Review: Memento Mori (PC)

Memento Mori
Publisher: Got Game Entertainment
Developer: Centauri Production
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 07/29/2009

“Memento Mori” is a Latin phrase meaning, “Remember you shall die/Remember that you are mortal.” Although this phrase was in reference to a great Roman battle, it has since come to mean painting Death in art thanks to Christian artists, especially with the Puritans who routinely added skulls to tombstones and cadaver tombs. Probably the best known examples of “Memento Mori” art include The Danse Macabre by Michael Wolgemut or The Triumph of Death by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Something else you might not be aware of are that clocks, timepieces, and hourglasses all originally started as pieces of “Memento Mori” with the phrase “Tempus Fugit” or “Time Flies” being the eventually transition from “Memento Mori.” Video game fans might know this phrase best from the opening of Persona 3.

You might remember me doing a preview of the game back in February, so you know I’ve been waiting for this game for quite some time, especially as I’ve been watching the game since the middle of 2007. However, I do have a funny story for you and that’s that it took longer for me to get this game to run on my PC than it did for me to beat it.

See, I downloaded the game from Got Game who was kind enough to give us a review copy. However, unbeknownst to poor GG, they were using Digital River’s Download Manager, which gave me some pretty severe issues. Anyway, Digital River’s Download Manager wasn’t very…compatible with Windows Vista and wouldn’t install the game properly, as we have discovered with several other games over the past year or two. I tried four different times to install it, each time take two hours each due to downloading the game. Each time it failed. Finally I brought in fellow DHGF staffer, Mark B., who got the game downloaded on the first try as he has Windows XP, but Digital’s River’s wacky program still messed up the install to the point where Mark had to do it a second time to get the files it dropped the first time through. Then once it was installed, we discovered the game had SECUROM which made us both pretty unhappy. Then after registering the game, Mark transferred the opened and installed files over to my computer via AIM…which took another two bloody hours. It took us three days to get the game installed on a computer with Vista and less than eight hours for me to beat it. The moral of the story is, DOWNLOADING GAMES STILL SUCKS IN 2009. As of this writing, the PC game distribution system is pants, so if you own Windows Vista, you’re going to want the boxed version of this game and even then, you’ll want to turn off user controls to make sure it runs properly. I have talked to Digital River directly about this and they are looking into the issues plaguing their program with various PC downloads.

I’m sure there is some sort of allegorical or metaphorical irony that can be tied in between this story and the phrase, “Memento Mori,” but I am too annoyed after revisiting that little story to make it. Now, was Memento Mori worth all that hassle and the year+ of delays, or were the install issues omens of things to come?

Let’s Review

1. Story

As you get into the game, one will probably find themselves making comparisons to The Da Vinci Code. After all, both feature art prominently and there’s a little known religious order at the crux of both conspiracies. However, that’s really all the two have in common, but that won’t stop people from comparing and contrasting the two.

You actually play as two different, characters and you’ll switch off between them throughout the game. First is Lara, a Russian detective turned Interpol agent. The other is her friend Max, who is an art thief trying to turn his life around, but keeps being used by the cops to do work for them. In this case, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg has had a break-in. Yet, nothing appears to be stolen or missing. The break-in is also being covered up by a head of the St. Petersburg police department who is Lara’s old boss and a man who Max is heavily (and unwillingly indebted) to.

What starts off as a routine investigation into a an art break-in quickly spirals into one of art fraud and even later, a religious conspiracy involving an ancient cult of monks who have been stealing and forging art that features death for centuries. You’ll travel to locations like Lyon, France, St. Petersburg, Russia, Helsinki, Finland, Lisbon, Portugal and many others on your trip to a mysterious monastery that appears to hold the secrets of Death itself. Yes, that’s Death with a capital D. As in Angel of…

I really liked the story for the first seventy-five percent of the game. It was a fun mystery with puzzles that actually mattered to the progression of the story. However the closer I got to the ending the more it spiraled out of the realm of believability and into the realm of “WTF?” I’m all one for the Supernatural, but when the game involves Death itself being a manipulative dick whose motives are never explained and it has the power to rewrite reality/changes people’s memories, that gets a bit too “One More Day” for my liking. As well, the game’s eight endings are all very bleak. You will get a bit of text that says something positive if you did the right thing at certain events, but more than likely you will get the “bad” ending for Max and the neutral or good ending for Lara. No matter what ending you get, there is a pretty dark and gruesome bit for one of your two protagonists that really comes out of nowhere and is out of character for them. Again, this is where the whole “Anthropomorphic Personification of Death is a big dick” aspect of the game rubbed me wrong. Still the majority of the story is gripping and well told and I really liked both protagonists. Memento Mori offers the best story I’ve encountered in an Adventure game this year, even with the flat ending.

Story Rating: Enjoyable

2. Graphics

I really enjoyed the backgrounds and level designs in the game. There was also a nice reproduction of the actual Hermitage museum and several of its famous exhibits, although the real one doesn’t have the secret passage you can find in the game. I really like it when games use true to life places and then make sure the layout in the game mirrors that of reality. You’d be surprised how rare this is. I’m looking at you any game featuring New York City.

The one thing I’m not a fan of are the character models and their clothing. They often look and feel a generation or two behind, especially when moving. Lara and Max move with these weird jerky actions, especially when running, There’s also a bit of slowdown in the game from time to time, mainly with the reaction time between mouse clicks and actual actions. Some characters just don’t look right at all, especially close ups of the monks or Andre, but Lara comes off looking the best of the cast, even though you can tell the dev team has a problem with long flowing hair -hence the reason no one ever has it.

Although character models are obviously important to the overall feel of the game, the amount of detail that goes into your clickable items and the level design more than makeup for this lackluster aspect of the visuals. I also really enjoyed how, upon interacting, with certain items, you would get a picture within a picture. This was very stylish and I really enjoyed the way it was done. So the game does manage to look snazzy aside from the actual people in the game and their odd taste in clothing.

Graphics Rating: Above Average

3. Sound

Okay, I’ll just come out and say it – the narrator of Memento Mori is the freakin’ best voice actor I’ve ever heard in regards to the whole “Creepy Ominous and Omniscient Narrator” shtick. He does such a great job that I hope Got Game (and other companies) give him more work. He’s perfect. One of the other things I loved is that the game had accents. Even in 2009, there are too many bloody games where everyone sounds American, even if they’re British or German or what have you? Here, Russian characters have realistic Russian accents. So do the French! I have no idea what accent the monks are supposed to have, but they’re supposedly from all over so I can live with that. I was also impressed to see an Australian bartender in a Russian nightclub. I don’t know what she was doing there, especially with a name like Svetlana, but hey, she sounded straight out of Perth .

The soundtrack is amazing as well. It’s got some great classical pieces that fit the theme of the game perfectly. That doesn’t mean that’s all the music in the game. The club has appropriate music as does the creepy Monastery. Even the Asylum has slightly techno-esque music which may sound odd, but fits the weirdness of that location.

The aural aspect of Memento Mori is easily the best part of the game. I’d love to see more games put the time and quality into their voice acting cast, especially with the authentication of accents. Plus, give me the narrator for every Survival Horror game from now on!

Sound Rating: Unparalleled

4. Control and Gameplay

This is fairly standard. You use the mouth for everything. Left click to move your character. Left click on and items or locales to interact with them. Left click on people to have conversations. Right click on anything for information about it. This is all you really do. Click click click. The game does a good job of implementing these simply controls although there is that aforementioned lag between the mouse clicks and the actual occurrence on the screen. The mouse is also a bit floaty but you can control the sensitivity of the mouse under the settings, so I suggest you do this right away. It’s nice they included that option. It’s an oft overlooked piece of Adventure games.

The Escape button brings you to the menu system where you can save, load, continue or quit. It is important to note that the game autosaves at the beginning of each of the 18 chapters. This is nice but it also creates a new save for each chapter instead of saving over the previous one. This can be a bit annoying, but there’s an obvious reason for why this occurs. You see, the game has specific bits in certain chapters that trigger which of the eight endings you will get, and by creating a separate save at the start of each act, it gives you a better chance to see all the endings in a quicker fashion than playing the game eight completely different times. Note that if you do decide to go for all the endings, that you will have a bit of a mess trying to figure out which save it which.

The only real annoying aspect with the controls I had was with accessing my inventory. To do so, you merely move your cursor towards the top of the screen. This brings up a bar at the top containing all your items. However, there are a lot of times where a clickable item is up near the top and trying to click on it instead causes the inventory screen to cover up the object you seek to interact with. Again, this can be pretty annoying, but you get used to positioning your character in ways that you can reach those bits without having the inventory screen come down on you, halting your process.

Aside from the downloading the game issues there was one big game crash that, if it happens to you, will no doubt piss you off big time. Halfway through the final act of the game when you cut to Max for the first time in the asylum with the second to last cut scene, the game crashed on me. Thankfully due to the autosave, I was able to start up from the beginning of the act and just replay those few minutes over again.

Overall, Memento Mori does have some particular, albeit minor, issues that may affect your enjoyment of actually playing through the game, but it’s still a pretty solid game with little issues to bog down your progress.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable

5. Replayability

With eight endings, Memento Mori does something very few Adventure games succeed at, and that’s replayability. With a few optional puzzles and things to do, you can play through the game with some different results each time. Of course, 95% of the game is still quite linear and the endings are mostly text and the narrator reading such text rather than any real visual difference, but at least it offers the different endings, you know? Little things like that in a genre that is usually considered one shot gaming if well appreciated by true fans of the genre.

Replayability Rating: Good

6. Balance

There actually aren’t a lot of puzzles in Momento Mori, and those that are in here are fairly easy. There are only two puzzles that I didn’t get right on the first try and those were the chromatograph (which is mostly trial and error anyway) and this bit with the newspaper towards the end because the secret there is to right click instead of left click as you do for every other puzzle in the game. Oy.

All of the puzzles make sense and actually are important to the story rather than mindless fluff. There are some that skirt the edge though, like helping a guy get his jackhammer work so that you can drown out the sound of breaking into a pervert who stalks Heather Graham’s apartment or going through a lengthy process to wash up before dinner with a bunch of monks, but they still have logical solutions.

There’s also several pretty fun puzzles in here that range from playing “Spot the forgery” between two paintings or stealing an Iguana from a graffiti artist.

Memento Mori was a fairly easy game due to a lack of locations and interactive items, but that doesn’t make it bad. Indeed, I actually really liked the streamlined mechanics, the emphasis on the story and puzzles that helped enhance the plot over padding. This makes the game more inviting to casual gamers or those new to the genre and let’s them enjoy the story as well.

Balance Rating: Good

7. Originality

There’s not a lot of innovation in Momento Mori. It’s pretty much your standard Adventure game in terms of gameplay with no real new ideas, puzzles or events. The story is fun, but you do get a feeling you’re done that, been there before most of the time. The ending and eventual main antagonist is a bit out of left field and ultimately disappointing, but at least it WAS something different from the usual mystery point and click title.

As I said at the very beginning, there will be those that compare this game with The Da Vinci Code, although it’s really not deserved. Both stories go in wildly different directions. Still, I can think of a lot of games involving art and death, especially in the Adventure genre. Microids and Encore’s Still Life 2 is just one such example, even if that particular game isn’t using the story (and murderer) the original Still Life and Post Mortem teams had written for the eventual sequel.

There’s not a lot here in terms of originality, but the game makes up for it in several other ways.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

8. Addictiveness

I finished Memento Mori in two days, each of which had four hour stints. I’ll admit my interest dropped off in the second half of the game with Death itself showing up, people choosing to blind themselves with spontaneous madness, and random unprovoked suicides. The first half of the game was a pretty gripping murder mystery though and I think people who don’t have to play as many games as I do each year will be more tolerant of the eventual ending.

The last act of the game did indeed ruin the game for me as it went in such a bizarre direction that it left me cold. One protagonist gravely injures and mutilates himself for no real reason other than shock value, It still makes no sense with the full context of the game and the complete personality shift and course of events will no doubt have many gamers going, “WTF?”

Knowing how the game ends save for a few lines of text has put me off from getting half of the endings. The other I achieved only to see what the difference was – if any. My first ending was “Character A tries to kill himself, and fails but requires several surgeries just to be in a permanent comatose state with brain damage while Character B gets a promotion and becomes really successful at her job. Yay.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

Well, the game has SecuROM which automatically kills a large chunk of the PC Gaming audience. I don’t blame them either. It’s a horribly broken program that can severely damage your computer. Generally I automatically give a thumb’s down to any game using this, but as there doesn’t appear to be any file changing or registry issues with this game (beyond the downloading issues).

Adventure Games are a bit of a niche genre these days, and 2009 is having a pretty big drought of them compared to 2008’s mega year for the genre. I can see hardcore fans of the genre happy to have any games this year, especially a well done one like this. At the same time, the game really doesn’t do anything new or original to attract new gamers or people who have a casual or passing interesting in point and click titles. To be honest I’ve been watching this game for some time and now that I’ve played it I can’t saying it anything truly special or that it’s a game Adventure fans NEED to check out. At the same time, it IS the best Adventure game I’ve played this year, which is more indicative about how poor 2009 has been for Adventure titles than any true praise for Memento Mori.

This won’t be a huge hit by any means and the average gamer can happily let this pass them by. Longtime fans of the genre though might find this a decent title to pass away a few days while waiting for 2009 to give us a truly GREAT entry into the genre. Maybe Dark Fall: Lost Souls?

Appeal Factor: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous

Alright, let’s look at the breakdown. There are no extra features or anything special for replaying the game save for trying to get one of the other endings. The game uses SecuROM, which is a huge strike against it in this day and age of $19.99 Adventure games, MM carries a $29.99 price tag, which may put off gamers used to offering from companies like The Adventure Company or independently published point and click titles. There’s also the downloading issue which means I have to recommend going for the boxed version instead.

Overall, Memento Mori isn’t the adventure game I had hoped it would be and spent much of 2009 waiting for it to be released. However, it’s still an above average game that was worth playing through and gave me exactly what I needed (if not what I was looking for) in a mostly fun story, some interesting puzzles and a great collection of voice actors. Still, SecuROM + Downloading Issues = Two big strikes against the game. I might not have really encountered a third one, but your mileage may vary and the price, the story, the gameplay issues and the occasional crash may be that third and fatal strike keeping you from purchasing this game.

Miscellaneous Rating: Bad

The Scores
Story/Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Good
Balance: Good
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Bad
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
Although Memento Mori does make some questions choices with how the game ends, its use of SecuROM and provided us with some issues in terms of downloading and installing, but when all is said and done it was also a fun little title. Although not as good as several releases from 2008 like The Sinking Island, Nikopol, Theresia, or The Lost Crown, Memento Mori IS the best Adventure game I’ve played this year and those of you looking for a title for your PC with low requirements and still boasts and amazing cast of voice actors, some fun puzzles and an intriguing story about art, death, and killer monks could do a lot worse than putting down your thirty dollars for this title. I hope Centauri’s next adventure game The Evil Days Of Luckless John also makes it stateside as I’m now really looking forward to what else they have to offer.

2 Comments
  1. Mark B.
    • Alex Lucard

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