Most people have already heard of Frankenstein. Some might remember him from many horror movies where a crazed scientist would flip a switch and infuse life in a stitched collection of flesh and bones that would then walk around like a zombie, scaring the daylights out of everyone. Yet, this isn't how Mary Shelley, the author who gave life to the monster, envisioned the creature when she wrote Frankenstein. In it, the creature Dr. Frankenstein created and soon rejected asked little more than to be loved and accepted. It even managed to learn how to speak, showing that it would make the effort to be accepted in society. Unfortunately, common folks never accepted him and instead chose to reject him. The reason I'm mentioning all this is to point out that Microids' Post Mortem strikes me as being somewhat similar to Frankenstein and much like the monster, despite a noteworthy effort, fails to be seen as a good game.
Post Mortem is a murder-mystery title set in early twentieth century France that revolves around an ex-detective named Gus MacPherson. While he is now a painter enjoying a rather low salary, a woman by the name of Sophia Blake in need of his investigative skills and a large sum of money are enough to convince him to pick up the private eye profession he left long ago. However, the job she asks him to take is no easy one. MacPherson must investigate the murder of an American couple that was staying in a classy french hotel. The bodies, both found sitting in an upright position with their heads resting in their laps, leave (as would be expected) many unanswered questions and very little to go on in order to solve this case. As is the case with many mysteries of the sort that can be seen in the movies or on television, this initial plot is but the tip of an iceberg and, as far as the story goes, Post Mortem does indeed deserve credit. The problem comes in the ways to solve the investigation.
To relate back to what was mentioned earlier, Frankenstein isn't the only one to have been stitched together from previously existing body parts for the same could be said about Post Mortem. While this probably isn't intentional, the game feels like it borrowed a few different elements and concepts from other games in order to combine them into this one. The most prominent of these relates to how the title is played, namely, an updated version of the "point-and-click" formula à la Myst. Post Mortem adopts a first-person point of view and displacements can be made by clicking on parts of the scenery that allow being approached. This means that those hoping to find the killer and run after him or her themselves will have to settle for cut-scenes offering what little action this game has to present. The update I mentioned earlier comes in the fact that a setting isn't just a single picture. Instead, the mouse can be used to offer a complete 360-degree view of the surroundings, as would be the case in a first-person shooter. Yet, even though this freedom allowed me to contemplate the details each setting was given, it remained an illusion that couldn't hide the fact that I was looking at a pre-rendered background. This became especially annoying and even a bit insulting in places such as a bar where most of the clientele didn't only blend in with the tapestry; it was part of it.
Post Mortem seems to have taken a page straight out of Clock Tower's book when it came to travelling between various settings. There's no walking on the streets here. Must be too dangerous, who knows. Instead, whenever McPherson walks out of his studio or a hotel among other places, a map of Paris will pop up, showing all the places available for him to visit. Areas will only become visible on the map if they become mentioned in some way or another during the investigation. I guess this is to be expected considering I'm dealing with a point-and-click game but, as a side effect, it creates a sense of containment that I can't shake out of my head.
Concerning how MacPherson goes about investigating, the people at Microids thought it best for him to do this mostly through conversations with others, such as law enforcement officers or ordinary citizens who might have valuable information about the case. There's nothing wrong here. After all, a detective can't put all the pieces of the puzzle together without consulting certain persons relevant to the murder. Unfortunately, every conversation the protagonist engages in obeys the following pattern: A character says something to MacPherson and, in turn, the detective is then offered a choice between various sentences, of which he must pick one to retort. The lines MacPherson chooses to speak can have considerable consequences on how the game unfolds, as it was the case in Shadow Of Destiny, another game from which I felt it "borrowed" something. As a result, this feels like a multiple-choice exam. There might not be any right or wrong answers but it remains that choosing a certain phrase might get the private eye on the good side of someone as well as earn him some information. On the other hand, picking another can result in a door slamming shut, thus eliminating a potential lead in the investigation. For anyone finding the latter frustrating, this becomes a game of trial and error to see which answer holds the most potential.
To progress, the investigation sometimes requires MacPherson to engage in certain mini side quests, which is the best way I can think of to describe them. While these focus on skills such as good observation and mental visualization, elements that might be important to a real murder case, it should be noted that this is only a game. Consequently, they serve only to slow down the progression of the case. Not everyone is gifted with an artist's touch and given the limited descriptions characters can give, creating a portrait can take some time. Being stuck because I failed to make a connection between two things is part of the game. However, being stuck because I can't adequately picture someone is a bit unfair.
The problem with Post Mortem is that all of the elements I see as being inspired from other titles don't always happen to be the strongest part of these same games. While it did improve on the foundations previously laid by Myst, I believe a third person point of view might have been more appropriate considering the settings as well as the detailed character models that would have probably benefited from such a thing. As for the conversations in the game, they often seem all over the place like a spilled mess. Much like Dr. Frankenstein's creation, this game possesses too many flaws that are hard to ignore and that prevent one from appreciating the enigma it offers.
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