Review by Sanjuro2

Reviewed: 06/28/04

There's So Many Things to Love About This Game, But the Result Isn't Quite the Sum of It's Parts

Let it be known: The French company Microids has created, in Post Mortem, a brave and often original adventure. It shares very much in common with Take 2's 1998 offering, Black Dahlia. Both games feature a detective in the leading role, both take place in the past (Mortem in 20's Europe, Dahlia in 40's America), both are presented in a first person perspective, and in both the player must interrogate suspects, uncover clues, and solve a number of puzzles. To Post Mortem's credit however, its puzzles feel less tacked-on, its interrogation sequences are more realistically open ended, and there are some absolutely fantastic moments that make it even more of a shame that the game didn't come together as well as it should have.

Post Mortem is the quest of Gus MacPherson, an expatriate American living in Paris, who has given up detective work in favor of a quieter life as an artist. He also has the bizarre ability to "see" elements of crimes long after they've been carried out, but this is never effectively explored or capitalized on in the game. In the beginning MacPherson is approached by the femme fatale, Sophia Blake, whose sister and brother-in-law have been disturbingly killed (is that an understatement for decapitation?) in a respectable Paris hotel. Sophia manages to convince MacPherson, who is apparently none too committed to his new quiet life, to track down both the killer and an item that was stolen from the murdered couple. Easier said than done...

I must admit that for several hours I was extremely caught up in this game. It starts out with a bang and maintains the momentum for quite a while. It plays like a film noir version of Zork Nemesis, Myst III: Exile, or Amerzone; you go from screen to screen and view the world around you in 360 degrees. The graphics are very attractive and more than adequately convey the feel of the 1920's. Nothing seems out of place or unbelievable for the time period (unlike the computer disks in Amerzone), and the world is very immersive due in no small part to the music, sound, and voice acting as well. Granted, some of the acting is poor (even one or two of the main characters), but I've heard much worse. Production values and a wonderful opening can only carry a game so far, however, before the rest of it begins to show its true colors.

First of all the story doesn't maintain the quality it begins with, eventually drifting off into supernatural territory which seems almost a disappointment given how effective the realism was up to that point. To make matters worse, it's a Knights Templar thing, which seems to have gotten even more popular to use in adventure games since Gabriel Knight 3 appeared on the scene (or was it the original Broken Sword that caused all of this?). Additionally, one of Post Mortem's greatest strengths ends up being one of its most damaging flaws. The game has multiple solutions to almost every puzzle. This is great, great stuff it would seem. There's something incredibly satisfying in being able to truly do things as you wish to do them. Let's say you need to get into a locked room. If you say the right things to the man who has the key, perhaps he'll give it to you. If instead you make him angry or hostile, you can try asking your buddy for a set of lock picks, and attempt to pick the lock yourself. Or maybe you can look through the keyhole, realize there's a key in the other side, put a newspaper under the door, poke the key out through the keyhole, and bring the paper back under the door with the key on it. Please understand, I loved the multiple choices offered by this game, but in the end I feel that they made the game short. Yes, indeed, the game is surprisingly brief, and I'm convinced that it's because the designers spent so much time with their ambitious "multiple solutions to every problem" format. That can really take it out of you; not to mention deplete your budget and whittle down your schedule. I'm not saying this is what happened, just that it feels that way.

What really upsets me even more about this game not being quite as good as I wish it had been, is that it features one of the coolest and most surprising sequences I've seen in any adventure game. It is reminiscent of Alone in the Dark 2 from way back in 1994, when you surprisingly switched from playing Edward Carnby (who gets captured) to playing the little girl Grace Saunders (who must rescue Carnby), but it's even better than that. After finally tracking down the major suspect in the game at the time, he claims he's innocent and decides to tell you his side of the story. And in a shocking flash of brilliance, you play this character's story! The choices you make determine how much you learn, and how much evidence you can supply to the main character for his case. You can play this flashback sequence quickly, missing entire locations, or you can play it thoroughly and uncover a great many things that help to explain what is going on. This segment of the game is a genuine diamond in the rough.

Still, even the "rough" isn't all that bad. The sin of this game is simply that it has so much promise, it's all the more disappointing to see it not entirely measure up. Even the ending is a letdown, though the puzzles are a strength in my view. I feel that they are logical, for the most part, and effectively integrated into the game world. In the final analysis, Post Mortem is a game of hits and misses. When it hits, it hits hard and effective. When it misses, it's still not a bad game. In fact I can't wait for Still Life, MacPherson's next adventure, because I believe that it will be a vast improvement that builds on those hits and rids itself of the misses. The involvement of the Syberia team may have something to do with my confidence, but I say: Bring it on!

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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