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Post Mortem / Still Life

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Still Life - Windows, Xbox (2005)

UK Cover

US Cover

For the second outing for the series, a new title was given to better fit the theme of the game (still life paintings) and its new modern age lead. Taking place in 2004 Chicago at Christmas, Still Life follows the granddaughter of Gus McPherson, Victoria. She's an FBI agent trying to catch a serial killer who eviscerates and drowns his victims. Complicating things is that she finds a lost case file from Gus that details a serial killer of prostitutes back in Prague in the 1920s. Said serial killer has the exact same MO as the one she's chasing in the modern day, and the pieces start connecting more upon the discovery of a painter's works that her boyfriend is planning to exhibit.

Right off the bat, Still Life proves itself to be a wildly different beast. The writing is much more comedic and turns both Victoria and Gus into smart alecs with a collection of quips for any situation. The occult angle from the last game is now absent in both cases of this game. The cinematography in cutscenes is grainier and uses techniques like shaky cam and unnatural motion blur. The game also uses a more traditional third person perspective with fixed screens instead of the first person perspective, inviting much more exploration of the environment than before (basing it more on another series from Microïds called Syberia). The game also shifts between Gus' time and Victoria's modern day case, giving us two entirely different and equally absorbing worlds to explore. It's bigger, it's longer, and altogether, a better game on the whole. It's also much more quotable. "Unique, huh? Is that Latin for asshole?" Gus, you are such a treasure to this medium.

That said, it's still a very goofy production. Character animation has actually gotten worse with the perspective shift, with some truly horrible mouth flapping, while body animation remains stiff. There are more cutsecenes to balance this out, though, so while the game has more action setpieces, they still look quite good even by modern standards. Outside of those bad animations, the game has aged very well and retains a strong look and style. There's a great contrast between the rustic, rusting art of Prague and the contrasting colors and oppressive buildings of Chicago, and the soundtrack has a good deal of variety and builds tension with ease. This is a game with class.

Still Life (Windows)

Until characters open their mouths. The dialogue in this game is beyond corny, and not just because of those quips. A ton of the cast are comedic archetypes instead of just genre archetypes, so in this very dark serial killer chase that mixes in twisted BDSM imagery and a family blood vendetta, we also have two men with the build of gorillas who speak as if they were the foil to Bugs Bunny, an old mortician with a hearing problem, a lesbian sex worker that instantly hits in Victoria the moment she sees her, and the black guys. They're a type of black men that only exists in stereotypes, including a bouncer who is basically Chris Tucker, but with the build of a basketball player. The voice acting is also far more ridiculous. There are still strong performances where there need to be, but some terrible accents still sneak in, and the modern day cast feels like parodies of whatever they're supposed to represent, with the exception of Victoria's boyfriend.

But in a way this adds to the game's charm. The tone whiplash keeps it entertaining during down moments when you're stuck on a puzzle or trying to figure out where to go. The game also knows to cut the comedy when it's time to really shine focus on the serial killer, and those scenes are well directed. The killer this time around is much more mysterious and physically intimidating in Victoria's case, while Gus' target manages to be very clever and effective as a villain while lacking that intimidation factor. The Chicago scenes feel like an episode of CSI, while the Prague scenes play out as an old mystery novel told visually.

The one frustrating element of this two story set-up is that it makes one of them predictable. Gus' story is very streamlined to get in all the plot points with little breathing room, making for a very point A to point B sort of thing. Once the killer appears before you know they're the killer, you know that they're the killer. The actor's performance, the lack of other viable suspects, not to mention how obvious it is that the head investigator is corrupt. There's nobody else it could be. Victoria's story, on the other hand, ends in a disappointing way, probably because the team didn't have enough time to flesh out her story while also telling Gus'.

The puzzles themselves are more numerous and stick with the last game's focus on logic. They're all really basic in set-up, but complicated to figure out, really testing your skill. The cookie puzzle is a favorite, with how it uses clever wordplay to confuse you. The only ones that stand out as obnoxious are a lock-picking puzzle Gus has to figure out, which involved at least fifteen interconnected variables, and the laser maze in the final stretch of Victoria's story. Throwing out a puzzle that requires precise timing and complicated pattern recognition in a point and click filled mainly with sit and tinker puzzles is bad game design, especially with how maddeningly ridiculous it is to try and figure out the right pattern.

Still Life (Windows)

Thankfully, the series keeps the design philosophy of not throwing in sudden death traps, so these puzzles are the only major low points. Pixel hunting isn't too bad either, and you can easily take a step back and think to catch on to what you're missing in snag moments. It's almost like this style of adventure game that Microïds was making ended up starting off new design philosophies of modern point and clicks.

Still Life received more positive press than its predecessor, with agreement that the Xbox version was the lesser version (though only by a small margin). The game sold about 240,000 copies worldwide, though that doesn't count sales from its Steam re-release. The game really did deserve that success, a fine entry into the genre with its own style nobody else really had, though maybe going a bit too Hollywood compared to its more classy ancestor.

Where it took three years for Still Life to release, though, it took four for Still Life 2 to come out, and it was hyped in marketing for years by saying all the remaining mysteries would finally be solved. One of the most controversial parts of this game is the ending, which ended on a cliffhanger. Answers were teased for later, with no real sense of closure to be found.

Quick Info:

Developer:

  • Microïds

Publisher:

  • Microïds
  • The Adventure Company (US)

Designer:

  • Mathieu Larivière

Genre:

Themes:


Still Life (Windows)

Still Life (Windows)

Still Life (Windows)

Still Life (Windows)

Still Life (Windows)

Still Life (Windows)

Still Life (Windows)

Still Life (Windows)


Additional Screenshots


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