Still Life

Posted by Davide Tomei.
First posted on 15 January 2007. Last updated on 17 October 2013.
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Still Life
Victoria arrives at the crime scene of the fifth murder.
Still Life
The masked serial killer is about to kill again!
Still Life
Gus continues his investigation on the foggy streets of Prague.
Still Life
Gus finds out how the killer uses the sewers to go around the city unnoticed.
Still Life
The art gallery owned by Victoria's fiancée is somehow tied to the murders in both Prague and Chicago.

Microids has developed some of the best adventure games in recent years. Masterpieces such as Syberia and Post Mortem feature realistic graphics, engaging characters (both for their aesthetics and personalities), and great stories that have become Microids' trademarks. Still Life is no exception. In Still Life, you are taken away into a whirl of heinous murders that seem to have traveled across time and space. From the late 1920s Prague to the present-day Chicago, a serial killer appears to be back in action. How can it be? Is it the same killer? In this game, you follow the murder trail through the eyes of a modern-day young woman named Victoria McPherson and her grandfather Gus McPherson many years earlier.

We begin the story with our heroine Victoria arriving at the crime scene in an abandoned, crumbling building where the fifth murder has occurred. A masked killer wearing a black cloak and a long top hat is terrifying the city of Chicago with his gruesome murders and is leaving no evidence behind. Victoria is in charge of the case to catch the murderer before he kills again. The victim is found in a bath tub, drowned, stabbed, and slain. When Victoria collects blood samples found on the walls for forensic evidence, she discovers creepy blood written words left behind by the serial killer. Unfortunately, the crime scene does not reveal much to help Victoria to discover his identity. Rather, the location the killer has chosen for this murder seems to be an intentional preview, a sadistic glimpse of what Victoria is to face ahead—a bloody, decadent, and morbid journey. Haunted by the disturbing imageries of the brutal murder and frustrated by another inconclusive search, Victoria decides to rest for a short time and enjoy the Christmas holidays at her father's suburban home. There, she talks with her father about her grandfather, who has had many adventurous tales as a private detective that Victoria loves to hear as a child. However, there is a tale about which her grandfather has been always reluctant to tell—the case in Prague. Why is this? What case has her grandfather worked on while in Prague? Curious, Victoria goes upstairs and finds in her grandfather's trunk old case files related to that case. She starts reading and soon finds out that her grandfather has been investigating a similar case of a serial killer, much too similar...

The story then transports us to Prague, where Gus is on a parallel investigation for a serial killer, 75 years earlier. There he investigates the murders of several prostitutes, all of whom have been horribly killed. Gus has been hired by the prostitutes, who are frightened of becoming the next targets of the mysterious ripper. Back in the present, Victoria is having troubles with her boss about her case. He is slowing down the investigation, eventually allowing another murder by the masked killer. At this point, the frustrated Victoria, with her 4x4 Humvee styled jeep, decides to do things her own way. Slowly, she gets closer to the killer, all the while exploring strange temples of pleasure and discovering the precise path followed by the killer—a path which her grandfather knows all too well. It is clear now that Victoria's case and Gus' case are closely connected, tied in a strange and twisted game of forth and back in history.

The first thing you notice when playing Still Life is the amazing graphics. This is true from the moment of the opening cinematics, beautifully played to the ominous Dies Irae. In fact, all the cinematics are artistically crafted to the game's unique rhythm, music, and acting. The in-game graphics are no less impressive. The muted tones of the pre-rendered 3D backdrops are perfectly matched to the vivid colors of the fully modeled characters that are animated with fluid and detailed movements. This is made possible by the Virtools engine which Microids uses to develop this game. The crime scenes, both in Chicago and Prague, are beautifully drawn with a gruesome overtone. There is nudity in these scenes, so to display how real murders look. Blood and open wounds are clearly visible, and the feeling of the brutality that must have taken place at these crime scenes is strong. The sound in this game is also very good. With few exceptions, the voice acting is competent, though some dialogs are excessively scurrilous. The music enhances well the overall mood of the game. It plays with a pathetic and tragic tint.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of Still Life is the well crafted gameplay that lets you alternate in playing the 2 characters (Victoria and Gus) in different times and places. The game is played from a third person perspective over 7 chapters. The only drawback is the somewhat limited character interactions. This is because you cannot choose explicitly what to say during any conversation. There is no dialog option when talking to another character. Instead, all you can do is choose between clicking the left or right mouse button. The left button brings up conversations related to your investigation that are necessary to advance in the game, whereas the right button brings up off topic exchanges that give added depths to the story.

The majority of the puzzles in Still Life are inventory based or logic oriented. Some of the puzzles are quite tough (such as lock picking), and a couple of them are pretty annoying particularly for novice gamers. A few whimsical puzzles (such as baking cookies) seem to be out of place. There is even a maze! None of the puzzles, however, are unfair in that they can only be solved through trial and error, even for the difficult puzzles. The investigation is largely driven by character interactions and by hints given out during conversations. Items collected in the game can be examined and combined with each other in the inventory. The inventory also contains a personal journal and a transcript of all the conversations carried out in the game. Traveling between locations is made using a map. Whenever a place of some importance for your investigation is discovered, it is displayed on the map. Victoria accesses this map through a LCD monitor in her vehicle, while Gus just carries an old, yellowish map with him.

Game fans who love Post Mortem should enjoy Still Life. In fact, Still Life marks the return of the character Gustav McPherson who is first introduced in Post Mortem. Yet, Still Life is not a strict sequel to Post Mortem but a competent spin-off. Even if you have not played Post Mortem before, you should find this game equally enjoyable. Indeed, Still Life is another classic in the making. The challenging puzzles, the adrenalin rhythm, and the beautiful presentation all make Still life a mesmerizing experience.

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