2011-06-21

Still Life

This game was selling for cheap on Steam recently as one of their unending rounds of games so cheap that you'd be insane to not buy them, and I like a good adventure game, so I scanned some reviews and then bought it. Unfortunately, the reviews lied. They lied like lying fucking liars.

Chapter 1: Victoria, an FBI agent

OK, so we start out investigating a crime scene. This actually seems pretty decent, even though I'm not really sure why my character is doing this. I guess they have to give you some evidence collection duties to make you more involved in every stage of the investigation, even though a real FBI agent wouldn't be doing this stuff.

Then the stairs collapse and you have to figure out how to get out. Well, I guess it's not really central to the role I was expecting, but it fits. I can handle that. And back at the station I can't hand in the camera until someone tells me to, but that's a minor quibble. So far, so good.

Now onto Victoria's father's house where I'm going to look at my grandfather Gustav's journal for some reason. I, the player, know that his old case is going to tie into this one somehow from reading reviews, but it seems pretty weird from my character's perspective to be doing this just now, but OK, you've got to hook this into the plot somehow. I just wish her father wasn't such a dick about not telling you the combination and leaving you to figure it out, because that puzzle was obnoxious.

Chapter 2: Gustav, a private investigator

Hmm. Another combination lock puzzle. Why can't anyone just tell you how to open locks that they actually want you to open? Why are you making it difficult for me to do the things that you want me to do, you fuckers? Fuck this, I'll just use a walkthrough for this, because I'm sure I could work it out, but I'm not going to waste my time.

OK, now here's some more proper investigation, comparing the photo of the crime scene to what's there now. It's a pity everything so damn hard to see, but that's not insurmountable. And this leads to a very interesting scene in which we meet a weird coach driver who will no doubt be central to the whole plot, and get a ring which is obviously some key piece of evidence.

Exchanging favours with a local cop to get some guy out of jail so he can arrange for me to meet a contact. Nice. Things are moving along very satisfactorily here, and we're back to the present.

Chapter 3: Victoria

OK, the boss is a dick apparently, but we've got a lead. It's a long shot, but we'll get to question a suspect. Nothing much revealed here, but it's early days. Stealing some garbage to get a fingerprint is nice, and explains why that fingerprinting equipment is so prominently displayed in the office.

Now there's nothing to do but wait, so I'll... bake some gingerbread men? What? This isn't a cutscene, it's an actual part of the game? And the recipe is written in code? What the fuck? Why is this happening? What possible consequence can this have on the plot? (Spoiler: None) Walkthrough time again, because fuck this shit.

Chapter 4: Gustav

Breaking into the police station and stealing some files, OK, that's cool. More photos, so I guess I'll do that "spot the difference" puzzle again. And one more time because apparently they thought this puzzle was brilliant (it's not). Apparently the cop assigned to this case isn't just a dick, he's involved somehow, and now I've got a couple more rings. Obviously they're some sort of signature the killer is leaving behind and will no doubt be key to solving the whole thing.

Going to visit this artist guy's house, because he seems a bit sketchy, but he's not home. I guess now I finally have a use for the lockpicks I picked up ages ago, and... oh my god, this is literally the worst puzzle in the history of the universe. I'm pretty sure I could take a course in lockpicking and learn to pick real locks in less time than it would take for me to solve this bullshit. Thank fuck for walkthroughs.

But snooping around the artist's house yields more interesting information, looks like he's the killer and the cop is covering for him. Seems like I've pretty much got this one in the bag.

Chapter 5: Victoria

Looks like the next victim is supposed to be at the art gallery right now, which is handy, because my character's boyfriend works there. Too late, of course, she's already dead, and it looks like this girl Mia is the next victim, so naturally I'll have a protective detail assigned to her... or just get Victoria's boyfriend to watch her, because he's a gallery curator, he can handle a serial killer, no problem, right?

Now, I had wanted to get into this secret club to find the latest victim, but since she's already dead I'm not really sure why I want to go there, but that's the only place left to go. Making a fake pass to get in is pretty straight-forward and makes sense, but once we get inside there's a whole bunch of bullshit to find the combination to yet another lock (what is it with combination locks with cryptic clues in this game?) and then fetch some random objects to open the next door, because... I don't know, this makes no sense. I don't even know why I want to get in there so badly.

And now I need to unlock another door, and this time it's a sliding piece puzzle instead of a combination lock. Which is even worse. This isn't security, it's just inconvenience! You can't come in unless you're willing to spend several minutes solving a stupid puzzle? What the fuck?

Oh, and once I get in I find out a good reason for wanting to get in here. Apparently this is where they keep their members list. And apparently the artist from Gustav's case was a member here, and now the FBI boss guy is a member. Clearly this is significant, he must be involved somehow, and that's why he was being a dick (and not because of my character's ridiculously unprofessional behaviour and blatant disrespect). I still don't know how my character knew there was something worth seeing in here, but never mind that because now we're going to flashback mode again, even though that's normally triggered by reading Gustav's journal and I don't have it here.

Chapter 6: Gustav

Alright, another murder, and now I'm barely ahead of the cops. The cutscene has the crooked cop shooting at me and so I hide, and... I guess he went away? No more shooting, no sign of any cops. They've just left me at the crime scene and fucked off.

Hmm, mysterious machine and some instructions for making it work. I don't know what it does or why I want it to do that, but since it's the only thing here, I guess I'll find out. Oh, it opens up a hidden tunnel, which Gustav knew was there because... ? Magic?

And now I have to navigate a stupid maze, which is not at all challenging or interesting, but does take a while. So I guess if you measure the value you get from a game in the amount of time it takes to complete, this is good value. Found another one of these rings, got six in all now. This is definitely going to be something important.

Oh, wait, no. They're just keys to yet another combination lock. The criminal mastermind was just dropping his keys at every crime scene, because apparently he's fucking retarded.

And it's only half the lock puzzle! Now I have to solve another bullshit sliding piece puzzle! Again, this does not make the lock more secure, it just makes it less convenient! Who the fuck designs a lock this way?

And apparently the killer is already here, and has brought Gustav's girlfriend with him. How did he get in? I unlocked the door with the keys he dropped all over the fucking city. What the fuck? And so now the killer kills the girl and gets away and we return to the present.

Chapter 7: Victoria

Wait, what? Where the fuck am I? What's happening? Somehow I'm back at the art gallery and Victoria's boyfriend is explaining the significance of various paintings painted by the serial killer from Gustav's time? OK, so we already know that the modern killer is a copycat, so this could provide valuable information, except that the artist was never caught and so no one knows these paintings are of his victims, so the explanations mean nothing. And there's about a billion of them and they go on forever and are about as interesting as you'd expect bullshit explanations of fictional artworks to be.

After this I collect some more info on the artist and leave, leaving the killer's next planned victim (Mia) with Victoria's boyfriend again, because apparently Victoria is retarded.

Back at the station, Victoria decides that the best course of action is to steal police files. OK, we know the boss is probably covering something up, but there has got to be a better way to go about this. OK, no, this is the only option. After stealing his keys, we go down to the records department. Which is right next to the bomb squad's room. Where they keep the machine guns. For some reason.

And apparently the security on the records office is way more intense than on the bomb squad room, because the way to get to the former is to break into the latter, steal a robot and use it to break in. And now we discover that the records office is protected by deadly lasers. Deadly. Lasers. I could have walked out of here with a bunch of machine guns and a robot, but god forbid I get access to any old case files.

After breaking into the super high-tech records department I find that all the files relating to the case against Gustav's serial killer are missing. Most were "deleted" in the '30s (WTF?), but one was apparently stolen by Gustav. And even though they knew he took it, no one bothered to go get it back.

Pausing only to get fired for breaking and entering, vandalism and theft, Victoria heads back to her father's house to look for that file. It turns out it's hidden in a painting for some reason (good luck figuring that out, especially if you already noticed that painting before, because there was nothing to find there until you knew to look for the file), and thank god she did, because it is full of information so valuable that it has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the game.

Victoria is then called to investigate a disturbance at the university, because apparently news of her new job status has not yet spread very far, only to find that apparently her boyfriend is just as stupid as she is and has let Mia wander off by herself, and Mia is now in terrible danger. So naturally it's time to go back to the art gallery to look at those paintings again.

By a process known in the trade as "fucking bullshit", Victoria discovers the location where the killer has taken Mia and goes there. Finding the killer she shoots him and his body falls into the water, losing his mask too late for you to see who it was, and is not recovered.

And that's fucking it. No fucking closure on this at all. Is your former boss involved? Who fucking knows? Who was the killer? No fucking idea. Who was the mysterious coachman? Some dude, I guess. Did any part of this make any fucking sense at all? No. Not a fucking bit.

Final Thoughts

The worst thing about this game is that it could have been so good. At the start it seems like you're being given all this information and asked to collect evidence and shit so that you can actually solve the mystery. But no, that's just background information, for flavour. You pretty much don't have to read any of it. A few things help you understand the story, but most of it is a complete waste of time and only raises questions that you're not going to get the answers to.

There are several ways they could have included puzzles integral to solving the case, but instead they just bolt random arbitrary puzzles on and then deliver the plot-advancing bits in cutscenes. Sure, the cutscenes are pretty cool, but I'd really like to feel like I was actually involved, not like I was playing a puzzle game while watching an unrelated cartoon.

The best example, I feel, are the clues in the paintings. Instead of letting you use them to figure out the killer's next move, they just let you use them to figure out the numbers for some of the billion combination locks scattered throughout the game. And almost every puzzle is like this, you don't figure out things related to the actual plot, you figure out an unrelated puzzle and then you get rewarded with a cutscene. Such a massive fucking wasted opportunity.

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