Moment of Silence, The Download (2004 Adventure Game)

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The Moment of Silence is a third-person graphic adventure of European origin, developed by Germany's House of Tales (Mystery of the Druids). The 2005-released game is set in New York City, about 40 years in the future, where players take the role of an unassuming government propagandist who stumbles across evidence of intrigue and oppression when he witnesses his neighbor's abduction by a team of highly trained police operatives. As he seeks answers about the mysterious kidnapping, he is drawn deeper into a conspiracy of mass deception and far-reaching corruption. A conventional point-and-click interface designed for intuitive navigation. The game's 3D backgrounds are brought to life with texture and animation.

The Matrix, Minority Report, Blade Runner, I, Robot - films set in the not-too-distant future; films where the individual becomes a cipher; films featuring a faceless government; stories of intrigue, deceit, power, corruption. The Moment of Silence is the best adventure game ever to deal with this milieu and comes highly recommended.

The year is 2044. We have not yet arrived at Asimov's vision of the future, but the seeds are clearly present. Our enigmatic hero, Peter Wright, leads a quiet existence, working as a P.R. specialist for the government. He hears a commotion in the middle of the night in his drab and ordinary apartment building. In the morning, he finds his neighbor, Mrs. Oswald, and her son, Tommy, terribly distraught over an early morning police raid in which her husband was arrested. Initial enquires by Peter lead to denial by the police that anything even occurred!

And thus our mystery begins, with Peter simply trying to help his neighbor. Of course, he has his own set of problems, it turns out, plus he wanders into an unpleasant and complicated web of secrecy and corruption.

Moment of Silence uses the traditional point-and-click adventuring approach for character movement. Indeed, everything is managed with the mouse, except for an "H" key for help with hotspots (exits to another scene, critical items) and "M" for your friendly Mobile Messenger - a cell phone extraordinaire. Inventory, interface, various settings for graphics are all done well and smoothly.

As with most adventure titles, precise and complete screen exploration is crucial. And you will have a lot of screens to explore - more than 500! Sometimes, needed inventory objects will be almost impossible to spot (one such occurs very early on), but due diligence will usually bring you there, plus the knowledge that something is really missing that you might need. The "H" key can be useful in this regard. I did find that the mouse cursor could be fussy at times, particularly with another program running simultaneously - HyperSnap in this case. Shutting that off alleviated the problem for the most part. Everything considered, however, the technical aspects of the game went well, and I don't have any serious complaints.

The Moment of Silence strikes a particularly good balance between the linearity needed to move the story along and the opportunity to explore this interesting society more fully - particularly with conversations. For example, if Peter sits in the primary transportation modality, the SATCAR, without having completed certain tasks, potential destinations literally will not show on the map. Thus, the securing of an item or content of a conversation becomes critical for progression. However, there are "side trips," many of these interchanges with fascinating characters, that serve to embellish and enrich the narrative.

Indeed, it has been three years since the team at House of Tales produced a game, and I think they have used the time extremely well. This New York City of the future comes to life with stunning graphics and a sense of aliveness unusual for an adventure title. The 75 prerendered and animated locations are intriguing and, although your technical ability to wander a particular screen is limited, you'll wish to explore as much as you can. From apartments to parks, the design team has gone all out with an obviously loving sense of detail.

The production is enhanced by equally attractive and sometimes lengthy cutscenes, beginning with the opening apartment break-in scenario and continuing to others of even greater detail and length.

But even though the graphics impress, voice acting, ambient sounds and movie-quality orchestral themes raise The Moment of Silence yet a notch higher. I was anticipating a "phone-in" script translation effort, and instead found wonderfully acted renderings, from the lead all the way to the crazed park guru (or was he crazed?). A special word needs to be said about the portrayal of Peter Wright. This is essentially a story about and told by him, and the actor brings a sense of believability, compassion, self-doubt, even pain which is quite remarkable. If awards were to be given for "Best Acting in a Game," this fellow would be a surefire nominee!

Yet fine graphics, sound, even great acting can all create not much more than an attractive shell of a game if the story and dialogue are not worthy. Thankfully, it is this essential aspect of The Moment of Silence that shines the most. The "Best Acting" nomination needs to be accompanied by a nod to "Best Writing" in a game! The futuristic, sci-fi theme, depicting a grey, complicated, depersonalized world, is articulated extremely well. The story would make a terrific read as a novel. But not only is the plot involving, so are the characters (and I do mean characters!) with whom you interact. You'll meet over 30, and they are a diverse lot, from the park guru to the boy who lost his father to a fascinating gangster. You'll want to chat with them all, find out more about what they think of this society. Sure, you can just try to move the story along in a linear way and skip some of the embellishments, but you'll be doing a disservice to your gaming pleasure. The Moment of Silence is a game to be savored and presents a world in which it's good to spend time. Plan on a 20-hour, not 15-hour, gameplay experience. It's worth it!

These days, we succumb to so many game ads about the latest and most powerful graphics and surround sound, yet we hear little about story and writing, the underpinnings that support and create the very best games. Graphics and sound are certainly present in spades, but it is the outstanding premise, story and dialogue that really make The Moment of Silence such a satisfying, even remarkable gaming experience.

Puzzles in The Moment of Silence are primarily inventory and conversationally based. Inventory items are nicely labeled, readily retrieved and used. Mostly you'll be figuring out your next step with direct hints or inferences drawn from conversations. And you may occasionally have to return to follow up. I found the game often tough and didn't want to spoil it by consulting a walkthrough, but since the world and writing were so excellent, I simply decided to take my time and let things fall into place - which they did!

The Moment of Silence is one of the best adventure games of 2004 and likely the best ever to deal with a futuristic, Orwellian theme of corruption and conspiracy. Story, dialogue, character development, settings, artwork, acting, and music are all superb. Gameplay is traditional and effectively accomplished. There are occasional glitches in movement or pixel-finding, but these are minor and typically expected annoyances. They do not take away from an outstanding PC adventure and one that comes most highly recommended!


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