Still Life 2


Genre:   Adventure

Developer:   GameCo Studios

Publisher:    Microids, Encore, Iceberg Interactive

Released:  May 2009

PC Requirements:   Windows 2000/XP/Vista, 1.5GHz Processor, 512MB RAM, 512MB Video card, DirectX 9, % GB hard drive space.  

Walkthrough   Walkthrough

Additional Screenshots



by flotsam


Sequels are difficult things. Unlike a series, which can rest a little easier giving you pretty much more of the same, a sequel has to develop and embellish the original, and yet provide enough consistency to be able to recognise what went before. Some games have been abject failures as sequels – Traitors Gate 2 springs to mind. Riven, however, was a gem, both as a game and a sequel.

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.

The downs

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 happen.

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 downsides.

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.

The ups

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 discern.

Finally, there are some images and language (eg nudity, profanity, cruelty) which certain players may not find to their liking.

The end

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 Professional SP3

Processor: AMD Phenom 9500 Quad Core CPU 2.2 GHz

Ram: 3.25GB DDR2 400MHz

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.

June, 2009

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