Post Mortem Review

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Publisher: The Adventure Company
Developer: Microids

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 350 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 16 MB DirectX 7 compatible video card, 16x CD ROM drive

After retiring to the quiet streets of Paris to pursue a life of painting, Gus Macpherson could not escape his true art. The former New York detective finds himself walking the beat once again when hired by a sensuous woman to investigate the gruesome beheadings of her sister and brother-in-law. In the dark and mysterious streets of Paris, while plagued by his clairvoyant sixth sense, Gus will uncover a conspiracy written in blood entangled with rituals and artifacts as old as time itself!

Robin Kwong

Of all the different genres of computer games, the adventure game is arguably the one that most closely resembles, and really grew out of, its predecessors: the novel and the movie. Just as 1940s and 50s film noir, such as The Big Sleep, and The Maltese Falcon, brought the novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett to the silver screen, Post Mortem is an attempt to bring the world and the atmosphere of those movies to your monitor.

The most compelling aspect of an adventure game is not just attaining a goal, but the process of getting there – namely, the adventure. In this respect, Post Mortem is largely successful, if not flawless. However, an adventure game is more than just a CGI movie – it is also a game, and as a game, Post Mortem fails to live up to its storyline.

As in many adventure games, you take on the identity of the protagonist (Gus), and are placed in a world with places to visit, people to talk to and items to manipulate. From a first-person perspective, you see a mix of beautifully rendered 2D backgrounds and 3D people models. The mouse cursor changes when it passes over relevant objects or areas, allowing you to pick up objects, look closer at something or initiate dialogue with a simple click of the mouse. The controls are intuitive and simple, but ultimately limited. Although you can rotate your viewpoint by moving the mouse to the edge of the screen, your character cannot move around freely. The game has discrete spots that you can move between in each area, and this severely limits the sense of realism and of actually being part of the game. Moreover, the dynamic mouse cursor and the often dark interiors mean that lots of time is spent madly waving the mouse across every inch of the screen to ensure no clue escapes your notice.

Good noir film dialog is witty, scathing and a joy to hear. (Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep: "You're not too smart, are you? I like that in a man.") Yet, apart from the opening line, there are precious few such moments in Post Mortem. The dialogue system never transcends the standard "dialogue tree", and sometimes fails to respond to events that transpire in the game. Occasionally the conversation options simply do not make sense. There are times when the lip-sync is noticeably off, and the voice acting borders on the annoying. Given all this, one of the greatest flaws in the game is that there is no button to skip dialog sequences. You must sit through everything – even if you've heard it before.

Outside of discussions with other characters, Myst-style puzzles are integral to the game and pop up frequently. A number of these are well-designed and challenging. Others are less so. Ultimately they all detract from the positives that can be found. Nearly all the puzzles constitute a checkpoint in the narrative, meaning that there is no way to avoid them and no way to progress any further in the game without solving them. The puzzles themselves are challenging and often offer very few clues. What takes the puzzles from challenging to frustrating is that, the game rarely makes it clear what the parameters of the puzzles are. It is easy to miss a spot on the screen where the cursor changes shape (identifying an interactive object) and waste hours futilely trying to solve an entirely different problem.

Post Mortem, with its beautiful graphics and decent storyline, works best as an interactive movie. Inserting these self-contained puzzles, which may have only a tenuous link to to the plot, seems gratuitous and unnecessary, and stops the story in its tracks while you struggle with the puzzle. It causes the narrative to stagnate and chops the story up into episodes when they should be one continuous sequence of events.

The atmosphere Post Mortem manages to create partly redeems the game. Stunning 2D artwork serves as the backdrop for the game and contributes to gripping cut-scenes. The sound and background music is competent, but could do with more variation (the same track is always used for each given location). Having certain red-herring items also adds depth to the game, but it would have had more impact if the player actually had to use more items during the course of the game. As it stands, most items serve to open dialogue options and the game will use the item for you automatically in the proper circumstances.

Post Mortem is like a good joke spoiled by poor delivery, and testimony to the fact that, despite the recent blurring of the distinction between games and movies (Final Fantasy the movie, Blair Witch Project the computer game series), they remain different media and are governed by different standards and criteria. It may have made a decent movie, but as a game, it simply doesn't measure up.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on April 5, 2003 2:48 PM.

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