Category Archives: Puzzle

Game Review: Post Mortem

Way back in 2015 (does that count as way back?) I reviewed a murder mystery-adventure game called Still Life.  In the review, I lamented that this game was, unbeknownst to me at time of playing, the second in a trilogy.  Two years later I’m finally getting around to playing the first, confusingly named Post Mortem, thus not hinting at any sort of connection at a glance.

Somewhat fortunately, Still Life (& its direct sequel Still Life 2, which I’ll be playing next) is more of a spin-off than a direct sequel to Post Mortem.  And after going back over the plot of Still Life, I can attest that, aside from introducing one of the main characters from Still Life, there’s no real carry-over that took away from my understanding of the subsequent title.

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So what is the plot?  Post Mortem plants us in the role of Gustav McPherson, who after retiring from being a private investigator moves to Paris in the 40’s to become an artist.  At least that’s his goal, until one evening a mysterious woman enters his studio to hire him to investigate the brutal murder of her sister and brother-in-law.  Possessing passive psychic abilities, Gus received a vision of the murders as they were committed, and thus agrees — the large sum of money the lady offers doesn’t hurt.  The oddly ritualistic murders lead Gus down a trail of occultism and shadowed motives.

Gameplay is very old-school point-&-click adventure game stuff.  You direct Gus around various environments, snatching evidence and clues, talking to people, and doing general detective work.  There’s a strong emphasis on speaking with people, with the correct dialogue choices in some cases affecting the path you take later in the game.  For example, tell the front desk clerk at the hotel where the murder occurred you’re an insurance rep & he’ll let you in, but tell him you’re a detective & he’ll kick you out, blocking off that part of the investigation.  And of course there are puzzles to unlock various evidence or progress the story.


Narrative: I’m not an expert on the subject, but at least to me Post Mortem gives a very strong film noir vibe.  It literally starts with a sultry femme fatale walking into the office of a man who’s given up on being a detective & being all secretive about offering him a very shady, & lucrative, job offer.  From there we deal with corrupt police giving a show of investigating the murders but being useless & corrupt, artist/bar owners who double as fences, street-wise prostitutes the detective falls in love with… all the usual suspects in film noir.  Betrayal & uncertainty abound around every corner, all set within the seedy pretentiousness of old Paris.  When I think about it, a lot of Post Mortem feels like it draws directly from other sources.  First film noir & detective fiction, then from occult fiction.  Towards the end of the game we’re dealing with alchemy, immortality & the Templars, of all things.  It’s difficult to tell if these beats are intentional homages & genuine inspiration or just following a formula.  Things like the Templars & the occult are pretty commonplace today, but Post Mortem originally came out in 2002, before Assassin’s Creed made such themes more salient in gamers’ consciousness.

That being said, I did find the story a bit of fresh air, thanks in large part to Gus’ character.  He’s not some brooding, guilt-&-alcohol riddled PI, as seems to have become the norm in such stories today.  Although the game does mention he’s “retired” for unknown reasons & suggests he fled to Paris, it’s not really focused on aside from giving him reluctance in the beginning.  Though at times he’s written a bit like a wet-cloth, Gus comes across as a generally nice guy who strives to uncover the truth to bring justice to the right people.  He acts like a normal person would, psychic abilities notwithstanding, & thus makes for a good proxy character for players.  He gets frustrated when people impede his path, shows compassion & caring for those wronged, & generally isn’t motivated by greed.  Even the secondary characters, although suspicious at times, never come across as strictly evil or one-note.  They seem, for the most part, like normal people in extraordinary circumstances.

As for the story itself, I felt it came across a bit disjointed.  I feel this is a standard adventure-game problem, where you know your overall goal, but end up randomly bouncing around places for so long that by the time you get what you need to progress your goal, you’ve forgotten it.  For example, early on I recognized that I either needed the old newspaper-pen routine to get a key from a locked door.  By the time I got them, I’d forgotten what I needed them for.  Sometimes it is more straight-forward, like being told by the police you need a sketch of the suspect so you go see the barman who saw the guy.  There were also times when Gus seemed to know things before I’d asked or come to conclusion I’d never thought of.  Some questioning branches repeat, such as learning from mystery woman about the Head of Baphomet, only to ask another question later about it as if he’d never heard of it.  Or toward the end when I took a picture of a dead guy, which I presented as evidence that Gus claimed proved he couldn’t have been the murderer because he’d been dead for too long.  Which was true, but at no point did the game suggest this was the case.  I think, to that end, another big problem is that Gus never comments or speculates on anything he sees during the investigation.  He’ll write notes sometimes, but the game never prompts you to look at what he’s written, so a lot of times I’d find myself doing things without understanding the connection but blindly stumbling into it.

Overall, while I appreciate the mystery itself & some of the characters, the story could be told more competently.

Score: 3


Mechanics: I mentioned it in the last paragraph, but I’ll mention it again here as it’s both a narrative & mechanical fault I had with the game: the lack of feedback between game & player.  I really didn’t like that Gus never comments aloud on anything during the investigations.  Although the game keeps track, it’s entirely up to the player to solve the problems.  On its own, that’s fine, but they need to make the gameplay aid that.  I wish that whenever you read a file or Gus makes a note about something, it would automatically take you to his notebook to see what he wrote.  You don’t even automatically read anything you pick up, or know what it is until you examine it in your inventory.  This caused a major problem for me at one point when the game bugged out & I couldn’t read any notes.

This seems to be a common bug people experience after picking up de Allepin’s file from Dr. Kaufner’s office where once you’ve read the file you can’t read any other note but will see “cannot locate source” messages in your notebook.  After this point, I was limited to only being able to access the coroner & journalist notes.  This doesn’t prevent you from playing further, but without Gus’ notes you’ll be running blind.

I found that, after picking up the book on Templars, if I went to the notes by selecting the book, instead of pulling up documents from the menu, I could access my files appropriately.  Not sure if that will work using other documents to access.

Gameplay revolves mostly around two activities: talking to people & solving puzzles.  Sadly, I was disappointed that the game favored the former.  I play adventure games for the exploration & puzzles, which Post Mortem pushed to the background.  Yeah, a detective would ask a lot of questions to witnesses, but I would’ve preferred a better balance.  In fact, puzzles only come into play in the last third of the game, & there were only five in total (including one that basically auto-solves once you’ve found all the pieces).  It’s a shame because they were pretty good puzzles, taking a bit of brain power to solve without being impenetrable.  There was a nice variety, as well.  I would’ve liked more detectiving in this detective story.

Two other mechanics that I’ll briefly touch on, because I liked them, were that you can control your view with the mouse rather than having to click to turn in any direction, & that the ending you get depends exclusively on how well you investigated & collected evidence.  There were a lot of things you can collect along the way that doesn’t play into any puzzle or seem to help the case progress other than confirming the player’s conclusions.  But it’s all worth it in the end to go through the final big dialogue tree, presenting all this evidence you’ve been collecting up to that point.  It’s very satisfying to be like, “Bam!  Here’s their passports showing they weren’t who they claimed.  And here’s a written statement from the person who hired them.  And here’s the strange powder you found in the murder room that I made in the dead man’s house.”  Actually, it’s kinda funny how lax the law was in Paris in the 40’s or whenever this is set.  They don’t seem to care about me claiming to break into places, including crime scenes & influential banker’s houses where I claim to have found the man dead, or withholding evidence.  My modern sensibilities were like, “Why did you pick up the murder weapon with your bare hands?”

Overall, while there were some really nice puzzles in the game, as well as some chuckle-worthy shenanigans, I felt the lack of feedback between game & player & emphasis on sending me chatting with random people rather than looking for clues dragged the experience down.

Score: 3


Aesthetics: Obviously, since this game was made in 2002, the graphics look dated.  For the time, they were probably on-point.  Other games made during this time were Morrowind, Hitman 2 & Eternal Darkness, & I think the graphics matched those games.  The cutscenes still look pretty nice, as do most of the environments, even if they look a bit blurred now.  I found the character movements generally pretty smooth, although the characters posture oddly at times.  During dialogue, Gus always stands with his hands clasped together like he’s holding a case — which he is in cutscenes but never in dialogue.  They also have a lot of repeated stock movements, but at least they always fit with what the person was saying.

The audio I don’t think held up quite as well.  There’s nothing wrong with the background noise or music, & I liked that each environment has its own theme.  But the acting… my God.  The voices themselves are fine, & usually the acting is okay.  But there were quite a few scenes where I was laughing at their attempts at emotion.  *affect dry tone* Yes, Gus, I can tell you’re really broken up over your friend’s brutal murder.  You sound like you’ve been crying for hours, Bebe.  But bless them, they’re trying.

Score: 3


Replay Value: Low to moderate.  As I said, there are some different paths based on choices, but they all lead to the same end.  There are basically four endings, a good & bad based on if you found all the evidence, & then two twists on each of those outcomes based on your last choice.  I’d say save your game at the start of the final act &, if you don’t have all the evidence, go find it.  Otherwise, there’s not much point to playing a second time.

Score: 2


Breakdown

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Final Score: 3

Final Word: While there are some nice elements to Post Mortem, there are definitely better adventure/mystery games out there.  I can’t see this really capturing anyone’s attention, & it feels like nothing will be missed by skipping it.  If you can get it as a bundle with the Still Life games, maybe check it out.  Otherwise I’d pass.

– GamerDame

Title: Post Mortem
Consoles: PC
Rating: M
Developer: Microids
Publishers: Microids, The Adventure Company
Release Date: Febuary 28, 2003

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Filed under 3, Adventure, PC, Puzzle, Reviews

Game Review: Inside

The end of the year was the perfect time for me to take a vacation of sorts, allowing me to recharge & not even think about work or worry about the constant emails I get on a daily basis.  Fortunately this also coincided with several year-end game sales, thus allowing me to aid in this recharging by spending uninterrupted hours catching up on some games I was interested in but hadn’t gotten around to buying.  Playdead’s acclaimed Inside was one such game that I completed in a single sitting.  I’ve gone on record of saying that Playdead’s previously acclaimed game, Limbo, was a visual feast but suffered (in my personal opinion) from some frustrating puzzles & impenetrable story.  So have they improved with Inside?

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As with their previous game, what exactly is going on in Inside is debatable, but what’s apparent from the plot is that you control a faceless boy who must traverse a desolate, post-apocalyptic landscape while avoiding armed guards, rabid beasts, human-hunting machines & apparently failed human experiments to reach some indeterminate end goal.  What is the boy’s goal at the end of his journey inside the imposing factory?  Does he even know?

Inside is 2.5D sidescrolling puzzle-platformer.  Kid (as I took to calling him as he’s never given a name) must navigate a series of obstacles & puzzles to continue forward.  He can run, jump, climb, push & pull.  There are also sections where he must utilize mind-control helmets to control drone-people to help him solve puzzles, as well as an underwater section involving diving tank.


256-inside-screenshot-1466596552Narrative: There’s a fine line between being open to interpretation & being as opaque as a brick wall, but I feel Inside strikes the right balance between telling us what’s going on & letting players interpret events.  The term “visual storytelling” gets thrown around a lot in game media, but Inside is an example of putting this idea into practice & doing it well.  Without a single line of spoken dialogue or text (in fact, I don’t think there’s any text anywhere in the entire game), Inside perfectly portrays its world, & we instantly empathize with the challenges the Kid has to overcome.  The very first moment of the game is the Kid climbing out of a hole in some rocks & coming across a barrier, with mindless drone-people being loaded into the back of a shady truck, all while surrounded by glowing tanks & armed, masked guards.  Whatever’s going on, it’s not good.

Inside also does an excellent job of exemplifying “transformational media,” or the idea that each person who views a piece of media will take away their own unique experience.  Because the plot is just vague enough for us to never truly be sure of what’s going on, we build our own interpretations, & thus the story changes a little bit for each person.  The way I interpret events might be different from the next person.  Who is the Kid?  Did he intend for the outcome?  What really happened to this world?  But it leaves just enough questions unanswered to make us what to see what comes next.

I also have to say I really enjoyed the setting for Inside… if you can enjoy an oppressive, potentially doomed world.  Not only are there strong Orwellian, 1984 vibes, but it reminded me a lot of a short-story we read in high school called Harrison Bergeron (check it out if you’re a fan of dystopian science fiction).  Everything is dark & depressing, & each obstacles builds on the horror, making us think the worst of this world.  Outrunning guards, controlling drones, watching what remains of society staring blankly on as they seemingly purchase these drone-people, failed experiments, & finally the Hive Mind… I found the ending genuinely distressing.  Not something to be “happy” about, but if that was the goal of the developers, they succeeded in spades.

Overall, an intriguing mystery that will have you thinking about the game long after you’ve stopped playing.

Score: 5


2016_0719in06Mechanics: I really feel that Playdead perfected the mechanics they set out to create in Limbo with Inside.  The controls are simple & responsive.  Heck, there’s only three controls, really.  Movement with the left stick, jump & grab.  Simple, but everything controls like it’s supposed to.  I didn’t experience any frustrating lags in the Kid doing what I said or ungainliness like I did in Limbo.

The puzzles are also vastly improved.  Playdead seemed to realize that the fun & challenge in a puzzle should come from figuring it out, not in precision timing.  Of course, that might also be due to Inside being less about the futility of action & being stuck in a limbo of death & failure.  The puzzles have just the right amount of difficulty, with the solutions coming very naturally from the player’s experimentation & exploration of the environment.  There’s also a nice variety of puzzles or obstacles, mixing strategic thinking & timing.  I think my favorite was in the flooded base when you have to bait the water baby/siren thing to different parts of the water to give you time to reach the next switch.  Yes, these require timing, but to the point of making you feel tense as you try to swim away from the water baby, & not frustrating.  Although you will probably die several times, it never became frustrating to me, & the checkpoint system is very forgiving so you’ll typically restart right before you died.

Overall, smooth, solid controls & great puzzle-platforming design.

Score: 5


851099-inside-windows-screenshot-the-boy-was-shot-let-s-try-thatAesthetics: I find it funny that when I initially saw footage of Inside, I immediately thought it was from Playdead.  The art style is very similar to Limbo, utilizing atmospheric lighting, heavy shadows & imposing scenery.  The art style is suitably gloomy, & the developers clearly paid a lot of attention to detail.  For example, the Kid’s red shirt is some of the only color in the game.  Everything feels muted.  Another detail that makes me wonder about its narrative significance is the fact that people don’t have faces, but specific people are shown wearing masks with faces on them, like the guards & “regular” citizens.  What does it mean?  And while I’m a little loathe to do so, I give Playdead credit for creating something that made me feel a bit nauseous.  The Hive Mind at the end seriously grossed me out.  I’m not sure if it’s a body horror thing, a blob thing, or the way it moved, but it was very effective.

The musical & sound direction were also spot on.  There’s actually not a lot of “music” in the game, but in its place, we have atmospheric sounds that really help with immersion.  I actually paused the game in the beginning to see if my TV had a headphone jack so I could take in every little sound (sadly, it didn’t).  But again, I think it’s the attention to detail.  Little things like the irregular sound of rain, or that deep booming tone that sounded straight out of Inception, or even how everything goes silent & muted underwater.  Without proper dialogue, everything’s portrayed through noise.  And portrayed effectively.

Overall, shows supberb attention to detail both in terms in visual presentation & ambient sound.

Score: 5


Replay Value: Moderate.  While this could certainly be a one-&-done game, I think there’s a lot to it that makes it replayable.  For one, it’s fairly short.  I think it took me about three hours.  There’s also an alternate ending that requires you to find all the secret orbs hidden throughout the game.  You can replay from any checkpoint, which is fairly frequent.  And just the mystery of the plot makes it so you’ll want to play again to try to understand it better.  To really take your time & explore to uncover all the mysteries.  Score: 4


Breakdown

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Final Score: 5

Final Word: I didn’t realize until writing this review that I literally have nothing bad to say against Inside, & that’s never happened before, not even with my favorite games.  That fact alone means I can’t help by recommend this game to every gamer.  While the open-ended story might not appeal to everyone, the only people I can really see not finding something to enjoy about Inside are those who only play one specific franchise (like Madden or Call of Duty).

– GamerDame

Title: Inside
Consoles: PS4, PC, XB1
Rating: M
Developer: Playdead
Publisher: Playdead
Release Date: June 29, 2016

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Filed under 5, PC, Platformer, PS4, Puzzle, Reviews, XBox One