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The Moment of Silence Review
publisher: Digital Jesters
developer: House of Tales
PIII 800, 256MB RAM, 800MB HDD, 64MB video card
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Mar 01, 05
|» All About The Moment of Silence on ActionTrip|
Branka "Nikerym" Todorovic
Meet the Big Brother
One of my favorite novels ever is George Orwell's '1984.' Its paranoid utopian society is one of the ultimate portrayals of man's inhumanity towards its fellow man (Much like Walker: Texas Ranger -Ed). It makes me so giddy inside. I couldn't even possibly begin to describe how the total and complete mind-fucking just transcends every page. If there is a game that captures that dysfunctional goodness into one digital package, it's 'The Moment of Silence.' Even if you are not familiar with Orwell and his work, this game will be a welcome change from the hackneyed stories and recycled plotlines (that weren't interesting the first time around, either). The Moment of Silence is unique in that it has an amazingly well written story and some outstandingly clever puzzles. It also comes in a time where the adventure genre is in a bit of a lull, something like Latin in the world of video games. One of the reasons for that may lie in the fact people nowadays have no patience to deal with puzzle-solving for several days on end. What people want is some fast, furious action with no time to stop and think of the consequences of laying waste to the countryside in a hailstorm of plasma. The Moment of Silence warns you about the possible outcome of such a way of life.
The story of this game is initially more optimistic than its literary counterpart. It's only at the later stages of the game that you realize you've been under a serious misconception: the future as depicted in this game may look better than the future as Orwell imagined it during the fourth decade of the twentieth century, but after you've played the game for a while and realized what a hideous face hides beneath the pleasant and luxurious surface of the not-so-distant future, you'll see what a mess you're really in.
The game, which takes place in 2044, opens centered on the spy satellites that circle around Earth. You are an individual by the name of James Wright, who works for some sort of a marketing agency supervised by the government. The agency is currently working on a new campaign whose purpose is to encourage people to vote against an encryption measure. With the cynical motto of 'fighting for the freedom of speech', the government actually strives to introduce subtle measures of censorship where all thoughts and information will be made public, and everything kept secret will be considered potentially dangerous and/or illegal. But James, just as his colleagues, neighbors and friends, is aware of none of that. In fact, he is too occupied with his own personal tragedy: he's recently lost his wife and son in a plane crash, so he's been granted time off from work in order to pull himself back together. He's taken only several personal items and some clothing and moved into a small apartment in Brooklyn, when something happens that will change the course of his life forever. One day, the special police forces infiltrate the building and take one of James' neighbors with them. Convinced that he's been living in a democratic society, he is obviously very shocked by what he's just seen. As James stubbornly holds to the opinion it's all been one giant mistake, he decides something must be done so he heads off to talk to the poor man's wife with the pretext of returning the teddy bear her son lost in the corridor. And that's where your adventure starts - you will have to find a way to reach your neighbor's wife and find out more about his background and work.
After solving several simple initial puzzles, you discover your neighbor was a freelance journalist who was on the trail of something very important. James sticks to his beliefs in the wisdom and openmindedness of the government, but is nevertheless intrigued by what he saw and decides to help his neighbor at all costs. He thus starts a private investigation that will in a matter of days prove to be far more dangerous than he ever believed.
The first part of the game takes place mostly around Brooklyn, in the vicinity of James' residence building and the local park, as well as James' office and the Lower East Side, the low-life part of the city. James tries to gather the information about his neighbor's disappearance from all possible sources, but at the beginning none of them prove very helpful. Instead, he manages to glimpse the first shapes of the horrible truth. That will only make him more determined to understand the supposed crime of his neighbor and grasp the facts that had made him a criminal against the state, realizing too late he's become one himself.
However, the game does not restrict itself to several simple locations. James will soon start travelling to SETI and orbital stations in order to unveil the truth, exploring new locations and collecting information. Locations include the JFK airport that he'll frequently visit, as well as the orbital station and a strange 'rehabilitation center' Lunar 5, a station in the Bermuda Triangle.
After a somewhat slow start, I discovered there was much more to this game than meets the eye. I soon became very curious to see if James' efforts to retain the original freedom to the world so long devoid of it would prove to be fruitful. Somewhere around the middle of the game, our main protagonist finally begins to realize why his supposedly paranoid neighbor kept a personal diary in a written form and decided to record important things on an old-fashioned camera. Handwriting and video-tapes haven't been a part of James' world, and while he thought the reason for their absence was in technological progress, he finally realizes their power lies in the fact they allow you to keep many things private.
The story in The Moment of Silence is, as I've already said, amazingly well written, as well as very carefully developed. In a time when good stories are as scarce as intelligent human beings (intelligence and humans do not go well together, don't you think?), this is one reason more why we should appreciate what the game offers us. The game is full of lengthy and engaging dialogues with some very interesting and rather talkative characters, so you'll need to do quite a lot of talking - all the dialogue has to be exhausted in order to gain important info and make progress in the game. However, impatient players will be glad to know dialogues can be skipped e.g. sped up, so the things may go much faster. As the story is by far the most important part of the game, I do not recommend skipping the dialogue, but it's up to you.
The interface in the game is fairly simple - moving your cursor to the lower end of the screen brings up an inventory which lists all the items you've got and provides you with the basic information about them. The most important item you own is the messenger, which helps you make phonecalls and get into your office and satcars (modern taxis you are supposed to pilot yourself). Clicking or double-clicking anywhere on the screen makes your character walk or run to the spot, in which case the camera angle sometimes changes and zooms on James. This sounds simple all right, but in reality it is more complicated than you think. This is beacuse James moves in a rather awkward way and uses a very erratic pattern of pathfinding: your clicking on the spot several metres away from him will result in his running around the block and sprinting to the spot. Whatsmore, you will sometimes need to find the exact spot on the screen in order to move, or interact with your environment, and as you'll be doing this most of the time, you will soon become very irritated by these techinical quirks. You see, as camera angle isn't always in the optimal position, you'll often miss a very important item and have to come back in order to check every inch of the screen. Not only that - you'll often come to a certain location several times as you'll most probably miss what you were looking for. The fact you won't have the slightest idea what you were looking for will make the situation even worse. (Ever got terribly drunk on cheap booze and tried to park a bus in your garage? Well, this has some resemblances to the described process.)
Great story and dialogue, a gallery of interesting characters, some clever and creative puzzles, nicely designed environments, simple and useful interface, fairly good background music;
All that pixel-hunting, bad pathfinding, utter linearity, occasional bugs, inability to skip some in-game animations.