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Reviewed: Still Life
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: July 13th, 2005
Page: 2
Still Life follows two different murder cases, both serial murderers and both interconnected. In old Prague, private investigator Gustav "Gus" McPherson tracks down a murderer who will eventually be know as the "Perlovka Ripper" for his brutal stabbing murders of the city's prostitutes - a bizarre case involving an insane man, plenty of misdirection, police corruption, and all the things that make a good murder mystery case fun to solve. In Chicago, present day, Gus's granddaughter Victoria is an FBI agent hunting down a murderer who seems to be copying the Perlovka Ripper's style. Gruesome murder scenes, villains in masks and top hats, and plenty of suspects to go around make the game as scary as any horror novel that could be picked up in the bookstore.

The sound and music in the Still Life are well done, though occasionally certain animations in the American version don't quite sync with voices (blame the re-dubbing work from the European version). Ambient sound effects are incredibly accurately created, and the background soundtrack sounds like something that wandered out of an old slasher horror movie; sinister piano music at its best. Because of the choice of voice actors, the events in Chicago sound a lot better than do those in Prague; chalk it up to the lack of European accents in a European city.

Graphically, Still Life is amazing, especially on the Xbox (if you have 720P capability, that is). Extensively prerendered backgrounds and cutscene images, as well as in-game images, make for a frightening experience at time. Chicago in the snow is rendered as it should be, the city dark and a bit foreboding; Prague has the feel of a tired, old city that has seen the worst in life, coming just after World War I. Still screenshots - whether of localized spots, investigating for clues, or examining paintings - can be at once beautiful and gruesome, or eerie enough to cause shivers.

Like most adventure games - and thankfully so - Still Life doesn't step into the realm of giving the player any arcade-ish shooting scenes or fight scenes. The only time that any character has a weapon out is in prerendered cutscenes, giving the storyline straight. Despite this, there are moments in the game that are shocking or worse. Still Life's power of horror comes from the atmosphere inside the game, which gets stronger and stronger as the game goes on and more of the backstory is revealed. Towards the end, players are going to be rightly scared that almost any character in the game is a suspect, and rightly so.

Of course, it's a murder mystery, and so finding the killer is priority. Working out who is and isn't a suspect takes a lot of time and attention. The game's also set up nicely for a sequel, or just for speculative thinking such as happens at Microids' forums - the true mark of a good mystery game, it gets people thinking hard. Microids provided plenty of tools for you to do this, as well; a nice touch is that the archives of the game, in terms of evidence papers and coroner's reports, are always on hand. They even provided in-game recordings of all conversations, which is a nice touch and greatly enhances the ability to play amateur detective by going back and looking at what was previously said by other suspects/investigators in the case.

Microids also offers a few other extras over at the game's official site, such as a prequel game playable for free and forums where those who enjoyed the game can gather and talk about it.

In terms of raw game experience, the PC version is slightly better than the Xbox version. Despite admirable work to get it running on the Xbox, the scenes just aren't as high resolution and the game is plagued by constant load times; only a few seconds each, but enough to interrupt the game's flow. It's something that can be gotten over once you're into the story, but it never completely goes away. Grab the PC version preferentially, but in either case, Still Life is a game you will want to play at least once.

Added:  Thursday, July 14, 2005
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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