May 13, 2008
Release Date: 2006
Carol Reed is back again in Time Stand Still, her third case set in Norrkoping, a quaint Swedish seaport city and textile center established in 1350.
What’s that you say? Never heard of Carol Reed (truth by told, I’ll bet you’ve never heard of Norrkoping either!)? Well, Ms. Reed is an English investigator in her early 20’s (picture Nancy Drew with cleavage) that has adopted Sweden as her home country and started her own private detective agency. Now, I’m not schooled as to the severity of crime in Sweden, but it could be entirely possible that her yearly cases comprise the majority of that area’s investigations.
Carol Reed is the brainchild of the husband and wife team of Mikael and Eleen Nyqvist - devoted Madonnaphiles and short film auteurs – who had the nifty idea to take photos of their home town, enhance them in Photoshop and then make them look like slightly swirly watercolor paintings (think back to those amusement park booths were you would squirt paint onto a frame and then it would spin to create a psychedelic effect). What possessed them to do this I don’t know – it could be that they are just leftover Timothy Leary children of the 60’s or maybe they see the world through Salvadore Dali eyes – but I like it. It is striking and leaves a lasting impression. Finally, Adventure Maker software is used to complete the creative process.
The game is played first-person point-and-click, with off-screen guidance from Carol (whom we never actually see) and on-screen voices over still photos of the supporting cast. Conversation is handled via the always reliable dialogue tree and a clickable map allows Carol to move effortlessly among areas in the game world.
The story is standard Nancy Drew/Scooby Doo – a house designed by famed Swedish architect Carl Bergsten is believed to be haunted and while the owners are away on vacation (If you live in Sweden, where do you go to vacation? Pittsburgh maybe?), Carol takes it upon herself to further explore this mystery.
Her investigation will require such mundane tasks as replanting an herb garden, watering plants and facing down Nazis. Nazis! Where the heck did that come from? Fear not, there are no action sequences present, but you will need to do some research and learn some of Norrkoping’s history.
The inventory puzzles are integrated effortlessly into the gameplay, In fact, this is the first – and probably only – game you’ll ever play in which you have to bleed a radiator, my father would have been proud that I remembered how to do this! My only complaints are that you can become stuck at times due to the necessary linearity of the plot and who out there has ever known anyone in real life to hide a key behind a picture frame? Yet, this seems to be a mainstay in adventure games.
The voice acting is amateurish - which makes sense as the actors are friends of the Nyqvists – but this serves to add, rather than distract from the overall experience as it reinforces the ‘you are there’ feel of the game. Recurring characters from previous games add a sense of continuity. Stina, the woman in the kiosk, welcomes you back by asking, ‘How’s it hanging?’ Well, it’s hanging pretty good Stina, thanks for asking. The herb gardener is, well, I’m not gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but I’m just saying, if I were, well I’d be looking to cultivate his garden, if you know what I mean.
The game overall has a friendly, look-what-we’ve done feel to it and is never pretentious. There’s also some pretty funny stuff in this game, who knew Swedish people were funny? Some nice Easter Eggs enhance the proceedings – a ‘Police Passive in Haunted House Mystery’ article is by Just Adventure’s Ray Ivey and hanging in the Museum of Design is a photo of yours truly. I’m assuming the photo serves its purpose well as there doesn’t seem to be any cockroaches or other vermin scurrying about the museum.
Time Stand Still is a solid effort in a series that improves with each game. There are some small navigation problems and the ending seems a bit rushed, but these are small nuisances easily overlooked in an independent title. It would behoove some savvy publisher to bundle all four games together and sell them as the Carol Reed Quadrant. At $20 retail, the price would be attractive to both skeptic and the hardcore adventurer and could open up some avenues for other independent developers. But there I go, having those crazy thoughts again.
These are lazy, rainy day type games. If you have a jonesing to blow something’s head off, then go elsewhere. If you get off on watering plants, solving tons of puzzles and checking out the scenery, then invite Carol Reed over for a mellanmål of Ostkaka and Sockerdricka.
Final Grade: B
Final Grade for Scene with my Photo: A+++
If you liked this game, then
Play: East Side Story
Watch:The Simple Minded Murderer
Read: Jan-Olof Ekholm