Review by Toger
Have you ever wished that you could change your life in a dramatic
fashion? Not just a better-paying job or painting the kitchen
a brighter color, but truly live your heart's desire? Be careful
what you wish for, because it might come true ...
Father Randolph Holton, a local parish priest, feels that he's
lost his faith. His liturgies have fallen flat, and he's found
it necessary to seek out the help of one of the newer priests
to put some "oomph" back into his service. One day during
the daily confessional, a mysterious man confesses that he thinks
his life is in danger. Before Father Randolph can learn more,
the man drops a post office box key and runs out of the church.
Once he's retrieved the package, Randolph learns of the Lifestream.
A parallel existence to the "real" world, the Lifestream
allows you to live your heart's desire. Randolph is at once consumed
by a hunger to find out more and, later, by the temptation of
actually living in the Lifestream even though he knows that once
inside he may not be able to return.
Then Father Randolph disappears. No one hears from him for weeks.
His son, John, is worried about his father's inexplicable disappearance,
yet he cannot tell anyone of his concerns as it would ruin Randolph's
reputation. So John elects to uncover the mystery on his own.
So begins Lifestream, a new game from independent developer
Christopher M. Brendel. If the name sounds familiar, it's because
Brendel also created the music for The
Lifestream is similar to most first-person perspective
gamescompletely mouse-controlled point-and-clickyet
a little different. Instead of each prerendered, node-based scene
popping into view as you turn in a cardinal direction, most scene
changes are accomplished via a transitioning process that gives
the appearance of actual movement. The transitions are quite smooth
and in one instance made me a tad dizzy. Graphically, the transitions
were, um ... We'll talk more about that later.
Gameplay is the standard left-click to interact with objects
and people or for movement from one room to the next. Movement
is indicated by a small arrow (it's really a half-diamond shape),
while interactive objects will display a stylized eye icon and
talking to people will give you little orange lips. Items are
accessed via the inventory bar at the top of the screen, and saving/loading
is called up by hitting the Esc key.
Clicking on objects will treat you to either a description of
said object or a verbal clue indicating there's more to that item
than meets the eye. Repeatedly clicking on several objects will
reward you with some of the wackiest Easter eggs ever seen or
heard. My favorite was the rope and bucket sequence, while the
one in the organ vestry was hilarious in a rather disturbing and
disco-ey psychedelic way. (There are just no words to really describe
the scene, it has to be experienced to be believed. Even then,
it's indescribable.) Trust me when I say the Easter eggs, alone,
are worth the price of admission.
The story's presentation is excellent. Each chapterthere
are ten plus an epilogue and prologuealternates between
Randolph and John's perspective. As John uncovers more of the
mystery, he's sometimes able to see the torment that Randolph
suffers as he searches for the Lifestream.
Lifestream's puzzles are varied and plentiful. Conundrums
range from inventory-based, like using a key to open a music box,
to standalone puzzles such as figuring out how to preheat the
oven by adding and subtracting six numbers to get the desired
temperature. There are also two mazes (eek!), two timed puzzles
and the ever-popular slider. (So don't say you weren't warned.)
None of the puzzles are particularly difficultas long as
you can see the item in question.
I'll admit that I wasn't pleased with the water valve puzzle.
There were just too many possible permutations of which valve(s)
should be in what position(s). To my way of thinking, it all boiled
down to endless fiddling and blind luck to figure out the correct
combination. I'm not a huge fan of "dumb luck" for the
answers to a puzzle. Logic? Definitely. Hints hidden in a locked
drawer? I'm all for it. Luck simply frustrates me.
In playing Lifestream, I ran into a few technical glitches:
two puzzles wouldn't complete when I'd done everything correctly
and one I was able to skip right through. A quick reload of a
prior save set things to rights. There were also a couple of instances
where finding the object of my desire was obscured either by the
darkness of the scene itself (the trigger to a secret cubbyhole)
or the item not graphically standing out (the crowbar).
Remember the aforementioned screen transitions? Well, let's be
blunt herethey were not the prettiest I've ever seen as
there were lots of bleed-overs from other scenes, including the
opening logohowever, it was great to see the effort in not
only a first-person game but a first attempt at producing a game.
It helped tremendously in keeping me "grounded" so that
I always knew which direction I was facing as the scenes changed,
including during a dizzying maze!
For an independently produced game, Lifestream's graphics
are quite pretty. Most objects have a real-life quality about
them. I especially liked the character models' ability to show
expressionfrom Father Randolph's surprised look when asked
if he had any children to the librarian's smirky eyebrow wiggle
when he enigmatically answered a simple question. The models do
suffer from a strange affliction that causes them to stand stiffly
and their hands to display a stiff-fingered, doll-like position.
Background music for Lifestream is incredible. The orchestrations
evoke feelings of melancholy, mystery, danger and sometimes inner
peace. I particularly liked the music used for Father Grandl's
roomit was reminiscent of The Exorcist. I'd like
to have a CD of just the music tracks used for the game.
Ambient sounds include something not usually heard in a first-person
gamethe footsteps of your character as he walks over various
surfaces. Sometimes, the footsteps are a little faster-paced than
the transitions lead you to believe, but you hear them nonetheless.
Once again, the inimitable John Bell shows off his vocal chops
and voices almost all of the male characters in Lifestream.
The supporting actors handle their jobs just as well. The
synching of the character models' expressions and lips to the
voice work was very well done.
At first, I wasn't enamored of the voice used for Holton the
Younger. He had such a whiny, world-weary, why-is-this-happening-to-me
type of voice; however, as I played through the game, I changed
my mind about him. His father is a priest, so he's spent his entire
life "hiding in the shadows." Now that his father has
disappeared and he seems to be the only real family that his father
has, Holton's suddenly got the weight of the world on his shoulders
as he attempts to unravel the mystery of Randolph's disappearance.
So I suppose a little whining is due.
Ultimately, it all boils down to this: Lifestream is a
fun little jaunt. It isn't the world's longest gameabout
eight to ten hoursbut it's enjoyable nonetheless; and although
I wasn't surprised by the ending, I did find it infinitely satisfying,
much more so than the last couple of games I've played. Its story
made me want to find out more about Randolph's search, the puzzles
kept me entertained and the hunt for Easter eggs had me clicking
like a madwoman.
So now it's simply a matter of your taking my hand and stepping
into the Lifestream to live your life's desires ...