Next Life

Posted by Steve Irvin.
First posted on 01 April 2014. Last updated on 01 April 2014.
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Next Life
There is no privacy on the island.
Next Life
Adam's dream is truly surreal.
Next Life
Too much information!
Next Life
Adams gets many chances to enjoy the scenery.
Next Life
Adam spies on a robot sentry.

The game is available at GamersGate.

Next Life is a point-and-click adventure developed by Future Games, the Czech Republic based game development company whose previous games include The Black Mirror and Alter Ego. Originally released in Polish under the title Reprobates, the game has since been localized to English and published by The Adventure Company.

In Next Life, you play the role of a young Czech male named Adam Raichl, who finds himself mysteriously awakened on a remote tropical island after being in a horrific car accident. As the game begins, Adam comes to his senses and finds himself in a tin cabin stocked only with the bare essentials for his stay. These include a toilet and a shower, which are mostly for show, as well as a bottle of water and some cookies, which are only needed rarely to keep Adam's life bar from depleting throughout the game. Confused, Adam ventures out and meets others on the island who have all arrived before him and who hail from different countries. As they recount their last memories before awakening on the island, they detail their own fatal scenarios and discuss major historical events and personalities from their own time periods such as Watergate and Nixon or Russia and Brezhnev. It is clear to Adam that his fellow castaways come from not only different places but different time periods as well. It seems apparent that if this place is not his final destination, then it may be a stopover en route to his eternal destination.

The story in Next Life grips you immediately. The island setting is immersive and begs to be explored. Many snippets of information can be gleaned from conversations with your island neighbors, and just exploring the island and getting your bearings is a new experience during your first day there. Not surprisingly, you need to solve various puzzles by collecting sundry items and deducing what to do with them. You also need to speak to the other characters to obtain clues and open up further options for exploration. The game is broken into a series of days and subsequent nightly dream sequences. These dream sequences must be solved before Adam can awaken to a new morning on the island. The game starts out with much to explore and the promise of an enticing story. However, as the game progresses, the pace of the story begins to drag. This owes largely to the strict use of event triggers by the game. Progress slows considerably until you take the right action to move the story forward. Ultimately, Adam's quest to escape the island leads to a series of events that climaxes with some answers but still leaves behind many glaring questions.

With each new day, your fellow castaways are found in new locations and involved in different activities. Thus, it is necessary to continue engaging them as the story evolves. It is also clear over time that relationships between different characters are developing. While each character comes across as unique, the overall story feels a bit like a soap opera. However, the narrative does well in explaining the various motivations of each character.

Interestingly, there is no music in Next Life. On the island, there are sounds of pounding surf and screeching gulls but not much else. This is an effective choice by the developer to help to create a mood of isolation and realism. In the dream sequences, there are a few ambient sounds. Surprisingly, I have found that I do not miss the music.

The graphics in Next Life are not state of the art. Still, the island looks convincing and is rendered in enough detail to add realism. There are also touches that breathe life into many scenes, including the gentle lapping of waves on the beaches, softly waving palm fronds, rain and fire effects, the slow shifting of clouds on the breeze, and the frequent passing of seagulls. The character animations are quite good and rendered reasonably well. You see close-ups of the characters as you speak to them, which provide a sense of intimacy. The lighting, texture, and detail in these close-ups are very realistic. However, getting a view of a female castaway's panties and walking in on a half-naked female castaway showering come across as gratuitous and feel like cheap tactics to titillate. Likewise, stumbling upon a male fellow castaway as he attends to nature's call on his toilet just to make conversations turns into an odd scene. The game is clearly targeting a mature audience. While the vulgar voiceovers and partial nudity certainly merit this, the captions are watered down quite a bit and do not always match as a result. Indeed, if you want to avoid strong profanity in the game, you can turn the audio portion off and read the abridged captions instead.

In Next life, you are asked to suspend disbelief at the fact that Adam and the other castaways on the island just all happen to speak English with remarkable fluency, albeit with heavy accents. Voice acting ranges from convincing to stiff. Localization to English also needs work. For example, whenever Adam examines the shower stall in his cabin, he opines, "No futile luxury." When his body aches, Adam exclaims, "The pain is so cruel." The numerous translation missteps and the unintended humor in consequence often disrupt your immersion into the game.

The interface used in Next Life is standard fare for a graphical adventure game. Moving the mouse around on the screen reveals occasional hotspots as the cursor changes in color to blue. Exits from each scene are found the same way. Tapping the E key allows you to see all available exits in the current scene, if you are tired of hunting for them. Given your character's slow yet realistic pace of trudging around the island, the ability to double-click on a location on the screen to quickly trot there is certainly welcomed. Similarly, double-clicking an exit point quickly changes the scene to the new location. Inventory management is very simple. You can view and select the items in the inventory by dragging the cursor to the bottom part of the screen. Until later parts of the story, the items that you need to carry are fairly sparse, since most of the tools which you acquire to solve problems are native to the island. Even as you collect more items later in the game, they are easily accessed by clicking on them and then using them in the environment.

Part of the mystery of island life is that every evening a tolling bell triggers sleep for Adam and the other castaways, regardless of their whereabouts at the time. Sleep brings about the dream sequences that are presented as either mini-games or adventure vignettes to solve. Neither of these sequences have much to do with the main plot and serve mostly as hurdles to leap in order to get on with solving the greater mysteries.

The mini-games include logic sequences, eye hand coordination tests, and excessively frustrating timed challenges. A certain time based challenge is particularly difficult. In this challenge, Adam is in a car wreck and needs to get out of the car before flames engulf him. To do this, you must line up a light as it revolves among segments of several concentric rings of a circle, from outermost inward. The light increases in speed with each successive inner circle. Success is all about timing. Doing this for the outer circles is not terribly challenging. However, the light is traveling so fast that doing this for the inner circles is simply an exercise in frustration. As there is no way to skip this puzzle, I am forced to hear Adam's agonized screams over and over as he burns in the fire before finally succeeding by random chance. Other puzzles may offer different challenges but also provide considerable similar frustration.

The adventure vignettes play identically to the main story with the same mechanics. They are effectively surreal at times, and while they do not tie into main quest, they offer a different view into Adam's psyche and add considerably to the overall length of the play experience. The solutions to these puzzles are challenging but generally logical within the context of each dream sequence.

To avoid the monotony of having to explore the same island locations for days, the developer has cleverly changed the perspective of the island in these scenes with each passing day. So, while the physical geography (beaches, cliffs, cabins, and other landmarks) remains constant, the camera angles shift with each day. This works well in providing a sense of rediscovery each morning as you spend the first moments readjusting to the new perspective.

Still, the task of exploration can be at times a chore. For example, Adams needs to pick up multiple sticks and rocks each day, which is slow and tedious. It seems needless to have to repeatedly click on the same pile of rocks to load up the inventory. Also, Adam needs to be in just the right place before he can climb or descend terrain or even spin around. It is an agonizingly slow to watch him robotically maneuver and shuffle multiple times before moving. Sadly, this process is repeated dozens of times throughout the game.

The story unfolds over a number of days before reaching a climax and then the ending. The ending attempts to wrap up a number of questions but unfortunately leaves a lot of mysteries still unanswered. The final scenes feel particularly contrived. In fact, I come away feeling unsatisfied and a little disappointed. I actually enjoy the experience of contemplating the meaning of unresolved plot threads, as long as the primary details are sewn up and the answers are intelligent and clever. Here, there are too many significant details left hanging for a standalone game.

I have found myself alternately being pulled in and frustrated as well as being intrigued and bored during my time playing Next Life. Whether or not you will enjoy Next life depends on what you are after ultimately and what you are willing to overlook. Despite a few misgivings, the overall production value of Next Life is generally high. However, English localization is poor and the inclusion of some unnecessary difficult puzzle elements can make for a frustrating gaming experience. The game also feels sluggish at times, owing to syrupy slow animations, lengthy game load times, and the need to meticulously pixel hunt for items that are sometimes hard to discern in the environment. The premise of Next Life is original and has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it winds up feeling contrived and fails to deliver the experience that the game promises to offer.

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