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In Memoriam (Europe)
Missing (North America)

Review by Jen and Scout
November 2003

Jen

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 me—mostly they're not the criminal masterminds toying with their prey yet deep down inside yearning to be caught, as are their fictional counterparts—but 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 Europe—but to earn these you must first solve his puzzles.

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-way—they 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 presentation—they 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, anyway—without 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 right.

The twitch puzzles are awful. There aren't very many that are pure arcade—most 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 points—a 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 matter—but 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 this one.

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. 

Scout

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 stubborn—it's one of the more endearing of the three character traits I still possess—so 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 myself.

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 game—and 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. The End

The Verdict

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The Lowdown

Developer: Lexis Numérique
Publisher: Ubisoft UK (Europe); Dreamcatcher (North America)
Release Date: October 17, 2003 (Europe); June 2004 (North America)

Available for: Macintosh Windows

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Screenshots

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System Requirements

PC:
Win 95/98/00/ME/XP
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

Mac:
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

Where to Find It

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