My first experiences in gaming were all in the point and click adventure genre and I have quite a few in my collection. I have fond memories of some of them, but once introduced to shooters and action games, returning to this genre can prove a bit of a challenge to the old patience. There's a lot of thumb-twiddling involved while the character slowly walks to a clicked destination and it's a bit like watching paint dry. If the game is well done, this drawback might be overcome by good puzzles, a well-written story, and interesting visual environments, but unfortunately, many of these games rely on having you continually retracing your steps through the same locations. This can get quite tedious and Still Life is no exception in that regard. However, in its favor is the inclusion of two playable characters with two interconnecting storylines.
Special Agent Victoria McPherson is a FBI profiler working on a serial killer case. The story starts with the investigation of the crime scene of victim number 5. With each murder, the team assigned to this case remains stymied and no closer to identifying the perpetrator. Other members of the team include Victoria's partner, her boss, the coroner, and an uniformed cop. In her immediate circle, peripherally, there is also her father and her boyfriend.
The story takes place at Christmas and is interspersed with Victoria's visits to her father at their family home. During one of these, she becomes curious to learn more of her dead grandparents and decides to look in the attic for information. She finds a notebook belonging to Gustave McPherson who was a detective in the late 1920's and worked on a similar serial killer case in Prague. As the game progresses, any time Victoria reads his notes, the game shifts to his story and you play him. Thereafter, it shifts back and forth between the two, paralleling the similar cases.
The plot is not really deeply developed and provides no surprises. There is also no real attempt at false trails to throw you off track. In Gustave's case, when you get to a certain point in his story, you will have no problem identifying who the killer is. Victoria's case, on the other hand, seems to take a gigantic leap that has little to do with evidence building and as such makes less demand on the player to connect the dots. There is also little satisfaction in the end, as the killer remains unidentified, which I assume is a lead-in to Still Life 2. Unfortunately, there just isn't enough incentive in the story to excite any interest in the sequel and in this genre, good writing is essential.
Victoria is portrayed as a rebel without a cause, taking on the role of a stereotypical cop who doesn't get along with her boss. Unfortunately, it's not pulled off really well. She's just not a believable character and her dialogue is like some cheesy cop flick. In addition, she takes stuff from the crime scenes, walks all over bloody evidence, destroys FBI property and equipment and doesn't have the least clue that she's doing anything wrong. Her reasons for behaving like a spoiled brat, although hinted at, are never revealed and the game gives us no reason to sympathize with her. Gustave, on the other hand, is more believable as a detective and his story the more interesting of the two. Both stories are old as the hills, though - serial killer kills prostitutes in Jack the Ripper style. Certainly nothing innovative there.
As far as gameplay, what to do next is usually made fairly plain with clues in the dialogue or notes, although there were one or two places where it wasn't clear at all. Puzzles range from fairly easy to just ridiculously hard, like the lock picking, which has approximately 27 steps in order to beat it. You will probably have to consult walkthroughs on a couple of these.
The graphical surroundings are probably the best part being quite elaborate and often colorful, although in a few scenes detail is hard to distinguish. However, for the most part, there's not much to complain about. The controls are easy and smooth, but the menu doesn't provide much choice for optimization. However, the game does load and quit extremely fast, which is good. There is also a manual save function.
This game is fairly mediocre in terms of a point and click adventure, but passes a few enjoyable enough hours if you like the genre. However, the character, Victoria McPherson, fails to make any positive connection with the player. I think there are probably better examples in this category. Still Life is the second installment of a trilogy with Post Mortem being the first. It concerns one of Gustave's earlier cases.
Still Life 2, which was released in 2009, continues the story, but the location has moved to Maine. It also switches between two playable characters, but now involves a reporter named Paloma Hernandez.