Release date: 09/2004
Developer/publisher: Unimatrix Productions
Game language: English
USK/ESRB/PEGI: not rated
A review by André 18th February 2005
(translated by slydos)
After I've enthusiastically played "The Arrangement" the expectations at Lifestream are very high, because between both games there are some parallels and connections. Both games were released in the same year and made with "Adventure Maker". The developers both come from the Independent Adventure scene. And they don't only know each other, Michael B. Clark, who created "The Arrangement", fortunately also contributed some puzzles to Lifestream. In addition both games are played in ego-perspective and Lifestream puts across at first sight a similar dark-mystic but with not so threatening basic tendency. However it shows up quickly that there are substantial differences.
When it comes to rating I will impose different standards compared with commercial games again. Because especially from the graphical point of view a game that's only made by one or few person(s) cannot keep up with the games of commercial manufacturers, who usually have extensive production teams as well as the newest hard- and software at their command.
The basic situation is that John Holston is searching his father, the priest Randolph Holston. We play both characters in the course of the game - John and his father. We experience John in the present and his father in the past, and how he was pulled into the mysterious "Lifestream", a kind of parallel world. The developer described marvelously, how we slowly get in touch with the spirits. Besides the story develops into a crime story, but I don't like to betray too much.
Each start of a new chapter usually marks at the same time that we slip into the other character. By the change of roles and the church theme, but also because of the atmosphere it looks a little bit to me like a 'small' Gabriel Knight 3 (without its game depth) or also The Watchmaker, even if the comparisons may appear a bit daring on first sight. Despite all comparisons Lifestream is however an absolute independent game, which develops its very own charm and a wonderful atmosphere after a short time.
The differences to commercial games are highly visible in the graphics style. Everything is done more rough and "more unprofessionel" than by a commercial developer, but this shouldn't be understood valuing. Because I think, that these with simple means - in positive sense - developed graphics look very interesting and have their very own attraction.
On the first sight "Lifestream" is very similar to "The Arrangement" in graphics style. That is probably also depending on the fact that with the "Adventure Maker" the same engine was used. The fixed background scenes of Lifestream were barely animated. There are little unnecessary details, because the locations are rather sparingly furnished. But so the game remains likewise clear and doesn't work overloaded.
There are however some substantial differences in the graphics design: The intro and the small cutscenes are a lot smoother and not as scurril, as it was the case with The Arrangement. In addition we meet a lot of characters in Lifestream. These look amazingly sophisticated and extremely professional for an independent adventure game. The lip-synch is excellent. There are smooth transitions partly in the form of impressing camera moves between the particular (fixed) scenes. The camera pans into all possible perspectives. If you slide down the stairs into a dark cellar, you get the impression, as if you directly descent into hell. The graphic quality however decreases during transition moves and then looks somewhat more rough and snowy. You are also quite slow moving from scene to scene, so that it appears a little viscous at the beginning. This impression relativises over the time, particularly since the paths are generally planned in such a way that you don't have to cover long distances.
Well aware of the problem, on a supplementary sheet you're already warned, that it would be advantageous for some monitors, to increase the brightness so that one can recognize some "scenes" better. Exactly this case happened on my system and some places were simply black. I presume that 99% of the other players might have the same problems. Well, this small deficiency, which can be repaired nevertheless with simple means, should be forgiven to an Indie game. After increasing brightness, it makes sense to play the game in a dark room to recognize the graphic details better. But it's anyway not advisable to play Lifestream at bright daylight since the matching atmosphere spreads best in the evening in the dark. I had my problems with a purse (in the second chapter) on the ground in the church that cannot be seen at all! That is probably a game error, but at least we can click the spot and take the invisible object.
Why does the door to a secret passage open by bare touching a bowl on the living room table? Fortunately only very few of the otherwise extremely varied puzzles are such far-fetched. Anyway we must open some more blocked doors and find other secret passages, because at the beginning our movement radius is limited to only a few locations. But by-and-by our walking area becomes more and more extensive. We may of course take all possible stuff, stow it away in our inventory and use it if necessary at the suitable spot. There are mechanical puzzles, in which we must set for example a clock in the correct way, some variations of board games such as Solitaire and just as many logic puzzles like my always favoured sliding puzzles.
There are many original puzzles, e.g. how to establish contact with the ghost in the bathroom (I don't want to betray more), although I couln't find out the solution by myself, I admit.
Thus the palette of entertaining puzzles might be covered in nearly all variations. Only for me the developers could have omitted the two labyrinths - I am not a friend of it. Fortunately they are not very extensive and thus quite fast completed.
That applies also to the degree of difficulty in general: Many puzzles are not really difficult and few tasks unsolvable, while the degree of difficulty remains relatively constant during the game. It would not surprise me, if Michael B. Clark would have been involved significantly in the extremely creative puzzle design. There are no Game Overs in this sense. Sometimes you have to make the right decision fast, otherwise the task/sequence starts from the beginning. But fortunately there are walkthroughs in case of emergency. I used them only twice or three times during the whole game.
In principle the handling is reduced much and one gets along very well with the most necessary functions, the game is equipped with. The point&click control and the inventory are practical and easy to use and actually require no further explanation. Worth mentioning is perhaps that one can have a closer look at the inventory items again by using the magnifying glass. And you can save, load and quit the game. And that's all.
There are unfortunately also two weak points, which I criticize in many adventure games and which actually could easily be repaired: On the one hand there are no sub-titles.
Since I have only middling knowledge of the English language, it would be an enormous easement of understanding for me, if I could read the spoken words parallel. There are actually some passages, where the voices are distorted by special effects. Unfortunately I understood nothing at all in these places. Therefore some parts of the action escaped me.
In addition a separate adjustment of music and sound is missing. Strictly speaking there is no volume control at all, unless I drag my emaciated - from the many brainteasers - and devitalised body laboriously to my loudspeakers and adjust the sound mechanically myself.
As already mentioned one slides due to the long-winded transitions between the individual scenes very slowly, almost deliberately through the game. This impression is still strengthened by the even-tempered piano- and synthy sounds, so that one is really lulled after some time (in positive sense). At least one doesn't turn so fast to unnecessary hecticness.
Very suitable the outstanding charismatic voice of the priest. It sounds fragile, melancholic, proud, wise and warmhearted at the same time. And we can recognize the alleged opponent already in the first minutes solely by his extremely invidious twanging voice (in addition by his facial expression too), still before he could get into debts!
The church-/fantasy locations are designed in a serious, "realistic" style, and people who like Gabriel Knight or also The Watchmaker should try the game. Condition should be however halfway good English knowledge and a tolerance against the (still) not perfect graphics of this independent adventure game.
For an Indie game it's however amazingly professional. Especially notable the animated, striking characters. The qualitative graphic difference to "commercial" developers is not as huge any longer. It wouldn't astonish me, if the next game would be developed and also marketed on a larger scale.
As is the case in Gabriel Knight we slip into two roles, what benefits the game and makes it more interesting. Besides I must emphazise the prominent voices, which provide additional flair to the characters. The puzzles sample out extremely entertaining and varied. If one sums up all factors, the bottom line is an atmospheric adventure game with exciting story with scarcely anything to criticize. With Lifestream Christopher M. Brendel found his very own style and created an absolutely convincing adventure.
Rating: 78 %
Adventure-Archiv rating system:
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for hardcore-adventure-freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
Minimal system requirements:
- IBM PC or compatible
- Pentium 733 MHz
- Windows 95/98/2000/ME/XP
- 64 MB RAM
- 600 MB on hard disk
- 640x480 resolution
- 24-Bit colour graphic card
- 4x CD-ROM-drive
- Windows compatible soundcard and mouse
- Macromedia Flash Player
- Win 98
- AMD Athlon XP 1800
- 256 MB RAM
- Graphic card Radeon 9200 Series
- 16x CDROM-drive
Hard disk 60 GB