Memento Mori

Posted by Mervyn Graham.
First posted on 23 October 2009. Last updated on 23 October 2009.
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Memento Mori
A fallen restraint signals the sign of a recent intruder.
Memento Mori
Max poses as an attorney in order to interrogate the guard.
Memento Mori
Lara searches for the flat in Portugal where the art forger Hephaestos lives.
Memento Mori
Max arrives at the tranquil Eternal Sleeper Monastery in Finland.
Memento Mori
Lara learns of Max's fate from his tarot card.

Memento Mori (also known as Memento Mori: The Secret to Eternal Life) is an aptly named game. A Latin phrase originated circa 1585 C.E., "memento mori" means literally "remember to die"—a reminder of death or mortality, especially of our own, but also a reminder of human failures or errors. This phase lends itself well to both the title and the theme of the game ("the secret of eternal life can be murder" as the developer claims). The story revolves around a secretive group of tattooed Finnish monks who worship an ancient text known as the Ars Moriendi, better known as the Art of Dying.

The Ars Moriendi, in real life, was a text originally written in the 15th Century that was essentially a manual for death and dying. It detailed the dominant Western Christian beliefs of the time about the subject. It was published initially in Latin and translated later into many European languages. The first edition of the Ars Moriendi, known as the "long version", was released in 1415. A second edition, known as the "short version", with woodcut illustrations as a sort of quick reference, was released in 1450.

With Memento Mori, Centauri Production had woven these historical facts into its own fictitious storyline to create an exceptional game of suspense, conspiracy, and psychological thriller. First released in German in 2008, the game was originally developed in both Czech and English. A switch in the production schedule was then made by the developer to fine-tune the English localization, which was finally released in 2009.

Memento Mori is a classic third-person point-and-click adventure game. The story takes place over a period of 6 days, concluding to an epilogue a further 14 days later. The game starts with a scene at The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. A stranger is talking on the phone to Doctor Anatoli Ambramchikov, who has just invented a new analysis device to detect original art paintings from faked forages. This is followed by another cut scene showing a forger copying a priceless piece of artwork, until the phone rings, and a voice utters an enigmatic message, "I'm listening, it's just as we feared."

News quickly surfaces that another priceless painting has been stolen from The State Hermitage Museum, despite heavy guards and security cameras. Somehow, a power failure has occurred, and the security cameras have all been rendered useless for a short period of time during which the theft has supposedly occurred. The Chief of the Art Theft Squad of the St. Petersburg police department, Colonel Sergej Vasily Ostankovic, suspects a Finnish secret and ancient Order called the Ikuinen Nukkuja is behind the crime. The Order is only known to a handful of insiders in the art trade. It is rumored that the Order aims to prevent certain paintings from ever being revealed to the public. The Order refers to a translation of the Ars Moriendi, which relates how mankind, on the point of death, sees the Angel of Death. To prevent this sacrilegious representation of the Angel of Death, the Order vows to remove it from all paintings, whatever the cost.

Not wanting to have his retirement plan jeopardized and public image tarnished, Colonel Ostankovic seeks to get the theft case solved without any public knowledge of the conspiracy. The dictatorial colonel puts his trust in Larisa Ivanovna Svetlova (or Lara), once a personal employee under his supervision in the Russian Militia, who is now working for Interpol in Lyon, France. Rather than seeking for her willing assistance, Colonel Ostankovic coerces and blackmails Lara into teaming up with Maxime Durand (or Max), a former art forger who, owing to his contacts in the field, has often worked for the Art Theft Squad. If Max does not cooperate with the investigation, Colonel Ostankovic tells Lara that he will be arrested and locked up in prison for life, but if Max agrees to cooperate and successfully solves the case, Colonel Ostankovic promises instead that his criminal record will be permanently purged from file.

With little choice, Lara and Max team up to investigate the art theft, which quickly leads to a truly international chase of clues around the world. You, as either Lara or Max, will hop from France and Russia to Portugal, Scotland, and Finland. It is up to you to locate the missing painting, avoid being a murder victim yourself, discover the ancient Order, and finally meet up with the Angel of Death.

Installation of the game is simple and straightforward. The manual for the game includes an Epilepsy Warning, System Requirements, Installation and Uninstall Instructions, Technical Support, Menu Screens and Selections, and Cursor Information, and Credits. After the installation, you are presented with a system menu. From there, you can access the Settings option, which you can either toggle between Basic or Advanced. The Basic option allows adjustments to sound and music and dialog volumes, subtitles, visual and sound levels, mouse sensitivity, and animated cursor. The Advanced options allows adjustments to sound card, 3D sound, higher sound quality, graphics card, screen resolution, monitor frequency, high colour depth, antialiasing, texture filtering, mipmaping, shader quality, vertical sync, dynamic shadows, and dynamic reflections. I am most impressed by the game's dynamic shadows and dynamic reflections. As Max walks over the marble floors in The Hermitage, I can see a perfect reflection and shadow following him. The effect is very realistic.

Mouse control in the game is quite complex with 11 different cursor symbols. You are well advised to read over the manual before commencing the game to familiarize yourself with each cursor symbol. The inventory is located at the top left corner of the screen. Most objects that you gather can be both zoomed in and rotated around for detailed examination from within the inventory. The 3D objects can be rotated left or right (but not up or down). This is very helpful when trying to search for a switch, a plug socket, or an identification tag on an object.

Dialog interaction in the game is more simplified. At specific points during a conversation, you will be given the opportunity to reply to a request positively, negatively, or questioningly. You will be wise to take time you in considering your response. Although there is no right or wrong answer, the answer you choose will influence both the outcome and the conclusion to the game. Some of the interactions are under time pressure, in which you only have limited time to make a decision on how to answer. Not making a decision will automatically default you to answer the question negatively.

The game boasts 8 different endings. Depending on how you solve problems, use objects, and respond in dialogs, the game will end differently. The endings for the main characters—Max, Lara, Colonel Ostankovic—will vary greatly depending on your choices made throughout the game. Some endings are favorable, while others are less so.

I am quite impressed with the overall production of the game. It is clear that lots of thought and research have obviously been put into recreating the real life locations, the period architecture, and the detailed history of the Ars Moriendi. Although the characters in the game are entirely fictional, their roles are none the less believable within the context of the mythos purported by the story. Lara and Max are pawns caught between the hardnosed and loathsome Colonel Ostankovic, the Ikuinen Nukkuja, and the Angel of Death. Even the minor characters, from the town drunk to the sick child to the barmaid, have memorable roles in the game.

In order to reproduce the authentic sceneries from Russia, Portugal, Scotland, and Finland, Centauri Production has enlisted contacts from these countries to provide a host of photographs for use in the reconstruction. The local architecture depicted in these scenes is so detailed that it is as if you are walking down a street in Portugal or visiting a sanatorium in St. Petersburg. An interesting factoid is that the music in the St. Petersburg Rock Club scene is recorded by an authentic band that actually plays there!

The English voiceovers for the characters in the game are all excellent. The voices for Max and Lara are clear and easy to listen. The voices for the support characters are also done well, with reasonably convincing accents. All the characters are animated when they speak. Their body movements and gestures are surprisingly smooth and quite realistic. This humanization is no doubt due to the powerful CPAL3D game engine on which the game is built. Lip movements and synchronization, on the other hand, are at best adequate.

The music in the game is superb. It is dramatic and brings with it an aura of mystery and suspense. They are many scores, so that the music does not get repetitive, boring, or annoying. The sound effects are realistic and equally impressive, from birds twittering to rain and hail falling to thunder rolls to telephone rings.

The visuals provided by the 3D graphics are restrained but convincing. The environments are detailed with lots of subtle real time effects. Occasionally, a few rough textures or jagged objects appear as graphical glitches. Compared to other contemporaries, this game is amongst the prettiest of all adventure games. The playful use of camera angles (which is largely fixed) is not at all distracting. The 3D camera dives in, zooms, and sometimes displays the scenes from unusual perspectives. Even when zoomed in, such as the interior of a drawer, you can still swivel the camera just enough to get a better view. You can also light up dark corners with the aid of a lighter or other light sources. The split screen layout is used sparingly but to good effect. During specific action sequences, a picture within picture display shows the action from another perspective simultaneously. It may not be essential, but it is certainly a stylistic enrichment.

The new and novel dialog system deserves praise. Most adventure games utilize dropdown dialog boxes which you must exhaust in order to seek out the information or clues you need. Memento Mori eliminates frivolous dropdown dialog boxes entirely. Instead, if you want to talk to a character, you simply click on the character when the lips symbol cursor appears. Dialog is then automatically triggered. If you are asked a question, you have presented with 3 choices on how to answer that question. This way, you do not need to go through the motion of merely clicking rows of questions to ask or answers to reply.

The game plays over 18 Acts. There are many playable set scenes as well as more than 40 cinematic cut scenes. All of the cut scenes are thoughtfully placed and serve to either signal transitions in the story or explain outcomes from certain actions by a character.

There are some 14 major puzzles to solve and some 67 objects to find in total. Some of the puzzles, such as moving the bookcase that blocks the entrance to a secret room and escaping from that room when trapped without light, are quite challenging. None are so difficult, however, that you will simply give up and quit the game in frustration. All the puzzles can be solved using logic and a bit of ingenuity and taking careful notice of clues presented to you during the game. Thankfully, there are no puzzles that can only be solved by trial and error.

Despite the multiple endings, the game is very linear, wherein important processes have to be triggered and tasks have to be done in a strict order. Unless these critical processes or tasks are accomplished, you cannot progress onward in the game. If some noncritical processes or tasks are missed, you will be allowed to continue, but you may end up finishing the game with a poor ending for either Max or Lara. In such cases, you may replay the game again and make your choices differently to change the ending.

If there is any criticism to be drawn on the game, it must be the blatant clues and prompts given in the dialog, making the game much easier than it may be otherwise. For example, Lara may say, "I think that I should go to the laboratory now and mark the painting." or "I must use my cell phone to contact Max now." This style of self reflecting dialog is pervasive throughout the game. It is both overdone and unnecessary.

In sum, Memento Mori is a solid adventure game that fits perfectly to the niche taste of adventure gaming fanatics and history buffs. The game features excellent graphics, music, and sound effects as well as engaging storytelling and gameplay. I have thoroughly enjoyed this game and can definitely recommend it without hesitation or reservation.

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