Preview: Still Life (XB) Hands-On

Publisher: The Adventure Co. / Developer: Microids / Genre: Point&Click / Release Date: 4-14-05

You know, point and click puzzle/adventure games are a dying breed. But the Adventure Company has really strived to keep this genre alive, and has done a great job of it so far, with games like Atlantis Evolution, Jack the Ripper, and my personal favorite games in this genre by this company, Dark Fall 1 & 2. TAC is also responsible for the game I nominated for best PC game of the year, MISSING: Since January, but it’s not part of this genre so I won’t mention any more than that. Microids is also best known for their game Syberia, which has a very strong cult following on the PC, PS2, and Xbox…although I will admit to never having played it.

Point and Click was once a very common style for games on the PC. Your mouse is your controller, and you spend your time trying to find how to use objects or solve puzzles that will help you along in your quest. It’s not that common of a genre on console gaming, with it’s heyday being on the venerable NES with Shadowgate and Deja Vu. The best of this genre in recent years goes back to almost a decade ago with Atlus’ slight Megaten spin off, Lunacy. However, on the PC, point and click had made somewhat of a comeback with games like Necronomicon. Dracula: Resurrection, Dracula: Final Sanctuary, and Post Mortem. The latter is worth mentioning, for Still-Life is in fact a SEQUEL to this PC game and you have played PM, than you will really feel the lineage being continued in Still Life.

In Post Mortem, you played as Gus MacPherson, a retired Chicago private dick living in Paris as an artist. He is hired to solve the murder of a couple in a French Hotel, and he also seems to have the psychic power of postcognition. The game takes about a dozen hours in all to beat, and has a decent story line.

In Still Life, you play as Victoria MacPherson, Gus’ granddaughter, who is a recent graduate of the FBI and is investigated a serial killer, who, at the start of the game, has just slain his fifth victim. The common thread with each kill is that they have been drowned, but with each successive murder, the unknown psychopath seems to be getting more and more violent and Vic, as she prefers to be called is getting more and more determined to catch the killer.

However, at the end of the first chapter of the game, Victoria visits her father for Christmas and then goes up to the attic to her grandfather Gus’ old trunk. There she reads a diary and old letter by her grandfather Gus that speak of a series of murders that seem all too familiar, reminder of her own recent case!

The gameplay switches between Modern Day Chi-Town and the Prague of the 1920-30’s. Yes, Prague. Playing as both Gus and Victoria, you will have to solve various puzzles and talk to many characters in order to solve both cases and tie the threads together.

Overall, from playing Still Life I found it to be a decent story, but with a few flaws bogging it down. Let’s cover the bad first so we can end this preview on a high note.

First, I really didn’t care for the voice acting. Any of it. It was okay, but that’s really it. Just okay. Usually TAC is spot on with voice acting and does a great job of casting an actor to a character. Here, most of the characters left me cold, especially Vic and Gus. All the characters just seemed to be phoning their acting in.

Then there was the problem of how SLOW the game was. I don’t mean the game was boring. Not at all. It had a very good story. But Vic and Gus both move slower that a man with no legs. We’re talking frozen molasses here people. I found my eyes rolling at times because the characters take forever to move anywhere. Now, usually a point and click game is a lot faster then this due to having a first person POV. But Still Life is third person for some reason. So not only is this game slow in general, but it is VERY slow for a point and click game. This hurts it a lot, and may cause people to put it down before it gets good. And trust me, it gets good.

Finally, the only other bad thing is that some of the puzzles, while not hard, if you screw up, you will have to reset as you can’t redo them. I think this is just due to the demo build though. What I’m talking about is a puzzle during the first time you play as Gus where you have to solve a safe combo by putting these blocks in the correct order. Somehow I messed up and that was that. I couldn’t go back because the blocks didn’t reset to their original location and to finish the puzzle correctly you had to start them in the right order. And with 8 blocks and the myriad of combos I could make with that, this meant a LOT of guess and check. So I decided to reset instead. But that’s what point and click games eventually boil down to: a lot of guess and check. So if you’re not used to these type of games, you may be put off by some levels of monotony that are common in the genre.

But now the good.

First off, this game has the best opening I have seen on a point and click game for some time. The music combined with the actual CGI footage gave me goosebumps. Sometimes there is beauty in horror. And the opening scenes to Still Life really does that.

The story of the game is pretty good. It’s not the best plot of a point and click game ever, but the fact it is two stories in one really helps to mix things up and keep your attention riveted to the game. This is of note to those new to the genre or that left it a long time ago and are looking to come back as the chapters dividing the game are a nice touch and help to offset the slow gameplay a bit.

Finally, I really enjoyed a lot of the puzzles. Where a lot of point and click games can be solved simply by guess and check, Still Life cranks up the difficulty level by giving you puzzles you have to think about. Case in point: before you can start chapter two and begin to play as Gus, you have to solve a lock puzzle involving the 4 suits in cards. You know, spades, diamonds, hearts, and clubs. It’s a complicated enough puzzle I had to write down the possible combinations and think 2-3 steps ahead of what I pressed in order to make sure I wasn’t messing up.

Overall, for every hit in this demo, there was a miss. I think this game would play a lot better on a PC, as adventure games have pretty much been there most popular there. The gameplay feels way to slow for a console game, but it’s something that can be easily fixed. I’m just not a fan of using a joystick as a mouse. But you have to give props to TAC for trying to introduce the genre again to console gamers. I just don’t know how it’ll fly. I’m a fan of the genre, and it’s the only way you can get me to play a PC game that isn’t Neverwinter Nights. But like 2D shooters, it is a niche genre.

If this game and the screenshots interest you, consider getting the PC version instead as the control scheme for Still Life works better there. But regardless, if you’re looking for a nice mystery game with a lot of atmosphere, Still Life might be worth considering a rental or purchase.

PS: If you’re interested in playing the demo (not the test build I played but close) click HERE and download it! You can also view the trailer here.