Forget about Sherlock Holmes and leave Inspector Gadget in the car. Developed and published by The Adventure Company, Still Life takes you back to the almost forgotten, once-almighty genre, of adventure games. You play as rookie FBI agent Victoria McPherson investigating a series of gory crimes in modern day Chicago, involving murdered prostitutes. Disturbingly, this particular case seems to bare an eerie similarity to a case her grandfather, FBI agent Gustav McPherson was investigating in Prague 75 years ago. The gameplay switches between the storylines as the two generations of agents struggle to piece together clues that will solve the crimes.
Players are thrown directly into the game starting at the gruesome crime scene of a murdered prostitute. So you don't find yourself totally overwhelmed and lost, an unobtrusive tutorial presents itself in the first level, as Victoria thinks out loud to guide you along the road to sleuthing greatness. The game is filled with forensic style puzzles, ranging from fingerprint dusting, breaking codes, intricate arranging of levers, to the more mundane combining of objects scattered around the place. The snail-like pace of the game is well balanced out by some truly creepy, fast-paced cut scenes guaranteed to leave you checking under the bed before you retire at night.
The controls are fairly basic and quick to master, but the game has more than a hint of a PC 'point and click' feel to it, so playing Still Life on a console can often seem plodding and slow. All of the backgrounds are pre-rendered; meaning interactive items are few and far between and appear as interactive only once you approach them on the screen. Moving between areas involves a split second delay, which can end up feeling like a five minute delay the hundredth time you enter or exit the same room searching for an overlooked clue. An upside to the slow pace is however, the large amount of joy created from finding a very small clue, or solving a simple puzzle. This is adventure gaming at its purest - big thrills from simple successes.
While the pre-rendered backgrounds can occasionally feel like your character has just wandered onto a film set, the amount of detail able to be shown in each setting more than makes up for this, and the graphic gore is guaranteed to shock and impress if nothing else does the trick. Conversations with NPCs verge on interesting, but seem to pull back at the last minute so they lack any sort of punch. Victoria's dialogue lines are cheesy and her conversation seems automatic and abrupt. On the other hand her grandfather's dialogue comes across as sincere and heartfelt, giving the impression he actually cares for the prostitutes he's trying to save from an untimely death.
The overall atmosphere is moody and creepy with run down buildings and heavy fog giving it an unobtrusive noir vibe. The music complements each setting well doing a reasonable job of drawing players into the storyline. The frequent swearing and full-blown gore depicted in Still Life will definitely lend itself to a more mature gaming audience.
Still Life is far from lengthy and begs to be played on the PC, but has an interesting storyline, some engaging puzzles and one heck of a cliffhanger ending. While some people might not be able to look past its shortcomings, it will definitely give adventure game enthusiasts something solid to sink their teeth into for a couple of days.