Still Life, the latest adventure from The Adventure Company, is sorta-kinda a sequel to 2003’s Post Mortem. Post Mortem took place in Paris in the early 1920’s, and players helped psychic / painter / private investigator Gustav McPherson solve the grisly murder of a married couple in a hotel room. Still Life takes place in modern day Chicago, and you control Gustav’s granddaughter Victoria. Victoria works for the FBI, and she’s investigating a serial killer who drowns and then eviscerates his victims. However, the deeper Victoria gets into the case, the more it seems related to a case Gustav investigated in Prague in 1929. How is that possible? Is it coincidence, or is there more at work?
The story is the best part of Still Life. The serial killer case is intriguing, and, once Victoria realizes the parallels between her case and her grandfather’s case, you get to alternate between the two characters and help them both track down their killers. The meshing of the two cases is effective (especially when Victoria learns some things about Gustav’s case before Gustav does), and French developer Micro´ds was able to add enough depth to the characters that we care what happens to them. The only bad part of the story is that Micro´ds clearly planned for a Still Life II (which is now in doubt since Micro´ds was bought by Ubi Soft), and so the ending of the game doesn’t offer as much resolution as one might like. In fact, it’s sort of a let down.
Still Life uses an engine that is essentially the same as the ones employed by the Syberia games, and it’s nothing at all like the one used by Post Mortem. That is, the game uses a third-person perspective rather than a first-person perspective, and you move your character from fixed “scene” to fixed “scene” by left clicking the mouse. Then, if you notice something of interest, you might left click on it to look at it or pick it up (or talk to it, if the something in question is a person), and the cursor changes to indicate what actions you can take. The interface was effective in the Syberia games, and it’s effective here as well.
Still Life is also similar to Syberia with regard to its graphics. The locations are much grittier in Still Life than in Syberia, since you spend a lot of time in the slums of Prague and the back alleys of Chicago, and so there is something missing in terms of fancy and wonder, but the quality and attention to detail are unmatched. The locations are beautifully rendered, and Micro´ds did a nice job with things like fog and ambient movements (such as the rippling of water) to bring the locations to life. There are also a handful of impressive cinematic sequences included for your viewing please, and so Still Life is a fun game just to look at.
Where Still Life has its problems is with the puzzles. Post Mortem did a good job of integrating what few puzzles it had into Gustav’s investigation. Not so with Still Life. Still Life is very much a typical adventure game, where you have puzzles just to have puzzles, and where they are rarely believable. For example, early in the game Victoria needs to go to the morgue to pick up an autopsy report, but she can’t just go to the morgue, of course. She has to enter a PIN number to get through the door, but her PIN number was recently changed, and she was only sent a hint about what the new number is, and so she has to figure it out. Uh huh.
Most of the puzzles involve opening doors of one sort or another, and while some of them are fun (such as when you have to help Gustav use some lock picks to open a door), others are inanely stupid (such as when you have to help Victoria decode one of her mother’s recipes so she can make cookies for her father). In all, I had more fun just talking to people and learning about what was going on than I did solving the puzzles, and I probably would have liked the game better if it had been more like Post Mortem and had fewer puzzles.
Overall, Still Life is a nice adventure game. It looks great, it’s reasonably well acted, and while its puzzles are hit and miss, its story is enveloping enough to draw you in and keep you playing. But fair warning: unlike Syberia, Still Life is not a family-friendly game. It includes gore, profanity, and nudity, and at one point you witness a pretty gruesome murder. So only buy the game if such things don’t offend you.