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On the heels of their successful “Syberia” series, the Canadian company Microids has produced “Still Life,” another point-and-click adventure of a decidedly different variety. This time, the main character is Victoria McPherson, an FBI profiler on the trail of a Chicago serial killer who drowns, strangles and chops up women. This killer has a flair for the theatrical, wearing a mask from a local S&M room. Yeah, this isn’t one for the kiddies.
However, Victoria isn’t the only player character. Occasionally, you are whisked back in time to get behind the eyes of her grandfather, Gustav, a PI investigating a series of murdered prostitutes in Prague. Naturally, the two cases are related, and the clue connecting them is a series of gruesome “still life” paintings.
The pre-rendered cinematic sequences in “Still Life” are nothing short of wonderful. The atmospheric use of light and haze gives the story its realism and power. Unfortunately, just about every other part of the game is problematic.
The gameplay in “Still Life” is the most obvious weakness. Whereas old adventure games made use of an elegant system of cursor icons to navigate the world, “Still Life” uses an awkward system of menus and hotspots. For example, to use an inventory item, the character must be standing in front of the item, then the player must open the inventory screen and click around before even knowing whether the item is going to be useable.
In-game story progression is even worse. Inexplicably, the game designers have only included one path for each conversation in the game. Instead of a choice between three or four different responses, there’s only a “business” response (left click) and a “personal” response (right click). The content of the responses is not revealed until the characters actually speak, and the the choice doesn’t affect the game anyway.
Worse, the in-game puzzles, which are the lifeblood of any adventure game, are cliched and unrealistic, even amateurish. They involve either simple get-the-item problems or self-contained puzzle games, such as a blind maze or a passcode. By the end I was asking myself, how often does the typical FBI investigator encounter a sliding puzzle? This game has more than one.
But if the gameplay, puzzles and dialogue don’t get you, the grating voice-acting will. Perhaps the French voice track is better, but in English Victoria is snarky and unbelievable. Her dad sounds sinister, and the black beat cop’s Chicago accent is laughable. Fortunately, Gustav’s voice actor knows enough about noir to keep it simple and the Prague villain is suitably creepy. But they are surrounded by lame-sounding characters, making it hard to take the game seriously.
As if all this wasn’t enough, the game doesn’t end properly. Several loose ends remain, including the killer’s identity. (You’d think that in a detective game they’d let you solve the crime.)
Perhaps Micoids is setting up a sequel, but I wished they’d taken it one game at a time.
If you’re really starved for animated film noir, I suppose you might endure the puzzles, voice acting and the lack of interactivity to get to the cutscenes. But I’d rather skip the tedious “gameplay” and pop in “Chinatown” or “L.A. Confidential” instead.

by Ben Applegate
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