So I was more than a little eager to see how
Still Life 2 would pan out. Victoria McPherson is back, no longer an
FBI agent at first, but no less entwined in the events of the past.
The original was a dark tale of violence and death,
created with an almost artistic exhibitionism that made it for me one of
the highlights of that year. I remember feeling almost voyeuristic, both
tantalised and repulsed by peeking at the tormented killings. It had a
lushness that added depth to what went on on-screen, and a distinctly
adult tone that admirably walked the line between gritty and gratuitous.
I can’t say that about Still Life 2.
There are still deaths, and many of the victims are
no less cruelly dealt with, but it’s a much flatter and more formulaic
effort. Whilst there is a valid reason why the large majority of the game
is played in one particular location, crazy killers based in remote and
elaborate houses (i.e., bomb shelters, laboratories, surveillance posts,
dungeons) is too reminiscent of too many B-grade horror movies. In that
regard, there is a cinematic theme running through one of the plot lines
that you might almost say acknowledges its filmic roots – “we know its
like lots of other movies and that is the point” – but it didn’t gel for
me. It just seemed soulless.
The game isn’t helped by a lot of other little
things. It doesn’t look anywhere near as rich as the original Still
Life, and the character modelling is sharp and angular, especially in
close-up. There are way too many game icons, and moving small distances
can require numerous unnecessary clicks. Climbing stairs requires a
separate click; why can’t I just click the landing above? Sounds often
don’t coincide with actions -- doors would often open audibly before they
opened visually -- and some things inexplicably have no sound at all
(slamming shut the fallout shelter access hatch for instance).
It was also a little buggy. One inventory item,
although I had used it, didn’t appear in the game world, and a phone call
that was supposed to have occurred never did, which meant a trigger
couldn’t happen (I didn’t realise that until I checked a walkthrough).
Restoring an earlier saved game fixed the problem -- but it shouldn’t
One thing you can’t restore with a save game is a
failed ending. There is a sequence at the end that resolves the game, but
not in a good way for one victim, and seemingly not for Victoria. There is
at least one ending that ends better, but you only get one chance to see
it. If you don’t save the victim, you cannot restore and try again. All
earlier save games will only ever generate the “wrong” ending.
Your one single chance is also timed, and whilst
there are a few paths to success, and none are terribly long, it will
likely infuriate anyone who fails and cannot try again.
What you aren’t told (and it isn’t in the manual) is
that you can get a second chance by going back to the main menu,
clicking a not previously available menu item, and then solving an
additional puzzle. I can’t tell you how that works because I didn’t know
about it. Or how the puzzle works.
You could say this endgame adds a sense of realism
not often seen in adventure games. It’s deliberate, and is introduced by a
monologue directed at this lack of reality. However there are plenty of
things in this game which are not realistic, and all the other timed
sequences in the game (there are indeed others) don’t end this way. And
there is absolutely nothing realistic about the fact that even after you
save the victim, if you then save and go back to see the “wrong” end, your
later saved game will also lead to the wrong end, despite the fact that
the victim has been released. It didn’t work for me.
Nor did the inventory management. We all marvel at
game characters being able to fit mattresses in their pockets, and in
Still Life 2, whilst you can still fit a mattress, you can’t fit more
than one. The inventory is only so big, and you will have to juggle items
at various points. Some items stack, which helps a bit, and you can push
things around in your inventory to make consecutive spaces available, to
ensure you can use the maximum available capacity, but you will likely
have to backtrack to retrieve things left behind. Further, you can’t drop
an item, but can only relinquish it by putting it in a storage location.
There are a few of these, but never where you want them, which means
backtracking is inevitable.
A limited inventory is not uncommon in role-playing
games, and at first it wasn’t an issue. By the end, however, it just came
across as one completely unnecessary irritant, exacerbated by the multiple
clicks and occasional character jiggles needed to get from here to there.
Things are even worse if you find yourself inside one of the timed
elements without the necessary item, and there is rarely any indication
that such an event is coming. Oh, and I haven’t mentioned the camera
angles, which orient themselves and can result in “up” being “down” from
one scene to the next, adding further to the frustration of having to
remove the pocketknife so you can pick up the semtex.
While I am at it, let me keep going on the
There are a lot of game screen loads (so a lot of
black screens), and loading a game from scratch seems to take a lot longer
than it should. Response time in the game world can also be a little slow,
which it shouldn’t be given the game specs and my computer specs.
Forensically examining the game world also gets a little tedious, given
that there don’t appear to be any wrong answers. A certain amount of
examination of a crime scene a la “CSI” is necessary for some triggers to
result, but its lack of any real analysis makes it more of a pixel hunt.
Finally, whilst most hotspots are generous, some are
very small, and one at least isn’t even where it’s supposed to be (a
speech icon was generated by the cupboard next to the character).
Which on reflection is a lot of grumbles.
To offset that, there were definite plusses. The
cutscenes for instance were rather gorgeous, some cheesy expressions
notwithstanding, and the storyline danced about like a game fish on an
extended line. Landing the fish also took considerable time, and the
length of the game puts many efforts to shame.
So, too, the fact that you play both Victoria and a
zealous news reporter named Paloma Hernandez added something, especially
the way their stories didn’t always line up exactly. You might play
Victoria, and then switch to an earlier period of time to play Paloma,
resulting in a convergence of the events rather than a linear progression.
Victoria also has some flashback sequences which flesh out in interesting
ways the period between the end of the last game and the start of this
one. Voice acting is generally of a high quality.
But then the grumbles come back. Some objects are
very difficult to see against their backgrounds, and some (like the
evidence) you can’t see at all. You simply sweep the room and hope to hit
a hotspot. That fish I mentioned jumps around so much it verges on
becoming a touch silly.
The puzzles in Still Life 2 are a mixed bag.
Some of the code puzzles are quite difficult, and will reward patience and
lateral thinking, but may well require a peek or two at a walkthrough. One
I failed to understand at all. Others are more straightforward. Clues to
many can be found in a variety of the documents you read and the
surveillance tapes you can examine at various times. Many puzzles are
situational, requiring inventory items to be found and used in the correct
way. This includes the timed sequences, which usually need the right
actions to be taken in the game world to overcome the dilemma (find the
antidote for a snake bite, work out how to clear a room of fumes).
Whilst most are logical, some appear to be simply
trial and error (the first antidote puzzle for instance), and there are
several involving traps which will likely kill you before you realise you
are even in one. Victoria does get a “life,” meaning she can survive one
“attack” and then be healed with medicine which you can find. The game
autosaves before the timed sequences, but not the traps. So save often.
One puzzle is rather odd. It involves a laser
configuration which you have to alter to get across a room. It looked like
it should be a challenge, but all I did was the only possible thing that
you could do at each and every point of the puzzle, and it solved itself.
I didn’t even fathom the rationale.
More mundanely, there are conversations trees and
some lengthy dialogue, especially in the early part of the game, and you
can check in with Claire at the lab to get new information or help with
evidence analysis. You can play with subtitles and can adjust the volume,
and can tweak some of the video settings, but not resolution. You can also
rewatch the cinematics from the main menu as you uncover them.
Right click brings up the inventory, and you then
cycle through the various components – phone, inventory or lab kit. It’s
played in the third person, and the mouse is used for all movement and
action. There are skills to learn, such as lock picking, but these just
happen as you pick your first lock. Nothing special to do that I could
Finally, there are some images and language (eg
nudity, profanity, cruelty) which certain players may not find to their
I think what Still Life 2 really lacked was
polish. Players will overlook irritating bits and pieces, but too many of
them intrude on the enjoyment factor. Despite what I have written,
Still Life 2 offered not a bad gaming experience, and it was better
than all its parts. However, many adventure players may well give it a
miss because of one or more of those parts.
I played on:
OS: Win XP
AMD Phenom 9500 Quad Core CPU 2.2 GHz
Gx card: ATI
Radeon HD 3850 512Mb
Still Life 2 can be
purchased via download at
The Adventure Shop. The game will be shipping to store shelves in the
U.S. in August 2009.