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Video Game / Still Life

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Art Imitates Life. You read that right.

Still Life is a 2005 Adventure Game developed by Microïds. It acts as a spinoff of Post Mortem (2002). Taking place in the winter of 2004, the story features Chicago FBI Special Agent Victoria McPherson, who is investigating a series of grisly and disturbing murders by a masked killer known as the Chicago Ripper. The body count is getting alarmingly high, and the FBI just doesn't seem to get closer to catching the culprit, much to Victoria's frustration.

During a Christmas visit to her father's home, her investigation takes an interesting turn when she discovers a series of secret case files belonging to her detective grandfather, detailing a separate string of murders in Prauge by the Perlovka Ripper, which share a striking similarity to the ones she is trying to solve. In both cases, the perpetrator targeted sex workers and murdered them in terrible ways, and strangely enough, wore a silver mask, dark cloak and top hat. The game follows both Victoria in her modern day quest to stop the killer, and her grandfather Gus McPherson in his investigation of the 1920s Prague murders.

A major theme throughout this dark, atmospheric game is art, as the (soon obvious) sinister usage of the still-life painting technique in its title suggests.

It has a sequel, too.

Tropes included:

  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: You start the game by playing as Victoria, but then switch to Gus for the Prague events, then back to Victoria and so on.
  • Anti-Climax: Although Victoria manages to shoot the killer, he falls into the river and the game ends without his identity being revealed.
  • Badass Family: The McPhersons.
  • Bear Hug: Peter gives one to Gus after he busts his brother out of jail.
  • Big Bad: Both time periods have the Serial Killer that the respective protagonist is pursuing.
    • The Prauge story has the Perlovka Ripper, a killer of prostitutes who Gus MacPherson is hired to hunt down. The killer is budding artist Mark Ackerman.
    • The Chicago story has the Chicago Ripper, a copycat of the Perlovka Ripper targeting women in Chicago and who FBI Agent Victoria MacPherson is looking for. The killer is revealed in the sequel to be Vicís boyfriend Richard Valdez, the grandson of Mark Ackerman following in his footsteps.
  • Big Fancy House: Although not enormous, Patrick's house is spacious and very elegant: expensive looking furniture, stained glass everywhere and even a jacuzzi. Hell, Victoria's old room has a painted ceiling.
  • Blackmail: What Victoria does to Todd Browning to keep herself out of trouble for breaking into the archives.
  • The Brute: Peter and Roman.
  • The Conspiracy: Of the group and villainous type. Possibly hinted at, judging by the book found in Mark Ackerman's studio and the items and paintings in the Red Lantern club. There is something going on, in any case.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Kolar's thesis is about the case Gus worked on and Victoria had read about that very evening. She even lampshades it.
  • Creepy Doll: In the abandoned building where Cynthia's body is found, there are a bunch of naked, dirty dolls hanging from the ceiling, with permanent expressions of shock on their faces.
  • Criminal Mind Games: The Chicago Ripper often leaves pictures of his next victim with a message written in blood threatening them.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: In both present-day Chicago and 1920s Prague, the victims are prostitutes.
  • Down in the Dumps: Gus visits a junkyard owned by Peter and Roman in order to talk to Vladanna, the only survivor of the Perlovka Ripper.
  • Dumb Muscle: Peter and Roman, to a comical degree.
  • Foreshadowing: When she first gets a look at Cynthia's body, Victoria is impressed by her many tattoos and says that the girl must like pain. As it turns out, Cynthia is the Mistress of Pain at the S&M club which Victoria breaks into later in the game.
  • Fandisservice: The players get to see the naked, mutilated corpses of otherwise attractive women.
  • Framing Device: How Gus' story is told. Victoria finds his old case files in the attic and his descriptions are so vivid that she becomes completely absorbed by the story.
  • Gorn: The game features two nearly identical serial killers who mutilate their victims. Many details of the crimes are definitely not for those with weak stomachs.
  • Happy-Ending Massage: The Red Lantern Club. The name itself is a clue to the nature of the activities that happen within, as traditionally, a red lantern hanging in front of a building was the sign a brothel.
  • Holiday-Appropriate Weather: It snows for Christmas in Chicago.
  • Just in Time: Victoria arrives in the nick of time to save Mia from being carved up by the Chicago Ripper.
  • Lockpicking Minigame: Position-based, and very frustrating.
  • Memento MacGuffin: Milena's necklace. It holds the clue to the lock combination on Gus' trunk.
  • Morning Sickness: Happens to Ida, who is pregnant with Gus' child.
  • Murderers Are Rapists: Averted. Neither killer was interested in raping their victims.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: The game's haunting opening sequence is Mozart's Dies Irae.
  • Ominous Fog: All over Prague.
  • Perpetual Poverty: Many of the characters from 1920s Prague.
  • Police Are Useless: Especially in Prague, because the inspector in charge of the investigation is a Dirty Cop.
  • Slashed Throat: This is how the Prague killer's victims meet their end.
  • Shout-Out: References to The Silence of the Lambs, I Love Lucy, Syberia, Star Wars.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Imagine a disturbed Gus discussing the evisceration of several women with Inspector Skalnic... while a cheerful tune whistles in the background.
  • Street Smart: Gus, Victoria and several prostitutes from Prague exhibit this. For all of them, it's an essential skill to have in their line of work.
  • Thanks for the Mammary: Early in the game, Miller catches Victoria to save her from a collapsing staircase by instinctively grabbing her torso from behind. Because of the shock, he forgets to let go, prompting a sarcastic comment from Victoria.
    Victoria: Do you like them?
  • Thieving Magpie: A crow, to be more precise. It steals the ring found by Gus in the park and brings it to the Coachman.
  • Red Herring: The mysterious crow man from Prague. He wears clothes similar to the killer down to the top hat, and was acquainted with many of the local prostitutes thanks to his profession as a coachman. He is also very elusive and deflects personal questions, and comes off as a pretty shady individual initially.
    • Kolar is this for the present day case. Familiar with two of the victims and obsessed with serial killers and especially the Perlovka Ripper case, all signs point to him as being the culprit.
  • The Unreveal: An extremely frustrating example. Although we eventually do find out who the Prague killer was, the identity of the Chicago killer remains a mystery. At least until the sequel.
    • A minor example would be the Mistress of Secrets from the Red Lantern Club. She is the only woman who did not reveal her true identity to her colleagues or clients.