Adventure Gamers Awards
(Editor note: In Memoriam, published by UbiSoft in Europe in 2003, has since been published as MISSING: Since January in North America by The Adventure Company. To recognize the game's new worldwide availability, we are re-featuring our original review of In Memoriam, which is printed here exactly as originally printed on November 16th, 2003.)
Let me start right out with a caveat here: this game is NOT yet available in North America, and UbiSoft has no plans to market it in the US anytime soon. However, given the large international readership of Adventure Gamers, I'm fortunate to be one of few US-based reviewers blessed with a review copy of In Memoriam.
A Rose By Any Other Name…
With that little bit of self-congratulation taken care of, now I have to get down to writing one of the most difficult reviews with which I have ever been faced. Why the worry lines and torn-out clumps of hair in my ashtray? Because In Memoriam is simply the most bizarrely original game I have ever played. It is so novel in its design and gameplay that some gamers won’t even classify it as an adventure game. For instance, some people insist that Myst isn’t a “true adventure” because while there is a story (though you have to read the books in Atrus’s library to discover it) there is no plot to guide your explorations. Much the same can be said of In Memoriam as well… except there is no exploration either. The lack of a recognizable plot, exploration and character interaction may lead some players to classify In Memoriam as a “puzzle game.” I would disagree. Rather, I would say that the game defies classification, but would be enjoyed by fans of either genre. Or hated by both.
The story (or backstory, if you prefer) is quite involved. Investigative journalist Jack Lorski works for Internet media producers SKL Network. By happenstance, Jack purchased an old Super-8 camera that still had film in it at a garage (“car boot”) sale. When developed, the film turned out to be vacation footage of a young family. The final scene on the film shows two men executing a third man with a bullet in the back of the head atop a distant and anonymous cliff. The hapless photographer must have just wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time. He turns to flee when the killers notice him, and the film ends with his running away. Intrigued by this, Jack digs around and discovers that the camera belonged to a Dutchman who disappeared in Greece in 1975. He apparently never returned to where his family was sunning on the beach while he was off shooting the scenery. Jack hunts up Karen Gijman, the unlucky vacationer’s daughter (whom we see as a child in the home movie) and together they set out to try to unravel the mystery of her father’s disappearance/murder almost 30 years ago. But in an ironic twist of fate, Jack and Karen themselves vanish during their investigations. Eventually, SKL Network receives a CD-ROM from someone calling himself “Phoenix.” On the disc, Phoenix claims to have abducted Jack and Karen. He also purports to be a serial killer who has been responsible for numerous murders all across Europe. The CD is a mélange of bizarre images, esoterica and puzzles. When they can’t make any sense of it, SKL turns copies of the CD over to a few trusted investigators (you are only one of them) to decipher in the hopes of finding and rescuing the two victims. It is this, the actual CD-ROM from the killer, that is supposedly in your drive when you are playing In Memoriam.
The killer’s creation is a psychotic cat-and-mouse game with you, offering hints to his motives for his killing spree and clues to help you follow the path of the murders he has committed in the form of myriad mini-games. Some games are arcade-like in nature while others are straightforward (if completely fresh and innovative) puzzles. Many force you to do research on the Internet through a variety of independent websites as well as many created specifically for In Memoriam. (More on this later.) When you successfully solve a puzzle/game, you are frequently rewarded with an excerpt from a video log of his investigations that Jack kept. (I was amazed at the quality of these videos. They are movie quality on a CD-ROM. This is the cutting edge of Macromedia Director.) Occasionally, your reward will be one of Phoenix’s own camcorder clips. (As he sensed Jack and Karen closing in on him, he became the hunter as well as the hunted.) Phoenix’s CD is a nightmarish compilation. In style and theme it borrows from such works as Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, The Cell, Blair Witch Project and Ringus/The Ring, then reinvents what it has borrowed to provide a truly fascinating and disturbing look into the mind of a serial killer. Hyperkinetic images accompany the games, and the games themselves are often horrifying in their nature. (One where you must guide a scalpel blade through a churning intestinal tract without causing any internal damage will stick with me for a loooong time, as will reassembling from edited clips the ditty Karen moans to herself during her imprisonment.) Twisted, discordant sounds and music provide a soundtrack for this nightmare realm. Lights flash and bizarreness flickers by too quickly for you to quite grasp. If ever there was a game that needs to put the epilepsy warning in giant bold print, this is it!
What Dreams May Come
However, as wonderfully as it is presented, the format of “play a mini-game or solve a puzzle, see a video clip” eventually gets repetitive. The designers have provided a wholly original (well, mostly original… nobody actually played EA’s Majestic, right?) way of breaking things up by letting you (forcing you) to browse the Internet from within the game. An internal link from the main menu will take you to SKL Network’s home page. From there, you can use SKL’s Google search bar to browse the Web, access AltaVista’s Babel Fish for translations, or even open a modified version of Wordpad for making notes. In Memoriam’s designers have brilliantly created many of their own websites to provide clues to the game’s puzzles as well as culling references from sites that already exist. Some of the puzzles will require figuring out exactly what search terms to use to find the critical site. Hunting through sites about Tuscan farms or Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia church can provide a pleasant and informative diversion from Phoenix’s nightmare world.
Of course, there is a downside to this. Given the instability of the PC game industry, I find it difficult to believe that UbiSoft will continue to maintain their “fake” sites forever, and the “real” sites used as clues may well be altered or vanish from the Web completely in the future. (If you have played Activision’s Spycraft: The Great Game you know exactly what I am talking about.) This uncertainty about the longevity of game-critical websites lends In Memoriam an unusually short shelf life. I would not be surprised to see that the game is unplayable by the year 2007 because of missing or altered websites.Continued on the next page...