Missing (North America)
Review by Jen and
I am a voracious reader. I suck up books like a vacuum cleaner
sucks up cat hair. Sure, I've read the classics, but my number
one love, fictionally speaking, is serial killer novels. Real-life
serial killers are not very interesting to memostly they're
not the criminal masterminds toying with their prey yet deep down
inside yearning to be caught, as are their fictional counterpartsbut
those fictional counterparts are endlessly fascinating to me.
When I heard that In Memoriam featured a serial killer,
I had to play it.
Well, In Memoriam has the fictional kind of serial killer,
the criminal mastermind toying with his prey who deep down inside
yearns to be caught. Said prey comes in the form of Jack and Karen.
And maybe you, the player, if you're not careful.
Jack Lorski is a reporter for the SKL Network, and he has disappeared
in the midst of investigating the old, unsolved, murder of a Dutch
scientist named Volker. In the course of his investigation, he
meets Karen, the now-grown daughter of Volker, and Karen agrees
to help Jack in his investigation of her father's murder.
Jack and Karen have disappeared. The killer, self-styled the
Phoenix, has sent a CD to the SKL Network, who have been unable
to make heads or tails out of it. So they decide to distribute
copies of this CD to the four corners of the earth in the hope
that somebody can decipher its meaning. Enter you. Via this CD,
the devilish Phoenix gives you dribs and drabs of clues, pieces
of Jack's video diary (woo hoo! FMV! and it's really well done),
websites to look at, information about the deaths he leaves in
his wake across Europebut to earn these you must first solve
During the course of the game, you will pick up some NPC partners,
Gery, Julie, David, Marco, who aid you by sending you information,
and even a couple of analysis tools, via email. I never really
felt connected to any of these helpers, since the communication
is strictly one-waythey email you but you can't email
them (I actually tried it once ... and nothing happened).
There are times during the game when you have to sit around and
wait for one of them to send you some info, and other times you
will not need, or even want, the info and will receive it a couple
days after you have solved the pertinent puzzle.
The puzzles run the gamut from a Space Invaders clone to word
games to internet research and more. Basically it is a puzzle
game held together by a shell of a story, kind of a cross between
the online game The
Stone and Jewels of the Oracle, although a good
deal more sophisticated, varied, and inventive ... wildly inventive.
Despite passing similarity to these other games, I can't say I've
ever played any game quite like In Memoriam.
Puzzles are grouped into the four classical "elements,"
with nine strange-Zodiacally named puzzles in each element. Further,
each of the sets of nine are broken up into subsets of six and
three. And many of the individual signs of the Zodiac consist
of two puzzles, one entry puzzle that must be solved to gain access
to the "real" puzzle.
After every success or two, the story is furthered via a video
clip. These videos are nearly masterful in their presentationthey
are professionally recorded and acted, and the beauty part is
in their pacing. They can be viewed in any order (by dint of completing
puzzles in any order)within the puzzle groupings of six
and three, anywaywithout losing cohesion. These serve to
build suspense and a feeling of urgency that is not lost by taking
the time to solve the puzzles.
Your internet research will have you looking at various, real,
historical figures, astronomy and numerology, maps, hotels, blogs,
secret societies, sacred books ... Most of the pertinent sites
have been developed specifically for the game, and if you turn
up one of these (they become recognizable), you know you did something
The twitch puzzles are awful. There aren't very many that are
pure arcademost can be beaten with a mix of timing and finesse.
The true "arcade" ones, and there are a few of these
that you must complete multiple times each in increasing levels
of difficulty, are marred by sloppy, nearly impossible controls.
Whatever the case, and no matter your experience with this flavor
of gaming, be prepared to take a large number of tries on these.
The brain teasers are an intellectual treat, on the other hand.
Some of these puzzles are downright sublime, and solving some
of the more difficult ones, I believe, actually inflated my IQ
by a couple of pointsa temporary effect, though, I'm afraid.
In Memoriam is an odd duck. That's the bottom line. I
am giving it the Gold Star, with some strong reservations, purely
for originality, atmosphere, and subject matterbut it is
not without its flaws. And it's certainly not for everybody. I,
though, found it compelling and involving, enough that I persevered
past the rocky (read: arcade) parts when I would have quit a lesser
game out of sheer frustration. It really is one of a kind, and
so much was done right that it overshadows what was not. I'm not
sure I would play another game like this, but I am glad I played
If you think you might want to play In Memoriam, you should
do it fairly soon. So much of the game, including the denouement,
is dependent on the websites that if they were to disappear from
the internet, completing the game would be impossible.
Like Jen, when I heard about In Memoriam, I thought it
sounded like a great premise. A serial killer releases a CD-ROM
for the sole purpose of leading the curious, by way of the internet
and in-game puzzles, on a gripping race across Europe to find
his two most recent victims, missing but still thought to be alive.
At first glance this game seemed to have it all. Ghoulish serial
killer. Check. Exotic Old World European ports of call. Check.
A fresh and innovative take on adventure gaming. Check, check
and triple check.
As the game hadn't been released in the US yet, I arranged to
buy a copy from a friend in the UK. A week later it arrived, and
I eagerly installed it. It asked for a username and then supplied
a password. I wrote down the pertinent information, played through
the introductory puzzles, then exited, planning to return that
evening and get down to some serious detective work. Imagine my
surprise when after dinner I entered my password and the game
spit it back at me as unrecognized. What the ... ? After
several more tries, still no joy. I uninstalled and reinstalled.
Ready to go. Well ... not so fast. When I entered my e-mail address,
the game refused to accept it, claiming it already had that e-mail
address on record. It was a Catch-22, and if I only had one account
I would have been out of luck. As it was, I was able to reregister
under another account. This time the game accepted my password
and I was off and running, albeit already a little wary.
First of all, this is not your father's adventure game. Forget
what you've heard. The best way I can describe it is an online
arcade booth/internet café with someone's home movies running
on the back wall. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
I'm far from an adventure purist. I think it's high time for a
change, a new model, a fresh approach. Still, I had expectations
going in, none of which where met.
The game is structured interestingly enough. It's built around
four major hubs, each of which symbolizes one of the four elements
of water, air, earth and fire. Within each major hub are two minihubs
or levels, and from within each of these minihubs you can access
a series of puzzles via little circles that meander around the
screen like so many drunken ducks. Click on a circle as it veers
past and you are taken to one of two kinds of puzzles.
The first kind of puzzle is presented in the guise of research
challenges. You're given clues in the form of names, words, book
titles, etc., and then you search the internet for web pages that
contain answers and usually more clues for future puzzles. To
find these websites, you have a handy in-game toolbar with e-mail
and internet buttons and later a couple of analytical tools. Using
any search engine you please (I used Google) you search for the
above-mentioned websites. Once you think you've found the answer,
you return to the game and enter your information to see if you
were right. Some of these searches were sort of intriguing; one
or two actually entertained. Still I was dismayed at the amount
of nongame sites I had to scan. As Jen mentioned, the In Memoriam
websites had a certain look to them, so that after a while
it quickly became apparent I was on the right track. Unfortunately,
all of the Googling and to-ing and fro-ing from game to internet
back to game soon began to wear thin, working not to immerse but
to distance me from the game.
With the second kind of puzzle, and here was one of the things
I hated most about this game, I was confronted with these horrendous
mini-arcade twiddle-fiddly things. There was no apparent rhyme
or reason to them other than that the story was so sparse that,
had the developers not included them, there would have been no
game at all. Most of this gameplay involved first trying to understand
what was expected of me, then once that was solved, mustering
the fine motor control and patience (of Job) required to slog
through them. To make matters worse, the in-game controls were
ludicrously bad. Imagine trying to herd Teflon-coated BBs across
a polished marble floor with a handful of wet spaghetti and you'll
get the idea. Puzzle after puzzle was like this, the cursor flying
this way and that as I tried to navigate from beginning to end.
To add insult to injury, at least half a dozen puzzles simply
broke (including the very last one, which the game skipped completely),
ceasing to respond or refusing to advance even when beaten. In
the course of playing many of these arcade games, I had the sensation
of ants crawling under my skin ... and it wasn't from any sort
of creepy atmosphere. No, this was the kind of teeth-gritting
annoyance you feel after, say, being trapped on a Greyhound bus
for eight hours with a dozen or so screaming children. Maybe this
jarring, grating sensation was the point. I don't know. Still,
I'm stubbornit's one of the more endearing of the three
character traits I still possessso I soldiered on, hoping
against hope that the story would kick in, the puzzles would smooth
out, something somewhere would click and I would begin to enjoy
Didn't happen, I'm sorry to say. Can you hear me sighing?
The artwork showed promise at first but soon enough it too began
to wear thin. It was that dirty, quivering, layered, collage-like,
quasi-arty stuff everyone and their sister has been using ever
since the opening credits for the movie Seven rolled all
those years ago. Now the serial killer, the Phoenix, as he called
himself, and I don't think this is giving anything away to those
of you who are going to play this game no matter what I say, the
serial killer is supposedly classically trained, fluent in Latin
as well as several other languages, and gifted with exquisitely
refined sensibilities. So could someone please tell me why he
lifts the visual direction for his CD-ROM from the wastebasket
of the MTV graphics department?
I was also somewhat underwhelmed by the little film snippets
that ran as a reward for beating the puzzles. While the blocking
and acting were perfectly acceptable and the voiceover actually
good, many of the murkier scenes were shot with the video gain
turned up to increase sensitivity, which is a nice way to say
grossly underexposed. All it would have taken to double the impact
of the interminable night-driving scenes, for instance, would
have been a single little battery-powered cine light under the
dash to increase dramatic effect. As it was, it was just ugly.
Daytime scenes were washed out and drab and flat, though that
might have been the point. However, it adds zero tension or visual
drama to the gameand really, in the end, this is my biggest
complaint of all.
The game utterly failed to generate any sense of menace or suspense
or even a mildly interesting dramatic effect. Much of this was
because of the silly arcade sequences and the drab web surfing,
but just as much was the lack of anything approaching a substantial
story. Basically we are treated to view after view of a man and
woman crisscrossing Europe with puzzled looks on their faces.
There is a single attempt at character development about halfway
through the game, which is served up almost as an aside and then
dropped. And then there are the NPCs. Or the lack of any. Well,
they are there but only as authors of e-mails that regularly appeared
in my mailbox, many of them with spoilers to puzzles that I had
already finished. None of these characters connected with me,
though they were supposed to be part of my hearty little detective
crew. They continue to e-mail even now, even after I 've finished
the game, filling me in on events as they are still apparently
unfolding, as if I care.
In the end, I didn't give the game the lowest mark. There were
a few nice parts but nothing that compelled or left me with a
sense of accomplishment at completing the game. In a way, In
Memoriam even fails to fail. I can't recommend this game to
anyone other than as a $2.95 bargain bin cutout. Had it been released
as a free download in, say, eight parts, I think it would have
been much more appropriate. Just chalk this up to a halfway decent
idea abysmally executed and walk, no, run away. In Memoriam
indeed. I'm trying to forget already.
UK (Europe); Dreamcatcher
Release Date: October 17, 2003 (Europe); June 2004 (North America)
Four Fat Chicks Links
333 MHz processor
64 MB RAM
32-bit graphics card
8X CD-ROM drive
16-bit Soundblaster-compatible sound card
700 MB free hard disk space
56.6 KB internet connection
OS 8.6 (OSX classic mode only)
700 MB free hard disk space
64 MB RAM
800×600 minimum display resolution
8X CD-ROM drive
56.6 KB internet connection
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