Still Life


Genre:   Adventure

Developer:     Microids

Publisher:     MC2 & The Adventure Company

Released:  2005

PC Requirements:   Windows® 98, ME, 2000 or XP, Pentium III 750 MHz (Pentium® III 1.2 GHz Recommended), 128 MB RAM, 8x CD ROM Drive, DirectX8.1, 32 MB Graphics Card (64 MB or Equivalent Recommended), Keyboard /Mouse/Speakers




Additional Screenshots



By nickie


The contrast immediately assaults your senses, just as the paintbrush drags a scarlet slash upon a stark white canvas. Pristine snowflakes reflected in the cheery glow of streetlamps waft down upon an elegant art gallery, while below ground in the squalid, grime encrusted filth of the sewers, a masked fiend drags a bruised and nude woman behind him like a sack of garbage over the gritty terrain. The monster explodes to a musical crescendo like a maestro directing his orchestra, despoiling the silent whiteness that is his victim with a blade of crimson fury. The life force of the victim is translated to the artist’s canvas, and a masterpiece born in blood appears.

Such is the genius that was Microids, for with one opening salvo your attention is riveted to the game, and one is reminded of the catch phrase, “You had me at hello”. While the snowy scene is reminiscent of the previous Microids offering “Syberia” and its surreal Winter landscapes, the frenzied killing scene although gorgeously rendered has nothing to do with that idyllic neverland, nor does it unduly remind one of  “Post Mortem”, its natural predecessor. Instead it is as if you had wandered from your pleasant dream fields to a nightmare of human depravity and obsession. The voyeur that is you is pulled into this shared vision, as if you were experiencing a funhouse mirror at the carnival, and for a moment you see a distorted view of reality. But while those mirrors can be rejected as false, viewing the killer here carries with it a certain thrill of the heart, that one is being offered a manhole into the depths of the cesspool of the criminal mind.

Only too obvious is the tragedy of Microids’ demise, when we see such an artistic marvel that is “Still Life”. At first blush, Microids’ games are beautiful and fun to play, but it is only upon reflection that you note the hidden layers and special loving touches that make their games more than just a collection of pretty faces. They excel at the minutia that makes a game stick to your memory as a favorite. Not since the death throttle of Sierra has the adventure world suffered such a loss, and it’s my hope that these talented individuals each find new homes and continue to gift us with these incredible games.

But back to the matter at hand. Enter the savvy Victoria McPherson, our heroine, who could be the wise cracking, wardrobe challenged, much more cynical cousin to Kate Walker of “Syberia”. An FBI Agent with a penchant for going outside the rules to complete her investigations, Victoria is in the midst of an assignment to a task force with the local Police Department, the goal to capture a serial killer who has taken the lives of five women. We first meet her as she arrives at the scene of the latest killing, a rundown tenement complete with spray painted graffiti upon its crumbling walls, rusted junk and rotting staircases. For all her outward toughness, Victoria is nonplused when she discovers clues left behind by the killer, but is strengthened in her resolve to capture him before he can lay waste to more women.

It is here too that we see Victoria’s interaction with a motley cast of supporting game characters, from the weak stomached police detective, to the irascible medical examiner (who is inexplicably wearing an FBI raid jacket – who decided on these strange wardrobes?) to the old salt beat cop who holds Victoria in great esteem. Interestingly, each character is fleshed out through their flaws, a continuation which we see when Victoria finishes work for the day and visits her somewhat psychologically dysfunctional father, who is the son of Gus McPherson, the main character of the game “Post Mortem”.

Victoria’s father has no desire to dredge up the past by talking about it, so Victoria seeks to assuage her curiosity about her grandparents by rummaging through an old trunk relegated long ago to the attic. It is there that she finds her grandfather’s journal. With growing amazement, Victoria discovers that a criminal case on which Gus worked so long ago appears to have ties to the case in which she is currently involved. As she pours over his written words, we are transported back in time, and are now playing as Gus, as he approaches a murder scene as a private investigator. Microids employs a clever déjà vu device here, for if the player has played “Post Mortem”, it feels like Gus is an old friend of ours, and we are further locked into the game’s embrace. The Paris case of the aforementioned game is even mentioned to solidify our relationship with Gus, a teaser of a case in London is thrown in, and then we concentrate on the case at hand, which is occurring on the streets of Prague. Our step back into time is gloriously rendered with a tint of sepia, as though we had stepped into an old photograph from a family scrapbook. Gus is more sensually appealing and buff than we saw him in “Post Mortem”, much more likable with charm, kindness and wit that seemed somewhat lacking in his first appearance. Abandoning the life of an artist to become a private investigator appears to have agreed with him.

Through his personal romantic relationship with a former prostitute, Gus befriends other streetwalkers of Prague, and agrees to investigate the serial killings of a number of their friends likewise employed. As he visits the crime scenes, he is besieged by visions of the intense killings, psychic blasts which assist him and us in gathering clues and momentum to a logical conclusion. A particularly powerful insertion is the crow man, with little apparent relevance to the present game, but perhaps a link to what Microids planned in a sequel. There is simply too much enticing mystery and innuendo about the enigma of the character for him to be a bit player in our unfolding drama.

The characters in the Gus sequences are as equally well fleshed out as those in the present day, from the pathos of the prostitutes to the engaging blockheaded body guard, who perpetrates a prank on Gus that goes humorously wrong. Again and again we are shown that characters in this game are not one-dimensional, but are lifelike in their foibles. An example is the police sergeant, who is lauded as a hero for rescuing children from a burning building, yet carries the fear and shame that his wife will discover he engaged the services of a prostitute. Well done, Microids!

As Victoria ends her reading session of Gus’ memoirs, so too are we brought back to the present day, and for the remainder of the game we flip-flop back and forth between past and present until the conclusion. What we learn from the past parallels the present, and it becomes clear to Victoria that she is not simply involved with the murder case through circumstance of her employment, but also somehow fated by the cosmos through inheritance to be at center stage. 


Game Play, Technical stuff and other sundries


“Just out of morbid curiosity, where did the Martians land this time?”


The game consists of two discs, one install disc and one play disc. The play disc must be in the computer drive to play the game, as it is checked each time by StarForce copy protection.

The default game play in this third person adventure is point and click, which is supremely immersive rather than restrictive as you hasten to follow the story. A simple right click (or the esc key on your keyboard) brings up the inventory and your access to the main menu. There is the option to play by keyboard rather than mouse if it is so desired. I found playing this way less immersive, as in addition to the keyboard movement, you also have to click an additional key to enter the next screen. Other options include anti-aliasing, level of detail, gamma correction, subtitles and volume. A high end video card is not penalized by the desire of the game developers to make the game playable by less sophisticated machines.

Although this is an action packed game, the action in it is achieved through the sprinkling of cut scenes throughout, and adventurers need not worry that any quick reflexes are required, with one possible exception in a puzzle, of which I’ll relate more shortly. The cut scenes are absolutely brilliant, graphically intense to the point where striations can be seen on leaves, and it seems you can feel the air displaced as the monster’s cape swirls in the wind. One particular cut scene I thought especially well executed shows Victoria chasing her foe up a building ladder, and then places your line of sight behind her gun barrel as she searches the roof top for the killer. The gun wavers with the exertion that Victoria is feeling after her swift and strenuous ascent, in addition to the adrenaline flow of the chase.

Also available from the main menu is a cinematic viewer, where the cut scenes can be accessed for your continued viewing enjoyment. A nice touch.

The graphics outside of the cut scenes are likewise superbly rendered, and exactly what we have come to expect from Microids. Each scene shows the surroundings in vivid detail, and the only quibble I have is that I wanted to touch more items than the game allowed. There is so much detail to every scene, from cobblestone roads to an inviting hot tub, from the grandeur of European architecture to the snow caressed stained glass mansion of Victoria’s father; I had to play the game in its entirety twice. The first time I was pulled into the maelstrom, not willing to linger over exquisite scenery, but abandoning myself to the raging force of the quest to assist Victoria and Gus in their search for the killer. I saw the graphics as if I were on a raft in white water, fleeting glimpses of land, but with my attention on the river’s next treacherous turn. It is rare for me to have the desire to play an adventure game twice, especially back to back, but I did with this game to avoid the frenetic pace and be able to experience the stunning detail. I could taste those snowflakes on my tongue, and it was me that was ensconced in those bunny slippers.

The musical score is powerful and sophisticated in the manner of classical orchestra, and serves to heighten the mood, changing as appropriate at different locations. Indeed it is similar in scope to what you would hear as a movie backdrop, although I would have been happier to find a signature theme that differentiated the game from all others. Minor quibble.

The ambient sounds are also successfully conducted, for you can hear the scrunching of snow beneath Victoria’s feet to the ominous creaking of old wood before it breaks, all effects that are mood and scene enhancing.

The voice acting is excellent across the board, and I wish all game developers would take note in selecting such appropriate talent. The voices sound natural to their setting and character dispositions. Another interesting device is employed for the dialogue in the game, for dialogue that contains information pertinent to the plot or flow of the game can be accessed by a left mouse click, but additional dialogue, perhaps superfluous but no less entertaining, can be obtained through a right mouse click. Usually an icon appears to indicate when conversation of either nature is available, but I also found that you could sometimes elicit a comment from characters even when the icon wasn’t apparent.

The puzzles are generally the utilization of inventory items or are logic based. There were several occasions where an inventory item could not be taken from the surroundings until such time as needed in the game, and did not display even the possibility of being taken at a future time. Logical come to think about it, as why would you tote an item around with no purpose in real life? But as a compulsive inventory gatherer, I had to take care to revisit locations where no item was previously available. Most of the puzzles were fairly simple and straightforward and merged into the storyline. However, there were two puzzles that stood out as bringing the action to a screaming halt. One is a lock picking puzzle that surely is more difficult to complete than any earthly lock. As I recall, “Post Mortem” had this same fixation on a lock picking puzzle, or as the great Yogi Berra would say, “Déjà vu all over again". The second puzzle, which I referred to earlier regarding action sequences, requires you to move cute little robots across a room to void security and provide an entry for Victoria, avoiding the sweeping laser beams that will fry your little guy. The controls are quirky and non-intuitive, and most of my initial disasters were not due to ill timing, but rather my incorrect selection of movement, turning the robot into a whirling dervish rather than egression to the next square in the gauntlet of lasers. It’s a game after all, so you can suspend disbelief that you are wasting millions of dollars of precious robotics. Furthermore, once you familiarize yourself with the strange controls, it is a matter of timing to move the robot from space to space. It isn’t a timed puzzle in the classic sense, but timing is required in order for you to be successful with it. I found it enjoyable, but also noted that the flow of the game was disrupted. I can only blame Microids for making the story so appealing that I felt cranky from being deterred from rushing to turn the next page.


Reality Bytes


“Miss December…wow! Even God would say," I didn’t make those!”


Initially Microids indicated that they were going to use the ever popular criminal profiling technique in the game, but later abandoned the idea as being somewhat too ambitious. However, it is clear that the developers completed some research of this nature, for there are a few references scattered throughout that are a profiler’s mantra, such as a subject covering a victim’s face after the kill indicating a relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. But a little knowledge is sometimes a dangerous thing, and in an effort to be realistic in the field of criminalistics, they occasionally jump to conclusions in logic not supported by fact, as seen in their coroner and investigation reports. Picking up a hair and fabric from a nail in a building with easy access to every Joe that wishes to wander in, and claiming it belongs to the killer is a bit of a stretch. In addition, it is somewhat strange that the game demands photos be taken of evidence prior to removal (and kudos to them for that, a lack of this in the Crime Scene Investigation games where investigation is supposedly realistic is odd), yet neglects to have Victoria wear gloves to avoid contaminating the crime scene. A humorous aside, after the painstaking collection of evidence, Victoria can then blithely walk all over the pools of blood.

Perhaps because Microids intended to pursue the profiling angle, they made Victoria an FBI Agent, as the FBI is the agency which developed the technique. It would have seemed more fitting that she be a homicide detective, who would actually attend autopsies and visit crime scenes. Microids explains the discrepancies away by saying this is a task force that Victoria has joined. Even with the Christmas holidays, that is the smallest task force on the planet. In any case, just because Microids makes the game realistic in so many ways, it’s a game. A game, and all the poetic license that need be can be used to make it work.

This is a game for a mature audience. There are violent portrayals of crime, graphic pictures of murder victims (although thankfully not the eviscerations), sexual references and salty language. It is most deserving of its “M” for mature rating.

The game is a work of art, and appropriately “Still Life” is its title.

  • Rating: A

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