Next Life (North America)
Reprobates (Rest of the World)

Review by Old Rooster
November 2007

Next Life, also known as Reprobates, has been out for a couple of months in Europe. It comes from the developers who gave us one of my favorite adventure titles—The Black Mirror. They also brought us the intriguing NiBiRu: Age of Secrets. So it was with some anticipation that I entered into the world of their latest creation. Unfortunately, my impressions are quite mixed, as will be explained.

"This Must Be a Dream. It's Impossible. Where Am I?" —Adam

Adam Raichl, our Bohemian "hero" and the role you play, has a very nasty accident on his way to work. He awakens in a small tin hut on an island. Initial exploration reveals some water and cookies, as well as several other huts populated by folks apparently in a similar situation to his. A good part of your initial journey is to get acquainted with your neighbors.

They're a strange bunch, from all over the world. Most of them seem not only as puzzled as Adam as to "where" and "why," but also seem to be from various times. Not only that, the last thing they remember before arriving is typically quite horrific. Dorothy worked in the Twin Towers, exclaiming: "That was just a fire, wasn't it?" Boris talks fondly of Breshnev—but as a present, not past, leader. Another suggests that Nixon might find himself in trouble because of Watergate. Still another is pleased he survived a 300-foot-fall from a plane and wonders when his friends will come to pick him up.

Then we have the mood of the inhabitants, which borders on depression and a sense of resignation. Most of them seem to have been there for a while, and they brief Adam on some of the peculiarities of the island. There's a bell tower that gives three slow chimes every night, putting you instantly to sleep wherever you may be. During this sleep, you will likely have realistic and frightening nightmares. Then we have colleagues, most of whom are odd, to say the least. Edwin prays all the time, convinced God will rescue him; Danica seems to have given up and won't listen to encouragements; Hermann is very down—"Damn, they are all fools here, lying to themselves."

Our Adam, however, is determined to probe the mysteries of the island. He cajoles and pleads with his roommates to help him in his efforts to answer questions and unlock secrets.

"What If Things Are Different Than They Look?"

Technically, Next Life is an English translation of the European Reprobates. It also is version 1.2.16, which is a good thing since it includes the patches that were much-needed for Reprobates.

It comes on three CDs, takes about 4 GB of hard drive space, will play without a CD in the drive, and takes about 25 minutes to install.

Using a third-person perspective, Adam moves in classic point-and-click, mouse-driven fashion. Double-clicking will speed him up. Screens are static, with no rotational panning, though there is some motion within them, particularly of water and rain. Within a scene, you'll find inventory items to accumulate, people with whom to talk, places to go. The mouse cursor is small, and hotspots are often hard to find. Fortunately, the "E" key will show exits to adjoining screens. Right-click brings up inventory and options, including the ability to save anywhere.

Sticks and Stones, Water and Cookies

For a good part of the game, your inventory is very simple. You'll constantly be accumulating sticks and stones, which, as you'll discover, have multiple uses. There's no searching here through 27 inventory objects to find two that work together! I very much liked this approach.

In addition, we find an unusual twist for an adventure game. Adam has a health bar. As he moves, runs, simply passes time during the day, this bar goes down. It can only be replenished by drinking water and eating cookies. If you forget to do these things, as I once did, Adam can die, and it's game over. I found this a peculiar and unnecessary "feature" of the game, one of several, I suspect, included to try to appeal to a "wider audience" (action gamers?).

As the bell tolls and each day ends, you'll wake the next morning to a fresh start, which means no carry-over inventory items, different perspectives for the same general island locations (confusing), some fellow travelers missing, and maybe a few new ones added.

"You're a Reprobate; You're All Reprobates" —Edwin

A reprobate is a person rejected by God, beyond hope of salvation, typically depraved and unprincipled. But don't be too distressed by this definition. Remember, it's the delusional fundamentalist, Edwin, proclaiming the doom of all, except himself, of course!

For me, the primary attraction of the game was the presentation and delineation of the characters, and I do mean characters! As we get to know them through multiple conversations, we find they're anything but plastic cutouts. You'll hear and explore such statements as: "The only thing that can help me is death;" "I think this is a joke with Candid Camera;" "We must be in purgatory; your soul is waiting." Of course, we do have our determined Adam: "I won't be like a sheep—I have to do something!"

You'll often need to return to a person for followup. Fortunately, the conversational tree will show a highlight if a new item can be addressed. Otherwise, you'll get a dismissal of some type.

"Are You a Transvestite, or What?" —Edwin

The graphical presentation of the cast is a particular highlight of Next Life. When speaking with a character, a closeup occurs with quite incredible facial detail, including composition, lip-synching, changing expressions. Together with the intriguing script and decent voice acting, you get much more of a sense of personality than with most other titles.

Next Life has an "R"-rated written dialogue option to accompany the spoken "PG"-rated word. Be sure to check out what the North American censors have done to clean up the European lines. It's very funny to see several expressive "f--- it" expletives in writing translated for the actor as something like "my goodness."

This is a game where the acting may be criticized by some. But I think the actors did a fine job, with accents seeming appropriate to the many countries from which the characters are drawn. The lunatics sound loony, depressives sound depressed, the hopeful sound full of hope.

As to graphics and sound beyond the cast, more distant views, such as of Adam and the island, are satisfactory if not brilliant. We do have occasional birds, very realistic fire, lapping water on the shore, nicely done rain in some episodes. All of this is accompanied by unobtrusive and fitting background themes plus good ambient sound—the rain and wind, for example.

"Calm Down, Breathe, Just Don't Look Down" —Adam

Would you believe it took me 13 tries (!) over two days to solve the first arcade puzzle? I was ready to give up at that point, and I suspect many of you will be as well. There are inventory and code puzzles in Next Life, but, most unfortunately, there are also several of these minigame stumpers, of which the first is the worst. Not only is it hard in the first place to move a ball into holes around a clock-like wheel, but also the whole thing and every hole in it is timed and, further, has interfering balls that can deflect your intended path. It's one of the worst I've seen, and it made me a bit angry since, I think, like the health bar, this kind of "feature" does not need to be included in an adventure title.

"What Secrets Does a Desolate Island Hold?" —Adam

The premise and the promise of Next Life led this reviewer to really look forward to spending some hours with these "reprobates." Unfortunately, I can only give a mixed rating to a flawed title. On the one hand, we have very appealing and colorful characters caught up in a bizarre and puzzling situation. They are depicted well, both graphically and in terms of acting and script.

Yet, on the other hand, we have dated third-person movement in stick-like fashion, with hard-to-find hotspots and a good deal of redundancy with regard to conversations. Backtracking in performing the game's tasks also becomes fatiguing. The graphics are a mixed bag, almost seeming like one group of artists worked on the bland Island environs and another on the wonderful facial depictions. The presentation of the script is quite odd, with what is said not always matching what is written.

We also have the dreaded minigames, typically occurring during well-named nightmares. These and the odd health meter are completely out of place in this game, bringing my overall rating down a big notch. As the Masks suggest, Next Life (the game) is a toss-up for adventure game lovers.

Finally, without giving anything away, the ending is ambiguous, suggesting the possibility of a sequel, although one has yet to be announced.

What I Like Most About Next Life

  • Intriguing premise and cast of characters;
  • Detailed facial features and mannerisms;
  • Fine voice acting;
  • Inventory usage is well-done;
  • Most puzzles are sensible and contextual.

What I Didn't Like About the Game

  • Hotspots often too subtle, hard to find;
  • Dreadful, potentially game-stopping, minigame;
  • Scenes are fixed without panning;
  • Health bar seems an unnecessary "feature";
  • "R"-rated written script often doesn't match "PG" vocal script. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Future Games
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Release Date: November 2007

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 2000/XP/Vista
1.5 GHz Pentium 4
768 MB RAM
64 MB DirectX 9 compatible video card
4 GB free hard disk space

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