What is it?
The Moment of Silence (TMOS) is the newest adventure game from the House of Tales, the German outfit that brought us The Mystery of the Druids. Right away, I have to admit that I really didn't like The Mystery of the Druids, but I stopped comparing the two games pretty quickly. TMOS contains none of the graphical bugs and immersion-breaking missteps of The Mystery of the Druids, so this is the last time I'll mention it.
Okay, so now we've dealt with some of my prejudices, let's get on with the game at hand. The game arrived in a standard DVD-style box and this was the first surprise - it comes on DVD. I had thought that the DVD format was limited to the really big-budget guys like the Myst franchise and Half-Life 2. But, obviously, I was wrong, as it seems to be taking over further down the market. This is a Good ThingTM, because it means developers can offer games that can honestly claim "spectacular set pieces and dramatic action sequences", "over 75 rendered and animated locations", "more than 500 interactive screens". All of which, I must say, TMOS does indeed deliver.
Is there a plot?
Oh yes! Most definitely - this game is completely plot driven. The main character is Peter Wright. He's a communications designer - an ad-man, so to speak - working on the government's latest political campaign for anti-cryptography legislation. His world, as is so often the case in such games, is turned upside down by the sudden arrival of a S.W.A.T. team at his neighbour's apartment. Peter's neighbour is dragged away by armed police, leaving his family stunned in the doorway. At this point, Peter makes what might be considered in the real world to be a critically bad move... he goes round to his neighbour's place to see if he can help. But, I hear you saying, there wouldn't be much of a game here if he didn't! And you're absolutely right. Anyway, the story leads from here in Brooklyn to locations in various parts of New York City -- including Peter's office and Greenwich Village -- and then beyond to the tropics, the Arctic and even off-world for a time. Along the way, some of Peter's recent history is revealed, which makes his reactions to some of the story elements more than a little surprising.
The environments in this game are somewhat reminiscent of Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner'. However, this game has none of the empty spaces, ultra-busy streets, dark drama, or the rain of that film, though it does rain during some of the sections. We're talking 2044 here, 40 years hence; the world is governed by a democratic super-state with Big Brother-like tendencies. Technology has moved on in a surprisingly understated manner - people carry messengers (hand-held video phones), desktop computers look pretty much like the current advanced models with some nice enhancements (like no tower to get in the way), and the Internet has been renamed GlobalNet. Of course, GlobalNet is still used primarily for chatting, email and publicity, very much like today. Public transport has advanced - the maglev train is the subway of the future, and Peter mostly uses automatic cabs to get around locations in New York. Other transport media are used too - aeroplane, zeppelin, space elevator, skidoo and rocket. But most of the time, Peter is on foot.
How do you play?
The third person user interface of TMOS is mainly mouse-driven, with a couple of keyboard controls to summon help (displaying the exits from the scene) and Peter's Messenger, when it is available. Left clicking moves Peter around the world and performs actions (picking up objects, starting conversations, pressing buttons and applying inventory objects to people, the environment or other inventory objects), and right clicking gets descriptions of things from Peter's point of view, or de-selects a held object. As this is a third person game, navigating Peter around the environment is done using the mouse. This has one major drawback. It can be difficult to navigate in confined spaces and there is a particular problem with controlling Peter within his own apartment. This is really rather distracting when the start of the game requires you to spend some time in said apartment finding things.
The Escape key brings up the standard game menu for saving and loading games and setting options. There aren't many configurable options - just the voice, music and sound effects volumes and subtitles. What more do you really need?
Puzzles in this game are varied. There are inventory-based puzzles, including object-combining ones, and as we've come to expect, not all of the solutions are obvious applications of the particular objects. There are conversation trees - some of which are quite deep. Other puzzles include combination locks and dentistry, of all things.
Regarding the conversation trees, it would be nice if someone could finally sort out conversation trees so that you don't get comments from characters before the main character should know the information. Using the multiple choices in an order other than that displayed on the page gave rise to out-of-order information. If there are dependencies between conversation branches, then the dependent branches should simply not show up until the leading branches have been traversed, even if this leads to fewer options appearing at a time. Sadly, TMOS falls foul of this sufficiently often that I gave up trying conversation options in the order that seemed interesting and stuck to the order in which they're listed on the screen.
TMOS comes on DVD. This is important and the DVD-style game box makes this clear in five places, and just so you don't miss it, that's the same number of times as in this review. I repeat, this game comes on DVD - got it? ;-)
To those people who have an issue with StarForce protected games, be warned, this is another one of them. However, the only problem this caused was that the DVD sometimes was detected improperly by the StarForce disk checker if the DVD had been in the drive for a long time before starting the game, so I had to try to start it again.
This is also a big game - 3.4GB full install. It is somewhat unusual in that you install it normally, and then you use an extra button on the AutoLauncher to convert the normal installation into a full install.
The developer has already patched the game; however it is a small download when compared to many others currently available. The AutoLauncher has a "Check for updates" option that simplifies the patching of the game quite considerably. I didn't try the optional GameShadow program that comes with TMOS, as I'm not a fan of programs that scan the contents of my hard disk looking for games to upgrade - even if it is under my control.
Any other novelties?
I'm not sure if this next comment really counts as a novelty; in an ideal world, it certainly shouldn't. The voice acting in TMOS is almost universally excellent. The box claims "over 35 professionally voiced... characters," and indeed there are a goodly number of characters, though I didn't count them all, and they are all well acted.
The one exception, and this may be the reason I had some trouble getting excited by this game, was the voice of Peter Wright himself. Now, given his circumstances, I can understand why he's somewhat unhappy at times, but I feel the game suffers for his downhearted presentation - he needs to show more anger and outrage, and less numb melancholy.
TMOS offers two levels of anti-aliasing in the hardware settings section of the AutoLauncher. However these caused the game to crash to desktop when starting, so I gave up on them. Apart from this, the game was remarkably stable - I can't, in fact, recall any other crashes or hang ups whilst playing it.
I rather liked the developers' idea of how the mobile phone will change over the next 40 years - into the mobile video phone. The device seems useful and usable; with a simple menu and "start call" and "end call" buttons. However, the phone is used very little within the game, compared to how it could have been used. It is interesting that the phone acts as a metaphor for Peter's identity. When he is without his phone, he is a non-person; when he has it, he is a functioning member of society.
What went missing -- beyond the essential excitement that a game of this quality should engender -- were certain sound effects. With such a richly rendered environment, including objects that Peter can comment on but which turn out to never be used (something we adventurers regularly ask for), it seems odd that the House of Tales didn't take the opportunity to include footstep sound effects. There are times when Peter walks on pavement, carpet, vinyl, metal plating, concrete, and puddled surfaces, plus varied indoor spaces where you'd expect some of the sounds to reverberate around the room.
The Moment of Silence is a very professionally made, tightly plotted, well-acted (in the main), good-looking game that would justify all but the highest of price tags. Just one problem -- it lacks the sparkle and excitement I need to really recommend this game. It is a good example of the conspiracy theory genre, and certainly didn't fall into the trap of predictability. I'm usually a pretty good plot-spotter in mysteries and movies, and I didn't predict this ending before I got there, although I did have some of the elements quite early on.
Okay, I lied; one more mention of Mystery of the Druids: TMOS is much, much better than Mystery of the Druids. Finally, this game comes on DVD, so make sure you have a DVD drive before you buy.
What do you need to play it?
- Windows 98, ME, 2000 or XP.
- Pentium II 450 or equivalent
- 64MB RAM
- 32MB 3D graphics card
- DirectX9 - oddly, DirectX 8 comes on the DVD
- DirectX9 compatible sound card
- 2x speed DVD ROM drive.
(I used Win XP, AMD XP 2400+, 512 MB RAM, and ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP)
P.S. Dekker was a replicant, so there!