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Stars - 40

Rating by Iznogood posted on May 18, 2014 | edit | delete

Gripping Story with Difficult Puzzles

In Memento Mori 2 we once again meet Lara Svetlova a detective working for the Stolen Arts department of Interpol, and Maxim Durand an artists and former art counterfeiter, who were also the two protagonists in the first game. Except this time they are Mr. and Mrs. Durand, they are in fact newly weed and are on their honeymoon in Cape Town South Africa, when… surprise, surprise, Laura gets a call from her office in Lyon, asking her if she would mind popping in at local museum in Cape Town and giving the local police a hand with a little case of some stolen artefacts.

However, what starts as a little simple case of theft is of course nothing of the sort, and the story soon takes a major twist and turns into a much darker, sinister and larger tale, involving ritualistic murders, religious paintings in blood and, as players of the previous game might expects, also a supernatural element.

Equally, or perhaps even more important for the story, is that it also becomes a much more personal matter for our protagonist. It is not simply a case of a detective trying to solve some case, but about a women desperately trying to get to the bottom of events, and not giving up hope against all odds.

It is difficult to say more about the plot without giving some major spoilers, all I can say is that it will have you travelling around the world to many different locations, has some major plot twists, where at least one was something that I did not see coming until it was obvious, though it did explain a lot of things retrospect, and it also has a clear link to the original game. The story is also one of the most gripping stories that I have seen in an adventure game in some time, and it had me playing in long sessions totally immersed in the story unable to leave the game.

The main protagonist of the story is Laura, but we also get to control both Max and Kiera, an FBI agent and close friend of Laura, there is however and unfortunately no puzzles that requires using two characters in cooperation, and it is also not possible to switch character at will. In fact it all felt a bit forced, like having multiple playable characters was on their check-list and was shoehorned into the game, rather then being a natural part of it.

Another feature of the game is that it also has some choices that you have to make, and at least to some degree, branching story lines with different endings. Exactly how much difference it will make to the story, is a bit unclear to me as I have only played the game once, but I suspect that it only has a small impact, in return the choices I made blended seamlessly into the story without any inconsistencies or crossovers between the different branches. I also found that this in many ways worked better than in other games with similar choices like in The Walking Dead or Tesla Effect, that the decisions were both more important, and felt more like real choices I would have to make in similar circumstances, instead of some artificial choice system shoehorned into the game. In fact one of the choices had me contemplating it for a whole half hour, considering both the moral, ethical, practical and emotional implications and consequences before I made my choice.

There is a great variety of puzzles in the game, and let me just say it straight out, some of them are quite hard, also the game doesn’t offer any kind of hints or options to skip puzzle, the only help you get is a hotspot finder, so Memento Mori 2 is not an easy game! If you are only looking for an interactive experience for the sake of the story, then this is not the right game for you. If you however like me, like a challenge and don’t mind being stuck for hours trying to solve a puzzle, then this is the perfect game for you. 

It is also a very puzzle heavy and puzzle dense game, where you literally can’t spit without hitting a puzzle. For the most part the puzzles are however both interesting, well designed and fit perfectly into the story of the game, so you will only rarely fell like you are hindered in your progress by some artificial roadblock that are only there to prolong the game.

There are quite a few inventory puzzles of the McGyver kind, where you have to combine whatever objects are at hand to construct some tool, like in an early puzzle where you have to undo some bolts, which of course isn’t as simple as finding the right tool and surprisingly enough, involves a box of chocolate. There was even a puzzle that brought me back to the infamous cat-hair-moustache in GK3, though this time it makes much more sense and doesn’t involve any cats.

Where this game however shines in the puzzle department, is when it comes to the more logical and analytic puzzles. A large part of the game consists of Laura finding, gathering and analysing different clues and evidence, in fact a whole act in the game is basically one huge crime scene investigation. An example of this kind of analytic puzzles can be found early in the game, where we have to compare some fingerprints we have lifted with another set of fingerprints, in order to eliminate innocents and reconstruct a fingerprint of the culprit from several partial prints. This is not as easy as it sound, as they clearly went for realism here and you painstakingly have to manually identify markers in each print with similar markers on the control set.

That is however only one example and there is also many other forms of analyses you have to perform, like arranging evidence in a time-line in order to reconstruct the events, or pairing evidence to make Sherlock Holmes type deductions about them. One of the things that impressed me most about this game is that they never used the same analytic method twice. Each scene and type of evidence has its very own analytic method, not all are of course equally interesting or well designed, but the very fact that they are never reused contributed to making the puzzles fell fresh and keeping me interested to the very end.

The game even includes some optional puzzles usually in the form of dialogue puzzles, not optional in the way that you can skip or omit them, thought there might also have been a couple of those, but where it is completely optional to get them right. An early example of this is in Lyon where you are analysing some crime scene photos with some colleagues, as the lead detective everybody is of course looking at you to make the conclusions, but the only consequence of getting it wrong, is that someone will interrupt you and tell you how wrong you are! It might make you fell like someone has just thrown an egg in your face, but the only consequence is that you will lose some points, otherwise the game will just continue.

Unfortunately the game also has a few puzzles that requires an enormous amount of trial and error. An example of this is a situation where you have to recreate a shadow by moving a light source around using some photos as a reference. In itself a brilliant idea for a puzzle that could have worked very well, but doesn’t. The problem is that the photos only gives you an approximate position but the shadow has to be placed with millimetre precision, and there is no less than six parameters that you can adjust, and to make it even worse, every time you adjust one parameter you have to adjust two or three others to get the shadow back in the approximate position. Fortunately these are the exception from the rule, and most puzzle are much better designed.

The game also features a point system in the form of a percentage for each chapter. The way you earn these points is be getting the optional/dialogue puzzle right, solving puzzles in as few moves as possible or by simply avoiding doing any silly mistakes, like fiddling with the electricity in a room filled with gas. The game however never tells you when there is a possibility to earn points, nor when you have screwed up and missed any, it only tells you when you have done it right, so even with some save-scumming it is almost impossible to get max point, and my standard reaction when looking at my meagre score at the end of each chapter, was “What the f***, where the h*** did I go wrong”. As far as I could tell, the score however doesn’t affect the story or the ending, at least I got what I assume is the best ending despite having a somewhat mediocre score.

Now I don’t think I can avoid mentioning the elephant in the room any more, even though I have been postponing it for as long as possible:

The English localization is far from perfect!

It both contains some outright translation errors and some odd wordings which has clearly been translated too literally, it is however not the worst I have seen in a translated game and not the main problem with the localization. The main problem is that they made quite a few errors when linking the English voice acting into the game. Sometimes the voice part would be missing completely and you only get the subtitles, surprisingly often the voice acting and the subtitles would be completely different, usually because the voice part was actually from a different dialogue and not related to the current scene at all, sometimes the voice bits would stutter and repeat the same sentence twice, and worst of all, there is one scene where both the voice and the subtitles were completely missing. This was extra disastrous as it was actually a critical scene with some important information, at least I assume it was important based on the reactions of the characters and from what I was able to deduce about it.

To have a few errors in the localizations is forgiveable, though not ideal, but this amount of errors is simply ridiculous, and this is something that they have to fix asap.

Regardless, if you can look past these errors, then the script is actually quite good. For the most part the dialogue is sharp, precise and gets to the point without any lengthy expositions or feeble attempts at being funny. Apart from the odd wordings here and there, the dialogue also fells both natural and plausible as something that character would actually say.

The English voice acting is also of a general high quality, I especially found that the actress portraying the main character of Laura did an excellent job, and both managed to convey some emotional moments with subtlety without falling into either extremes of over- or underplaying it, and also managed to portray Laura as both a plausible and likeable character totally consistent with the story being told.

As for the graphics and animations, then it probably won’t win any awards and you shouldn’t expect beautiful hand drawn 2d backgrounds, but the 3d environment is not bad and at least in some places quite good. There is also nothing to complain about regarding the animations, and close-ups of characters does manage to convey emotions in a plausible manner.

Finally it is also not a short game, according to Steam it took me about 24 hours to complete it, though I have to admit that at least some of that time was spend banging my head against the table in frustration about that shadow puzzle, and I also have to confess to a bit save-scumming trying to improve my score. 

In a time where it seems that the recent trend is games that almost play themselves, and where developers are afraid to add any real challenges because they don’t want to break the immersion of the players and interfere with the storytelling, then it is extremely refreshing to come across a game that dares to go against the trend and actually challenge us. Not the least because it also proves that storytelling and difficult puzzles are not each others antipode, and that it is possible to make a game that has difficult puzzles and still manages to have the players totally immersed in it

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Time Played: Over 20 hours
Difficulty: Hard

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