Sunday, December 12, 2010

Review: Memento Mori (PC)

Memento Mori was released in 2008 for the PC and is a classic point&click adventure. The game puts the player into the roles of Larisa Svetlova, an Interpol art theft specialist, and Maxime Durand, an art forger who was caught, but set free in exchange for offering his talents to the police. The two work together and try to solve the mysterious theft of some paintings and a connections of that theft with an ancient religious cult. This review was done based on the German language version, an additional English language version is not provided on the disc.

The game is presented in full real-time 3D with the gameplay itself following classic 2D point&click conventions. The 3D nature of the graphics is only used for a small handful of puzzles and sometimes to provide a split-screen close up of what the character is currently doing, but stays otherwise completely in the background, with mostly static cameras or only very limited panning movements. The graphics themselves are fine for most part, nothing spectacular, but nothing to ugly either. The characters however could have used a little more detail, they lack in polygons and animation and lip syncing is also basically non-existent. Even in the few pre-rendered cutscenes that the game provides the character models don't look much better. Demand on the graphics card is relatively heavy given the relative simplicity of the graphics, but nothing that a bit of tweaking in the graphics setting couldn't fix.

The controls are typical for today's modern adventure games, a left click will do an context sensitive action (use, pick up, talk to, etc.) while a right click will cause the character to look at an object. A double click will cause the character to run or quick-travel between rooms. Pressing the Tab key will highlight all usable objects in the current room. An unusual addition to the formula is that objects can only be looked at once, after that the object marker disappears and the object becomes a part of the background. This doesn't change the gameplay as important objects can be used multiple times as usual, it simply avoids the repeated phrases that one has already heard.

Object in the inventory and sometimes objects in the environment can be inspected up close in a 3D view. That 3D view can be rotated to uncover things hidden on the backside of an object, in a similar fashion as the first Resident Evil game did.

The dialog interface is one of the weirds parts of this game, instead of the regular dialog trees or topic based discussion, the interface is always limited to three choices "positive", "negative" and "question". While this might sound similar to the moral choice systems presented in modern RPG games, the game hardly ever goes in that direction, most dialog in the game is the usual stuff and often neither of the three choices really makes much sense in the context of the game. Additionally it is also not very clear what the choices actually mean, in some situation they are used as "yes/no" style answers, but in many other they seem to reflect the emotional stance of the character or simply have no real understandable meaning at all. The dialog choice is also bound to a time limit, like in other games such as Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy, but that time limit feels meaningless, as it is to long to even matter with only three choices and one is hardly ever presented with a dialog that would require time to put thought into the choice.

The voice work in the game is competent overall, with well known professional speakers, but in large parts a bit flat and emotionless. One noticeable issue is that the voice work lacks any kind of dialect, which given that the game takes place in quite a few different countries across Europe, feels out of place.

The puzzles in the game are pretty much all on the easy side, even without using the Tab key to show hotspots I didn't had any issues getting through the game. In addition a large part of the game isn't so much driven by actual puzzles and exploration one the players side, but by phone calls and email conversations. This can sometimes be a bit confusing as every now and then the player is left without a clear task in already explored terrain only to then receive a phone call in the next room that drives the story forward. Some of the puzzles are also a little uncreative, feeling more like something you would encounter at work then in a game.

The story in Memento Mori feels a bit uneven. It starts out with the characters doing basically their routine every day jobs, which is fine for an introduction, but then fails to really accelerate, as it continues to just plot along without anything to exiting happening. The cutscenes that the game inserts between chapters are also a little weird, as they try to go for a spooky horror feel and manage that for most part reasonably well, but then that feel isn't actually mirrored by the actual game itself, which feels more like your typical lighthearted adventure stuff, except without any attempt at jokes. This only really changes right at the end, where a sudden plot twist mixes things up and lets the story take a more dramatic route, but at that point you are just a few minutes away from seeing the credits role and that just isn't enough for a 10 hour game. The twist at the end, even so obviously derivative, is however well done and helps to give a few weird moments previously in the game some meaning.

The game bolsters itself on the box with providing a dynamic story and eight different endings, but you don't really see much of that in the actual game, as it moves along like your regular linear adventure game. There seem to be two main endings with the rest just being alterations of text and voice overs and which of those you get is decided on your performance on a few puzzles in the game and other things you did or didn't do in the game. However the game doesn't really make clear what is a critical decision and what is not and neither of those seems alter the actual route the story takes, so they don't really add replayability.

Overall Memento Mori is a competent, but in large part unremarkable adventure game. I enjoyed the ending, but too much that came before it was just not very interesting and instead of slowly uncovering a mystery, the game basically uncovered it all at once for you right at the end. Too much of the game felt like filler that really didn't have any meaning for the core story that it tried to tell. Also the game remains in large part very stationary, having the player revisiting old locations again and again, without ever really getting anywhere. The typical adventure feel of going around the world and traveling to interesting locations is mostly missing, even so the story would have given plenty of excuse for doing that.

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