A statue of a young, beautiful boy carrying a skull… A painting of a company of skeletons dancing in circles around a campfire... A cautionary tale about the risks of vanity and luxury, the most vicious of the devil’s temptations... All these artistic creations share the same purpose: to remind people of their own mortality, of the brevity of their earthly life. The Latins had a perfect expression for this kind of representation: memento mori (“remember that you have to die”), and this fascinating title makes for an ominous first impression in Centauri Production's new adventure. Memento Mori promises ancient secrets, forbidden prophecies, cursed paintings and a ruthless cult, and while these elements seem to be common ingredients of the Dan Brown era, this game is more than a simple copycat. It may ride the wave of religious conspiracy thriller popularity, but it does so with enough twists and original developments to stay refreshingly interesting, if not entirely devoid of some drawbacks of its own.
As the game opens, someone has stolen a painting from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and replaced it with a well-executed fake. The investigation led by Colonel Ostankovic doesn’t yield any results, so he is forced to contact Larisa Svetlova (nicknamed Lara), who used to work in his division before getting a job with Interpol. Lara is an expert in art thefts and friends with Maxime Durand, a skilled forger whom she helped capture years before. Ostankovic needs to avoid unwelcome press attention, so he asks Lara to send her old friend to St. Petersburg. His duty is simple: he must enter the museum at night and examine all of the paintings while no curious eyes can see him. If he can find the fake, all his past charges will be cleared. This may sound like an easy job for someone as skilled as Max, but as soon as he steps inside the museum, he stumbles upon the thief himself. The burglar manages to disappear before Max can catch him, but from his brief glimpse of the intruder, two details strike Max as extremely odd: a strange tattoo covering the thief’s bald head and his long monk’s robe. Clearly, something far more sinister than a simple art forgery is going on in St. Petersburg, and it’s up to players to help both Lara and Max piece this mystery together.
Memento Mori plays from a third-person perspective, but unlike most games in this style, here the game is presented in full 3D. In each location, the camera is fixed at a certain position, although it can slightly rotate to follow the character’s movements. At first, this choice doesn’t seem particularly favorable, because it sometimes forces the player to click around just to make sure there aren’t any additional portions of the current room. However, once you become accustomed to it, it’s a small sacrifice for the fact that Memento Mori makes good use of the 3D environment, and the pre-determined camera angles are effective and often nicely atmospheric. In fact, upon clicking certain objects like a computer, the camera smoothly swoops forward with a circular movement that is quite beautiful and provides a nice sense of cinematic immersion.
More importantly, the benefit of 3D is used well for puzzle solutions. Many times throughout the adventure, players have the chance to examine certain areas from a first-person point of view. These screens allow a 360-degree revolution around objects (rather than simply spinning yourself in a circle), and while the option feels a bit gratuitous at the beginning, as the game progresses it is implemented in clever ways. Without a doubt, this kind of puzzle is by far the best of the game: having the opportunity to carefully examine every nook and cranny, to move part of the scenery to reveal what is beneath, to circle around obstacles in search of little details, is a very satisfying experience. A chromatograph from the Interpol laboratory lends itself as a perfect example: Lara has to learn how to operate this instrument by piecing together the scarce information provided, but the fun starts when you click on the machine itself. The scene switches to Lara’s own view and from here you can rotate the image at your leisure to discover every button, plug, display or lever on all sides, and figuring it out requires both a sharp eye and a good deal of logical thinking. In addition to this feature in the main environments, every inventory item can be fully examined from every perspective as well, making the clue-searching a consistent and believable process.
Unfortunately, the majority of the non-3D activities are quite straightforward and sometimes rather uninspired. Players will encounter two types: dialogue-related choices and inventory-based puzzles. The dialogue feature was highly publicized as one of Memento Mori’s distinctive features, but while the idea of basing choices on an emotional response is interesting, the game doesn’t do much with it. There are certain situations where the choice between a “positive” or an “negative” response is fitting, but often this distinction is extremely vague and many times I found myself choosing one instead of the other without a clear idea of what either implied or how it would impact the outcome. Then again, the choices are usually quite irrelevant, since the few times it actually matters, the player has the option to simply choose the other if the “wrong” mood has been selected first, making the decision rather pointless.
As for the inventory puzzles, they are generally well integrated into the plot (with the occasional exception of contrived fetch quests), but their design can also leave something to be desired. There is a sequence, for example, where Max has to find a particular book in a library: he knows the general description of its appearance and the subject treated. However, there is no reasoning required, since the game forces you to pick up almost every book that fits the description and compare it with the library catalogue. When finally finding the correct book, Max will say so himself and the player’s contribution has only been clicking a number of times to climb the shelf-ladder, pick up the next book, climb down and compare the volume. The process can’t help but feel superfluous and unnecessarily long, and this is not the only case where a particular solution can be found only by monotonous interactions. At times, it almost feels like the many inventory puzzles were designed just to be filler in between the ones that capitalize on the 3D engine.
The use of 3D also lends itself well to the graphics, and while not as artistically rich as some pre-rendered adventures, the environments are quite nicely polished. The realistic presentation makes for highly atmospheric locations, and effects like smoke or fog and dynamic lighting add a vivid touch to every place Lara and Max visit, along with an excellent choice of colors. From a dark, dusty old library on the outskirts of St. Petersburg to the modern architecture of the Interpol Bureau to the cosiness of Lara’s Russian apartment, every location has been carefully designed and the camera angles often offer some breathtaking overviews. My favorite locations are an underground disco in one of the poorest zones of St. Petersburg, whose crowd of punks and prostitutes makes for a nice diversion from the quaint feeling of the rest of the game, and an ominous Finnish monastery, where the peculiar architecture of the church and the cloisters appear beautiful and peaceful by the light of day, only to become malignant and woeful by night. Unfortunately, the character models don’t fare quite as well. While acceptable, they aren’t very detailed and tend to be clumsily animated, with poor lip synching and awkward movements, especially when running or picking up objects. Thankfully, the textures are excellent when it comes to clothing fabrics, which are among the best I’ve ever seen in an adventure game.Continued on the next page...
What our readers think of Memento Mori
Posted by Little Writer on Jul 30, 2014
A mixed experience
This game took me 9 hours to complete. The puzzles were just right for me. I was mistaken in thinking this was one of those game with logical puzzles, so I was glad to see a classic point 'n click adventure game with inventory puzzles. The only thing that...
Posted by Yzothateg on Oct 19, 2012
Linear and boring
I played this game for around 7 hours and I can't really say i feel very motivated to continue it. The story is boring, the characters are dull and the linearity is really bad. The opening puzzle at the museum was an example of this, stuck in 4 screens with...
Posted by emric on Jun 3, 2012
not awful, but still underwhelming, mediocre and stereotypical
Memento Mori seemed to generate some level of anticipation in the lead-up to its release, but after playing it, i think the hype is mostly unfounded. it does the traditional point & click style quite well with a perfectly adequate interface, pleasing visuals...