locations are the most dramatic, with mist, faint moonlight, trees looming in the night sky, and leaves scattered on the ground. The flashlight emits a bluish glow and white headstones gleam when the beam hits them. Characters are video sprites added to the photographic backgrounds. They look somewhat collaged, but the combination works in these surreal settings. Players of Sierra's classic Phantasmagoria, will have an idea of what to expect visually.

The game features a third person perspective. You point and click with the mouse to move Julie through the rooms. Holding down the mouse button speeds her progress. The arrow keys are an additional option for controlling movement. In large environments viewed from a distance, Julie shrinks to a tiny avatar and scoots across the screen. Large arrows on the floor facilitate movement from room to room -- well, most of the time. In one location, Julie would stand on the arrow but still not move, and in another she would sometimes exit the room unexpectedly when a nearby object was clicked.

Today's Field Trip: the Cemetery

Journeying between locations is accomplished via black-and-white video cut scenes. The cut scenes provide a sense of the size of the environments, but the continuity is strange, showing Julie in daylight without her ever-present flashlight or her ghost hunting equipment. A video in the cemetery reveals a fleet of school busses parked right next to the gravestones. Curious.

The actors appear to be "real" North Adams townsfolk and are sufficiently believable. There is a surprising amount of conversation in the game, especially at the beginning where Julie is interviewed and learns key historical information.

Dialogs are informal and quickly become tedious, partly because the characters strain a bit too much for the put-down wisecrack or sarcastic comeback. Dialogs are subtitled and can be clicked though. Voice volume varies at times, requiring manual adjustments.

As for the ghosts, their activities are gratifyingly unnerving, without being overly violent or horrifying. The eeriest performer is the poetic whisperer on the radio. Background music is an eerie underlayer of sound, with piercing strings. The music doesn't vary much, but establishes a dark, atmospheric tone.

Spirit Tracking

At the investigation's outset, Julie must select three out of six pieces of ghost hunting equipment. Some of these devices deliver one readout per location, while other gadgets react with specific hotspots.

The creepiest results come from the voice recorder, though these "sound bites" are not subtitled and the background music makes it almost impossible to distinguish the words. The most direct results come (intriguingly) with the use of the pendulum. With the digital camera, Julie takes pictures that resemble old fashioned hand-tinted photographs. Her camcorder shots produce spectral videos -- short, silent and authentically grainy. I played the game twice so I could use all the gadgets.

In addition to mastering the ghost hunting gadgets, the gamer will encounter inventory puzzles and a few standalone pattern puzzles. A degree of pixel hunting is also necessary, though important hotspots are found without too much hair pulling.

What Could it Mean?

The historical ghost story in STATIC unfolds logically and effectively for the most part. However, handwritten diary entries by Mary Houghton and the notes from "J" provide important information, but are largely illegible. This may be due, in part, to my widescreen monitor -- but even on my laptop the portions of text in the diary and notes were hard to read. The "Instructions" screen available from the main menu is also nearly illegible. Two other notes found in the game do not have this problem, which makes the distortion in the other texts even more inexplicable and frustrating.

Take a Walk on the Weird Side

STATIC delivers an eccentric adventure experience. Julie Masters, the detective/investigator, is refreshing because she's a personality type I've seldom encountered, particularly in FMV games. The game has an awkward, out-in-left-field quality. It's surreal and yet it's folksy. The endgame credits are unusually entertaining, including a nice nod to the GameBoomers community and credit given to the developers for "grunt work" and "constant nagging."

Despite its production value problems, the game built up momentum to the point that I was enjoying the story and the ghost sightings. Suddenly it ended, after a mere two and a half hours of gameplay. My jaw dropped when I realized that I was looking at the ending screens with their summary texts. On reflection, STATIC plays like a first episode of a series, though I haven't seen subsequent episodes mentioned anywhere. As a standalone game, it is disappointingly short.

Shadowy apparitions suggest that there is more to discover in the Houghton Mansion. I am a mere 181 miles away from North Adams, Massachusetts. I'm considering paying the town a visit to snoop around the Berkshire Paranormal basement and garden. I've been perusing the "Hot Topic" apparel website to find just the right red and black corset. I think I'll learn more if I inconspicuously adapt to local fashions.

Quick List for STATIC: Investigator Training

A paranormal mystery adventure using Full Motion Video. A brash new female investigator with "Goth" leanings. The acting won't win any Academy Awards, but suits the eccentric ambiance. You can click through the videos and through the dialogs. The dialogs strain to be jocular -- they contain a sprinkling of expletives. Third person perspective, point-and-click interface.

Ghost hunting gadgets. Inventory and pattern puzzles. No sliders, no mazes, one sound based puzzle, no color based puzzles, no timed puzzles, no dying. Some pixel hunting. Between two and three hours of gameplay for the initial playthrough. (You have to play twice to experience all the gadgets.)

No problems with installation. The game has voice volume and text legibility problems. If you want to download again to a backup disk or a second computer, do so immediately, as access to the download file is disabled after 48 hours. Unlimited saves.

STATIC: Investigator Training can be purchased via download at the developer's website.

Aimed at gamers who like a good paranormal mystery with Indie edginess.

Final Grade: C+

What I played it on:


Dell Studio XPS 8000

Windows 7 Home Premium

Intel Core i5-750 processor


1024MB NVIDIA GeForce GT 220

Soundblaster X-Fi

December, 2009

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