I had great hopes for Post Mortem, since it was developed by Microids, the same company that developed Syberia, and I enjoyed Syberia very, very much. It's quite depressing to see how badly a company can screw things up, since Post Mortem doesn't hold a candle to Syberia in many respects. The artistic team was doing their job, but Microids apparently decided to experiment with the game interface, and the result is appalling. In addition, it appears that the company ran out of money and decided to skimp on the character graphics and character movement. The end result is a very good game that has been degraded enough to be downright irritating at times.
Graphics (quality, animations, cut scenes)
There is good news and bad news here.
The good news is that the surroundings and building interiors are very well done. The game is set in Paris in the 1920's, and the entire game reflects a dark, brooding Film Noir style. The black and white cut scenes are works of pure beauty. I enjoyed the graphics of Post Mortem immensely.
The bad news is the characters. They are all very low resolution 3D characters (one character's necklace looked like a very strange tattoo, since it was just an applied texture). The polygon count was low enough to give almost all the characters an unnatural, blocky appearance, and when set against the lush interiors, they looked downright ridiculous.
All of the characters moved excessively (and strangely) while standing or talking. The effect was distracting at best, and laughable at worst.
Sound (music, voices, special effects)
The voice acting was quite variable, but never got bad enough to actually bother me. The main character's voice was extremely deadpan, and was the arguably the worst voice acting of the bunch. The other voice actors ranged from fair to excellent.
The music was suitable for the game, but it didn't change to suit your environment. There was one small musical phrase that wasn't suitable for some situations, and it kept repeating throughout the game enough to become mildly annoying.
Environmental sounds were very good throughout.
Story (plot, theme, depth)
Post Mortem is a murder mystery involving the occult, and it manages to tell the entire story in a masterful manner. Most mystery games telegraph the basic ending from a very early point, but Post Mortem managed to actually keep me guessing for more than half of the game. The story telling is definitely one of Post Mortem's strong points.
Characters (depth, development, interaction)
Much as in a Film Noir movie, many of the characters tended to be somewhat over the top. There was the usual crop of characters that didn't have much to say (or do) in the game, and none of them would win any prizes when matched up against some of the adventure genre's most well-loved characters. If I had to describe them in a single phrase, I guess I would say "forgettable, but not insufferable".
Puzzles (difficulty, uniqueness, suitability, ugliness, linearity)
There were no mazes, no timed sequences, and no arcade sequences.
Post Mortem was quite non-linear in places; you could solve many of the puzzles in multiple ways. However, this was the cause of some of the more irritating portions of the game -- dialog choices. Many times, you would be provided with a conversation option that shouldn't be available at that point in time, which caused much confusion. By the end of the game, we were treating conversations as a puzzle in their own right -- which dialog fragment to choose in order to make the entire conversation sensible. If you chose incorrectly, the resulting conversation made little or no sense.
Because of this "conversation form the future" mechanism, there was at least one inventory item that could be acquired too soon, but the game would not recognize it as valid. You had to go acquire a second copy of it later in the game before the inventory object would work.
Most puzzles were quite simple (find correct item and use it, or talk to correct person). However, there were some stinkers
One puzzle needed a visit to the walkthrough, because I could not read the clue (not a good enough close-up was provided). I knew where the clue was, but it was downright illegible.
One puzzle was difficult merely because the game threw in red herrings (extra controls) and the game tended to lead me in the wrong direction.
One puzzle (the facial sketch one) took many attempts because the required description was incomplete. In addition, I couldn't try a sketch and show it to a character for feedback; I had to pretty well get it right before I was allowed a second chance at the conversation.
Controls (user interface, save/restore, sound/video adjustments)
The game has a first-person viewpoint (except for cutscenes), with node-based movement. You have the ability to smoothly spin around 360 degrees at each location. Puzzles or other areas were indicated by a magnifying glass cursor; clicking it gave you a fixed (no scrolling) close-up view. The mouse controls for scrolling were smooth and precise, so I don't think that motion sensitive people should have any problem with this game.
The inventory scroll-bar only showed 4 items at once. The problem is that your inventory grows to hold up to 30 items, of which more than half are unused and unusable. Most of the inventory consists of documents that you can't examine or use; instead, you can only read the document by reading your notebook, and the inventory item is nothing more than a space-wasting "fast link" to the notebook page. If you really like scrolling through inventory, you are going to love this game.
The dialog selections for conversation are all "mystery meat" choices. You get a sequence of file tabs, each marked with a question mark. You must select and read each possible dialog choice, and then go back and select the one that you want (if you remembered correctly).
There was no way to abort a conversation, even if the manual told me that I could. As in almost all mystery games, you spend a fair amount of time visiting all the characters to see what they might have to say. Once you started talking to them, the only way out was to select and listen to the dialog choice that would get you out of conversation.
The font used for most things was "bad typewriter", which made reading very difficult. It may have looked authentic, but this is a case where form before function was deleterious.
Saving a game was easy -- select your notebook, select the "save game" option, and click on the blank square. The games are marked with a small thumbnail picture and a date/time stamp. There were no options to title the saves, and the picture was too small to be usable in most cases. There was enough room on the screen to display the thumbnails at about twice the size, but I guess that wouldn't have been artistic enough.
The game provided a gamma correction slider, and a test screen for adjusting your brightness. However, the gamma correction control was on a different screen than the test picture, so you needed to switch back and forth several times before you could get it set correctly.
Bugs or problems
Dialog was not interruptable, although the manual indicated that it should be.
A maximimum install choice was provided, and the game only required that I have the first CD in the drive when starting (I assume for copy protection). I encountered no problems with the game installation, and it uninstalled cleanly.
- Very pretty graphics
- Beautiful cutscenes
- Interesting and well told story
- Awful inventory management system
- Awful conversation choice system
- Conversation selections "from the future"
- Unable to interrupt dialog
- Blocky, ugly 3D characters
- Poor game save/load system
- One puzzle not solvable because of poor game view of the clue
With the exception of the blocky 3D characters, Post Mortem is a beautiful (and playable) game. The problem is that I spent most of my time fighting a poorly designed game engine. The inventory interface, the dialog menus, and the inability to interrupt conversation all contributed to reducing my enjoyment of the game. Microids should throw out their game engine "improvements" immediately, and go back to the Syberia game engine design. Their next game will be better for it.
This article copyright © 2003, Murray Peterson