Post Mortem

Posted by David Tanguay.
First posted on 07 March 2010. Last updated on 17 July 2010.
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Post Mortem
Gus talks to a witness and a fellow psychic.
Post Mortem
Gus meets his favorite gal Berenice at his favorite bistro.
Post Mortem
Gus goes tête-à-tête with his employer Sophia Blake.
Post Mortem
The dialog choices are tabbed.
Post Mortem
A map of Paris shows the locations of interest in the game.

It is Paris in the 1920s, and you are a struggling American artist, Gus McPhearson. You are also a former private eye and a bit of a psychic—a real Renaissance man. A grisly double murder takes place in an elegant hotel, complete with double decapitation. The sister of the victims, a raven-haired American beauty named Sophia Blake, walks into your studio and hires you to investigate the murders.

The story is undoubtedly the strength of Post Mortem. The plot twists and turns as various suspects are investigated, and it soon leads to a larger conspiracy with an occult basis. Helping the story along is a good cast of characters. The various suspects, witnesses, and helpers all have distinct personalities. Some are friendly and helpful, some easy to get along with, and some are impossible to deal with.

The world of Post Mortem is presented in a pre-rendered bubble view. That is, you move from node to node, and at each node you can look all around and up and down by moving the cursor to the edge of the screen. The background graphics are well done, and you really feel part of period Paris where the game supposedly takes place.

The characters are presented as real-time 3D manikins over the pre-rendered backgrounds. Sadly, these models are not well rendered. They display corners and edges, and details are clearly painted on. These failings are forgivable. Less forgivable, however, are the drunken swaying and wild gesticulations. They ruin the ambience established by the lovely scene art, and can even make you laugh at the inappropriateness of some gestures relative to the dialog. I can only hope they work better in French (the game is developed by Microids located in Quebec, Canada).

The dialog has a similar ambivalence. The voice acting is good, and the individual pieces of dialog are well written. The problem is that the dialogs often do not run together well. You are given a menu to choose questions or responses, but if you do not follow the right path the characters' responses can be cryptic, relying on knowledge that is only revealed by asking the other choices first. I have never noticed it as being important to play, though it can be just a little confusing at times. It all comes together by the end of the conversation. The dialog menu also has a peculiar structure. Each response is available on its own tab, so you have to run through the tabs to find out what you can stay. A simple, scrollable list of responses may be a better alternative.

The game's interface is decidedly simple. A right click brings up a menu along the bottom of the screen, including a scrollable section that contains the inventory. The menu and inventory overwrite a black bar (your view of the world is letterboxed), and must be clicked open and closed. It may be preferable to just have it open all the time to save the repetitious clicking.

Among the menu items is the choice to read a document you have picked up. There is a problem, however, in that the title of the note does not always match the label of the document in inventory. I often end up running through all the documents looking just to find the new document that is otherwise buried among others. Another menu item is the choice to read your notes on the case. This is useful to recap what you have seen, and how the pieces fit together. The menu also includes a map of Paris. When you learn of a location, it appears on the map and you can quickly go there. There is an unlimited number of save files.

The gameplay in Post Mortem is much less impressive. There are not many puzzles, and many of those are tired old standbys. There is even an explicit pixel hunting exercise! Most of your thought will be spent trying to figure out who to talk to next and to reveal the next tidbit of information to help you along. I have found that thinking does not do much good in this game, since the results are usually unexpected and hence unpredictable. This means you frequently have to hunt for the plot, rather than be a part of it.

Despite the poor puzzling, the story flows well around the puzzles. You can pursue goals in different orders and at different times in the story, and even solve some puzzles in different ways.

Post Mortem succeeds as a piece of interactive fiction. It is a good story well told, and it gives players freedom to find their own way through it. As an adventure game, the lack of good puzzles and the surpluses of poor and tired puzzles make the game tedious. If you approach the game in the right mood, you will be pleased with the story. If you are looking for a challenge, you are better off looking elsewhere.

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