Time Stand Still: A Carol Reed Mystery
First posted on 04 May 2011. Last updated on 15 May 2014.
About the author
Barbara Bigham is a writer and the editor and co-owner of BARD Enterprises. She has been an adventure gamer since the earliest days of interactive fiction. She currently lives in the United States.
For more information, visit BARD Enterprises.
As computers improve in processing power and speed, many gamers tend to gravitate toward more sophisticated and complex titles. These games offer real-time 3D and photorealistic graphics that put you in the middle of the action, binaural sounds that sear right through your brain, and enough blood, guts, and action to blur the lines between genres.
Still, other gamers who desire simpler alternatives may take interest in the Carol Reed mystery series from MDNA Games, an independent developer based in Sweden comprised of husband and wife team Mikael and Eleen Nyqvist. The first title in the series, Remedy, has generated a quiet buzz among adventure gamers.
Time Stand Still, the third title in the series (after Hope Springs Eternal), is the gamers' personification of Mister Rogers, giving a welcome timeout for hyperactive gamers suffering from sensory overload. It forces you to slip out off your jet packs and take a leisurely walk through the park. Be forewarned, though. You will need patience and a relaxed attitude to enjoy this game. If the destination is more important to you than the journey, then this game is not for you.
You play the game as private investigator Carol Reed, a young Englishwoman who now lives Norrköping, a city in the Southeastern part of Sweden. The action begins in her apartment, which will be a familiar starting point for those who have played previous titles in the series.
Using standard point-and-click navigation, you wander about the apartment exploring various rooms until you stumble upon information that will lead you to your next case: the investigation of a reportedly haunted house belonging to a woman named Solvig Liedberg.
Armed with this lead (and never with a gun), Carol travels to other familiar locales, such as the Kiosk where she gets periodic advice from her friend Stina, or the home of another friend, Katarina, who provides a wealth of information ranging from Swedish history to architecture (always nice having a friend like that around!). Traveling between different locales is accomplished via a nicely rendered map that shows all destinations as they become available.
Throughout the game, you interact with characters (played by real life friends of the developer) via voiceovers which, though far from polished narration, lend a certain charm to the story. You choose Carol's dialog from a list of responses. Since there is seldom any choice of dialog, these scenes are little more than interactive cut scenes. They are fairly quick and do not involve lengthy conversations. All dialogs are subtitled.
As in previous titles, a strong element in this game is the slide show presentation of still photographs of the game's characters as well as places in and around Norrköping. The locale shots are digitally altered to have an impressionistic, watercolor appearance. Although some of the shots are a bit too blurry, most give a gentle, peaceful glimpse of this intriguing town.
Typical of a point-and-click interface, the cursor changes to an arrow to indicate a direction you can walk in, a hand if you can pick something up, and gears to show where an action can be taken. An item can be added to your inventory by clicking on it. To use an item in your inventory, simply drag it to the right spot on the screen or combine it with another inventory item.
A drawback to the navigation system is that, in order not to miss a possible area to explore, you have to step forward, turn left, face front again, turn right, face front again... and repeat until you see the arrow that indicates another route. In large locations such as the herb garden or the docks, this involves a lot of extra clicking.
There are no action scenes, violence, or vulgarity in the game. You cannot die. The game loads easily from any saved point.
As you amble through the allegedly haunted house, designed by the famed Swedish architect Carl Bergsten, you feel as though you are poking around a real home, opening drawers and sneaking a peek at the master bathroom.
Whether at the Liedberg house, the Museum of Design, the herb gardens, the St. Olaf School, or any of the other locations, you look for clues and encounter puzzles to solve. Clues mainly consist of letters, old newspaper clippings, photographs, and other artifacts. As they accumulate, the plot gets more convoluted and confusing. Nazi sympathizers and an illicit love affair are just a few of the plot elements strewn about. Unfortunately, there are few clues as to what your next task is, and it is easy to spend a lot of time wandering from locale to locale trying to figure out what you are supposed to do or find next.
The game plays in a rather linear fashion, and there are places where you cannot proceed until you solve a seemingly unrelated puzzle. For example, on your first visit to the Liedberg home, you will need to fix the radiator before you can leave the house, as Carol prompts you in a voiceover. Not only is this a rather meaningless chore, but for gamers who have never seen a radiator like this, the solution can be found only by trying every item in the inventory.
Puzzles are a mix of the familiar (such as a matching game akin to the classic card game Concentration and the almost obligatory musical riddle) and the more innovative (such as a multilevel brainteaser involving a pocket watch). None of the puzzles is particularly difficult, and some can be solved by clicking around until, by sheer luck, you hit on the right combination. In the rare instance that you are stumped, the game has a bypass feature.
Looped background music changes for each locale and is for the most part unmemorable and unobtrusive. There are few sound effects.
With its combination of static graphics, scarcity of puzzles, and amount of time spent walking around to find clues, time literally does "stand" still in this game. While the laidback atmosphere can be soothing, it can also verge on the tedious. Still, patient gamers will want to push on, if only to solve the mystery of the Liedberg house.
Unfortunately, as you (literally) unearth another clue, you find that the game is suddenly over. You are shown a newspaper clipping with the news that Carol Reed has solved the case. The result is a game that, though charming, is unsatisfying, unchallenging, and all too short.
If this game had not been an indie title, it would have been panned for its modest, at times amateurish, production values and disappointing storyline. Luckily for the developer, the appeal of a title produced by "real folks" who used their friends as characters and their own city as the locale helped overcome many of the game's weaknesses. However, the developer cannot count on player loyalty or the novelty of an indie game production to see them through too many more titles. They need to offer more than pleasant photographs and strolls through a charming city to satisfy the growing taste of adventure gamers.