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Missing: Since January Review

publisher: The Adventure Company
developer: Lexis Numerique
genre: Action Adventure

PII 233, 128MB RAM, 700MB HDD
ESRB rating: M

release date: Jun 29, 04
» All About Missing: Since January on ActionTrip

July 22, 2004
Branka "Nikerym" Todorovic

"Hundreds of people go missing each year. They vanish into thin air as if they never existed in the first place. Even the posters with their photos pasted on lampposts slowly wither away...

Journalist Jack Lorski dedicated his life to searching for truth. This search soon grew into an obsession when he accidentally came into possession of a 10 year old 8-mm snuff film. The sight of the murder that took place a decade ago made him search for the killer, regardless of the cost, so he and his girlfriend, Karen Gijman (the daughter of the man who captured the murder on film, and was killed for it) set off to discover the truth about the murder. But with each clue they find, they find their path leads them deeper into darkness.

Now that Lorski and Gijman have gone missing too, and the murderer has sent a CD full of rather disturbing (and disturbed, for that matter) occult content to the company that employs Jack, the police can only hope that someone manages to unscramble the meaning of the CD and find the killer and Jack and Karen, preferably without disappearing in the process.

This would be a short introduction to Missing: Since January (published in Europe as In Memoriam), a game with so thin of a boundary between fiction and reality that you will find yourself wandering whether it is all just a game, primarily because the main plot elements seemingly take place in the real world, surprisingly often. But let's take this one step at a time... in order to play this game, you will have to register online or to be more precise, you will have to leave an e-mail address in order to be able to receive messages that will help you progress through the game. Your goal is to find Jack and Karen (no connection to the Will & Grace characters [Thank God - Six]). The developers wanted to make you feel as if you really were a part of the game world, so they brought a part of the game world into the real world. You will conduct your investigation over the Internet and through e-mail. Once you register, you will receive a message from SKL Network (the company Jack worked for), expressing their gratitude for agreeing to solve the case, and sending you your access password. The game is afoot.

At the very start I was attracted by the bizarre humor of the game. The obscure scenes crammed with occult symbols, depicting murders and corpses, Karen running away from the murderer she knows she cannot escape from, the eerie sounds behind it all... one of the first things you are supposed to do is put the knife in the murderer's hands and accept his game. I loved this as it was evident that Missing is, in spite of the use of some clich's (for instance, a serial killer, obsessed with the occult), a very innovative and unusual game. But...

As soon as the game started I faced some serious problems. In order for Phoenix (the killer) to agree to play with you, you have to pass the initiation. I have a lot of experience with brain-teasers, but this initiation really gave me a hell of a time. Looking at it from this perspective, these initial puzzles are not incredibly difficult, it is just that through them you have to get used to the logic of the game, and realize what it actually wants from you. Just as if you are dealing with a real killer.

The initiation has three main parts (Sun, Moon and Cube), which symbolize three parts of a man. If you fail to complete these first puzzles, you better leave the game altogether, because you are going to be facing some far more difficult ones. At times I actually pondered on the idea of becoming a serial killer myself and going after the developers... still, if you manage to do the first chores, you're in for a lot of fun and mentally challenging games. I had enough problems with the second initiation test that the killer asked me: "What are you, an idiot or something?" which was met with a resounding "yes, so what's your point?"

In any case, after you pass the initiation, you should start receiving e-mails, so do keep checking your inbox from time to time. This brings us to the first flaw of this game - the messages sometimes come too early or too late in the game, both of which are equally silly. Another thing that can happen is that the web site you need will be unavailable, which slows the game down. This is not a problem with the game code, but rather with the logistics; the developers should have dealt with these issues. My account was set up on a server in Virginia and I'm using a broadband connection, and I know that other people also had problems like this. Things like this make playing the game a bit of a nuisance, as you frequently have to wait for an e-mail from your "assistants" (you will be able to solve some puzzles without any help from the net, but most of the time, you won't be able to budge without checking the web or e-mail)... So, you decide to check the necessary site, but it says it is currently unavailable. Two hours later, when you finally manage to open it, you realize that the data you were looking for could be just anything on the site... You can imagine how frustrating this can be. It is as if the game wasn't hard enough to begin with, so they had to introduce some more troublesome elements into the experience. Apart from that, you sometimes won't even know what you exactly have to type into the browser to get the desired site. It would be ridiculous if they made catching a serial killer too easy, but games are primarily supposed to be fun, and going to extremities with game difficulty, somehow takes away most of the fun factor.

But let's get back to the game. Once you complete the initiation, you will be able to watch the 8mm movie Lorski acquired. The movie shows a family vacationing in Greece with a gruesome execution-style murder at the end. The murder was accidentally filmed by Karen's father, who was also killed because of this. A new level opens before you - Aqua. There are altogether four levels: Aqua, Terra, Aer and Ignis (water, earth, air and fire). Each level has a set of puzzles to be solved, which have something to do with its name (for instance, in Aqua level, you will have to save Karen from drowning; Ignis will require you to use the light of a candle to light and read a word somewhere on the screen, etc.). Once you complete one set of puzzles, you will get new, more demanding puzzles, and completing a level will automatically take you to the next one. After you complete puzzles, you will also get new e-mails and videos showing Jack's and Karen's hunt for the killer, which will give you a clearer image of what happened. This is interesting at first, but in time, it becomes routine (some clips are merely informative, and some are flat-out boring to put it plainly), and I believe that they could have come up with more interesting and versatile content to use here.

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7.2   Good

Originality, great atmosphere, intelligent and witty puzzles;

Some ridiculous and annoying tasks; ending is lacking.


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