Memento Mori 2: Guardians of Immortality review
Thanks to a lengthy localisation delay, it took five years to get a follow-up to Centauri Production’s supernatural investigative adventure. In Memento Mori 2: Guardians of Immortality, the developers have learnt somewhat from their mistakes in the first, mainly to ditch the overly dull, dreary atmosphere and menial tasks. The sequel is still thematically similar, though, as the world of art, the crime of murder and the question of spirituality all come into play here, sometimes in interesting ways. Unfortunately, while there are certainly intriguing ideas floating around in the story, they’re never brought together in a cohesive way. And although the unique puzzles and variety of locales is to be admired, Memento Mori 2 never rises above its sluggish pace, settling for an exercise in mediocrity.
The story begins in Cape Town, with Max and Lara (the two protagonists from the first game) now married and on holiday. Their vacation is interrupted, however, when Lara gets a call from her employer, Interpol, to investigate a theft at a local art gallery. The couple are experts on the subject – Lara from her job and Max from his previous life as an art forger. At first the two working together on the mystery makes for a compelling dynamic, allowing you to explore the relationship between them, something that was sorely missing in the first game. Sadly, though, Max soon disappears under mysterious circumstances, which makes for an exciting plot development but a shame to lose their interaction; Lara is determined and Max is slightly short-tempered, and it’s fun to watch their rapport while it lasts.
With Max gone, Lara heads back to Lyon and decides to take on a new case. A disturbing crime has taken place in a San Francisco church, where religious imagery was painted on the wall in blood and some construction workers went missing. Lara decides to proceed with the inquiry, hoping it will take her mind off her missing husband, but as the mystery unravels it puts her at even greater unease. It’s quite a gripping premise that sends Lara even farther around the globe to places like Finland and Mexico. There are seven self-contained acts in total and each has intriguing moments, but in the end nothing comes together cohesively. Too many questions are left unanswered, while those that are resolved are done in an unsatisfying way.
This is a story that should have been more stimulating and engaging than it is. There are times when you can get bogged down reading documents or listening to dialogue that just isn’t very absorbing. It’s equally frustrating for story strands to be introduced and abruptly abandoned or glossed over in a wishy-washy way. For example, the many questions about Max’s disappearance and circumstances afterwards aren’t ever fully explained. There are times when unanswered questions can be an effective storytelling device, but here I found it more annoying than anything. Even worse for returning players, one of the major reveals is unforgivably similar to another in the first game. It’s obvious once you spot it coming (and you likely will) and it comes off as cheap. Some may find the connection to the first game welcome, but I would have found it much more interesting if a different route had been explored.
Lara’s task is to discover who caused the crime scene at the church and to catch them. It’s a tale of murder and, fittingly, of religion – the question keeps popping up throughout the story of whether Lara believes in more than what she can logically understand. There are moments where you’re faced with a key decision that can change the outcome of the story. Unlike in the first game, where seemingly inconsequential actions turned out to be the opposite, Memento Mori 2 clearly signposts when these are happening. Do you choose to hide some evidence? Do you hand in a letter of resignation? It’s a better approach, but still not perfect. There were times where I seriously pondered for a while about the right thing to do or say. Disappointingly, however, it only ever impacts the final cutscene. There are two main endings you can get, with a few minor variations of them, neither of them overly impressive. It would have been more meaningful to see the consequences of your choices play out more during the game, since here it feels too calculated.
If you’ve played the first game, you might be surprised to hear that Max and Lara have changed from sounding French and Russian to both being American (although there are a couple of references throughout that still refer to their origins). It’s actually quite a welcome change, since the heavy and sometimes fake-sounding accents in the first game could become grating. Both voice actors do well here, especially Lara, which lends some authenticity to her role. The majority of other voices in the game are serviceable but mediocre, though some are downright awful. Two of the worst offenders are a wheelchair-bound old woman named Zenzele, who also serves as the occasional narrator between acts, and a guard at a religious ruin – both butcher every line as they go.
It doesn’t help that there are lots of mistakes with the audio production. Occasionally a character’s voice will switch for a line or two, obviously being said by a stand-in actor doing an off-base impression. Sometimes lines are spoken out of order, or in the wrong place, with only the subtitles offering the correct dialogue. Whenever you’re on the phone, the person on the other end of the line is barely audible. I can appreciate the effort that went into getting his game localised into English at all, but these are obvious problems that should have been noticed in testing and been fixed before release.
Cape Town is a vibrant, colourful location that stands in stark contrast to what comes later. The sun is shining, the water is a bright blue and the music is cheery. In fact, this opening location is quite unlike anywhere else; here the pace is slower and it’s all fairly upbeat. Once you jet back to France, rain and gloom are the order of the day. Wherever you go, the atmospheric environments in general are perhaps what Memento Mori 2 does best. You’ll often be exploring run-down, grimy places that create a strong sense of impending darkness, both literally and figuratively. One of the highlights is in a partially destroyed restaurant, where the electricity is out and only your torch guides the way. The use of lighting and shadows in this scene is successful in creating a palpable tension.
While the alleys of San Francisco’s Chinatown are urban and gritty, the snowy landscapes of Finland are remote and rustic. Both offer up a satisfying feeling of uncertainty – the former due to the blood, the latter from its unnatural quiet. You’ll spend some time at a small Finnish hotel, which makes for a nice change from the larger cities. During your stay, a blizzard whips past the windows and the snow continues to fall once you step outside. If there’s another thing to commend Memento Mori 2 for doing especially well, it’s offering up both variety and quantity of locations to explore. And it’s a world that often feels realistic and alive, thanks to cars whizzing past and people standing in the background chatting.
Everything is rendered in 3D, which allows for a good use of dynamic camera angles, especially during conversation. Although this makes for more interesting viewing, however, it often highlights how inexpressive the characters are. One sequence involving a ritual is supposed to be dramatic, but is actually fairly laughable considering how little Lara emotes throughout it. Overall, the animation is not awful by any means, but it is off-putting to keep seeing the same gestures carried out repeatedly, especially when they’re out of place. The graphics in general are pretty solid, with a varied colour palette used throughout, which is a change from the first game. There are nice little touches all over, like birds flying through the sky or graffiti sprayed on walls. Some of the textures are a bit blurry, but most backgrounds are detailed and aesthetically pleasing.
The soundtrack is decent, but mostly pretty forgettable. The music is best in Cape Town with a bright, native-sounding piece and occasionally some light strings and drums beating away in the background, but the majority of the time there isn’t any music playing. Instead, there is more reliance on ambient sound effects. The dripping of water while underground, the clang of bells by the dock or the tweets of nature all help add to the atmosphere and are a welcome addition.
The interface is fully point-and-click with context-specific options. For example, hovering the cursor over another character could allow you to speak or look, while moving it over an item might let you pick it up or use it. It’s simple and effective. Sometimes when examining an object, you’ll enter a close-up view that’ll allow you to adjust the camera and get a full look at it (you can also do this to everything in your inventory). This is effectively used in certain puzzles, where swinging around to look at things from another angle is a necessity. You can also hold down the tab key at any time to highlight all the hotspots on the screen. This comes in very useful sometimes, especially for those averse to pixel hunting, but is entirely optional for those who prefer the added challenge.
The beginning of the game sees you playing as Max, but the vast majority of time is spent playing as Lara. Occasionally you’ll take control of Keira, an agent from the FBI and someone with whom Lara apparently has a backstory, but these three characters don’t differ from each other in any way in terms of abilities. The time spent as Keira is quite brief, but she does spend a chunk of the game working alongside you (in that she follows and occasionally comments on things from nearby), which stops the experience from becoming too lonely. She’s an odd character, with a personality that is a bit all over the place, a trait that’s somewhat explained later on. Nevertheless, I never found myself particularly taken by her.
The puzzles include a mixture of traditional inventory-combining fare and more interesting self-contained challenges. Once again, it’s commendable just how much variety there is, but there is just as much range in quality: some of them don’t work particularly well, while others are great and rather unique. There is a strong emphasis on investigative work, as you explore crime scenes and piece together evidence to uncover clues or figure out a sequence of events. One puzzle involves scanning the environment for traces of a crime using forensic tools, before pulling together the evidence you’ve gathered from the scene and from talking to others in order to connect the dots. Another has you moving pieces around on a board to form the correct image, while a different puzzle has you matching the blood paintings to their more famous counterparts. These challenges proved to be engrossing and inventive, but they aren’t all as inspired. An early part of the game has you dusting a window for fingerprints and comparing them; later you’ll have to control a crane to help you proceed. These missed the mark, partly because it isn’t always clear what you should be doing, but mainly because they demand so much patience that you’ll just want to move on.
I found the game quite difficult at times, although the solutions are mostly logical. Sometimes it isn’t clearly signposted where you should be going or what you should be doing next, which is frustrating, but most of the time the difficulty can be overcome by thinking sensibly. You can occasionally get some hints by talking to another character, like Max or Keira, who subtly push you towards your objective, but beyond that you’re often left to your own devices. Those who have been lamenting the ease of adventure games lately should be satisfied by the challenge provided here.
Some acts will calculate a score percentage of how successfully you’ve carried out your detective work. For example, remembering to mark something as evidence, discovering a non-essential clue or answering your emails are all acts that add to your score. The best use of this feature is when Lara is presented with a case file and then has to talk about it with her colleagues – getting information about the case right will earn you a higher score. Failure is fine, and you’ll be corrected on the spot, but it’s the best implementation of the scoring element in the game. A little icon indicates when the score has increased, and those playing on Steam will earn an achievement if they reach 100%. It doesn’t seem to have any impact on the game, but it’s a neat little feature that may serve as extra incentive to be thorough.
Clocking in at over a dozen hours, this is a lengthy adventure but it feels like it too. There’s enjoyment to be had in places, but for a story about murder and mystery, Memento Mori 2 really drags at times. It’s sad, because given the variety of puzzles and globetrotting to atmospheric settings, it’s clear that an even better game is bubbling just under the surface. But the plot isn’t cohesive, the audio production does nothing to help the often poor voice acting, and the pacing can get quite tedious. It’s better than its predecessor, for sure, but still a little too far off the mark to warrant a wholehearted recommendation.
Memento Mori 2 is undoubtedly better than its predecessor, but its story is dulled by a plodding pace that feels slightly boring.