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The Moment of Silence
Game language and manual: German
USK: rating for everyone
A review by slydos 4th October 2004
Note: While translating this review House of Tales released a patch to fix some mentioned technical problems. The patch will be integrated in the upcoming English version.
The release lists let already suspect a 'Hot Autumn". With their SF-thriller "The Moment of Silence" The German developer studio House of Tales aims deliberately at an explosive quantum leap, to catapult the adventure genre into the still new millenium.
Many games are like Christmas crackers - beautifully packed but up to a snatch of amusement and a little bit of checkered confetti, which can be easily shaken off, rather hollow inside.
During "The Moment of Silence" you will recoil too. "The Moment of Silence" is also beautifully packed (by the way in a mini flap box), impressively entertaining and sometimes colourful, but that's not all. This adventure game comes from Germany. Why I mention it? We are specialists with a sense for the problem of state-run surveillance and manipulation because we've had a long experience with it.
Anyhow "The Moment of Silence" envolves the players into a story, that can't be easily peeled away like a shower of ticker-tape or a radio commercial.
Peter Wright, our leading actor, is a communication designer at the New Yorker company Greenberg & Winter and is at present, i.e. in the year 2044, concerned with the contentwise design of a promotional campaign for the legal institution of the cryptography ban. Peter is in a conceivable disordered condition, because his wife and his son were killed quite recently during an aircraft crash. His boss exempted him temporarily from his job and helped him to rent a new, non-commemorative single apartment. Peter is drifting, drinks too much and hangs about anonymous chat rooms.
A nightly incident in his neighbour's flat tears him out of his depressive abeyance: he watches a police squad detaining his neighbour, the journalist Graham Oswald, and treating him like a felon. He decides to do something and help Mrs.Oswald and her son. During his search for Oswald, Peter discovers piece for piece a surveillance state, that works much more discreet than Orwell's "1984" in the background unnoticed by the majority. We experience in fragments, how the world has changed in the last 40 years and surprised get to know that even the NSA was abolished. What a lucky country, that doesn't need a secret service anymore!
But some inhabitants don't seem to agree with the development at all and try to assault, yes to overthrow the hightech society system. Following their English predecessors of the 19th century they call themselves Luddites and are pursued as terrorists by the government. In his past life Peter wasn't really interested in them or political issues and changes from a stuffed middle class citizen into an acting individual not until he feels concerned in his very personal life.
Peter's investigations don't remain undiscovered and so he becomes an enemy of the state too through his knowledge and actions. And this state has very special treatments for its enemies. Regarding Peter's development, we must ask ourselves if perhaps a little unabomber couldn't be hidden in all of us.
The scenario players find in this ficticious world, is from today's date seen in some points likely, in others rather unlikely, in each case similarly possible and comprehensible.
- For example the robotization of wide life and work ranges and the associated decrease of employment appears probable, as shown here in nursing, school or other service jobs. Only very few jobs will remain for humans, e.g. control functions (police, supervising personnel, machine maintenance) and also creative jobs.
- For example the often prognosticated union and world government appears rather improbable (Perhaps it will come, if humans find another opponent than humans.)
- Interesting, where from the Moment-of-Silence-state recruits its helpers: they are people who can be led easily, 'useful idiots' with low IQ, people who already have gone through a brain wash, or traditionally not analyzing command receivers like police or military.
- Each citizen must carry a communications device with him/her introduced by law, the 'Messenger', which is used for telephone calls, payments and identification.
- All electronically not recorded print media must be made accessible to the Ministry of Information by scans, since all written information must be available to the public.
- Individual written communication without the permitted means such as computer or messenger, thus e.g. personal notes, is forbidden by law.
- There are continuing different on-line newspapers and free journalists such as Oswald.
- School children are educated on-line or by robot tutors. Handwriting is no longer taught at school.
- At least in the large cities individual traffic on the road is abolished to a large extent. Automatically controlled satcars have replaced taxis with drivers. Less privileged classes must use the trains of the monorail, the underground metro was closed because it was too unsafe. Passenger air traffic is possible. Automatically controlled zeppelins are taken for certain maintenance tasks.
- People spend their spare time in front of telescreens or in the Virtual Palace, children's games are simulated in a virtual 3D-reality. Lunar 5, an 'idyllic' space station in the earth orbit, which is connected to earth with a rapid-transit railway in the so-called space elevator, is considered as especially 'exclusive' resort.
- People have free access to awareness-changing drugs, alcohol is likewise available everywhere.
-The concentration of major enterprises continues to increase uncontrolled.
- the state tolerates a part of harmless outlaws, freaks, and criminals in their niches and hiding places.
You think this all doesn't sound so terrible at all, do you? There must be order and organization, so that civilization not perishes in crime and chaos? You don't mind to break with small personal liberties and turn in a part of your privacy in favour of a safer life? You do that already now and it doesn't hurt at all?
The fictitious story of "The Moment of Silence" is composed of well-known pieces from movies, TV and literature, which is no point of criticism. The unhinged hero with his alcohol problem is not exactly new, the alien freaks could originate from X-Files and people who know Orwell's "1984" will be suspicious of Mr. Huntington (Mr. Charrington) the antiques dealer. It's important that all this well-known puzzle parts are put together with original characters and structures to a new and coherent plot, which is excellently done in this game. This produces a recognizing smile on all, who know the reference material. But even those who can't do anything with the lively distributed mosaic stones or scarce allusions, will surly be captivated by the story. Not only well set suspense and surprise elements do play a large role, but also detailed background stories of many NPCs, that give an understanding of the life in the year 2044, and also serve as hint source for solving puzzles.
"The Moment of Silence" doesn't develop on a dark, moody and continuously raining Bladerunner environment, don't knowing whether it's day or night. We start in a surprisingly tidy up big city, which offers bright glass structures in the business quarter, with quite friendly offices of the think tanks, and stroll along through idyllic Greenwich Village. And even the run-down Lower Eastside makes a nearly heimish impression with colourful graffitis. Somehow it seems to us totally unreal on the bright day that a dark secret is hiding behind all. But it will get darker in this game too, as we advance deeper with Peter. Apparently abandoned metro stations and winding sewers are refuge and prison at the same time. But TMOS likes most to play with the contrast of an apparently carefree scene with abysmal story, as on the paradisiacal seeming orbital station Lunar 5.
The background graphics are excellent and preoccupy our eyes and our mouse with a lot of details, and not only game-relevant objects. If our hero passes certain key points, we are surprised with dynamic camera moves and changes of perspective, which unclose again and again new insights. However they serve also, and I assume not completely unintentionally, to disorientate the players in the New Yorker underworld, which Peter enters with the adjuratory words: "You'd almost think, it's a labyrinth - however I am sure that it is not!" (Goodness gracious, I nearly choked on my apple during this words!). Actually it is not a genuine labyrinth, but it's also not inherently clearness. In one underground scene it was nearly impossible to play on, since the hero always ran back on a mismatching path and partly disappeared in the wall. There was only a tiny interactive pixel range (see the appropriate screenshot), which dismisses Peter correctly into the next scene.
The waste water near the exit looks rather like an overburden conveyer belt and not like liquid substance, and I was missing here the suitable soundeffects, as with the fountain in Peter's office or the rain in the park at night, where instead mosquitoes were buzzing around a lantern, which would in reality have been driven away by the downfall. Besides we find realistically animated creeks in the park and in Alaska. Also the ocean in Peter's trip to the Bermuda Triangle looks very authentic and is also satisfying concerning the soundeffects. The fact that Peter doesn't belong to the race of the vampire-like beings, is particularly praiseworthy and extremely soothing, mean to say there are reflections of him in windows, puddles, mirrors, and floors.
The scenes in New York and also at Lunar 5 look at first sight very realistic with a number of not interactive NPCs always standing or sitting around, which are also partly very well animated, but they always hang out at the same spots. Mobile pedestrians are the exception. And one looks for satcar traffic in vain except in the video scenes. Only the monorail, elevators and escalators are moving and here and there another bird. I found the sounds down in the metro somewhat strange - although we get to know that the metro traffic was ceased, one can still hear trains running, perhaps the aboveground monorail, or a ghost train, who knows. While the music, particularly the main theme, convinces and backs the futuristic ambiance, a remarkable number of expected sound effects were omitted or not realistically presented.
The 3D characters, of which we can also control Peter's neighbour Deborah Oswald for a short period of time, convince with perfect realistic movements and gait. In contrast to this the face animation is still developable. Even if the mouths open and close relative synchronously to the spoken text, our actors do not show the appropriate mimic to the situation, as on the other hand can be seen in the excellent film scenes. However our hero and his interlocutors rarely occur in close-ups, where facial expression has a larger weight.
The movie scenes already talked about offer real good pictures and fit very well in the situations, when it gets action-loaded and exciting. Only these cutscenes are filled with action elements, while the interactive part of the game doesn't contain any dexterity tasks. Whenever Peter must strain his body more than doing his walking and running, these movements are always implemented by elegant in-game animations, climbing or jumping as in Uru or Broken Sword 3 is no task of the players. I was asking myself where from Peter does take the strength for some exercises, regarding his living?
Our main characters are joined by another 35 interactive NPCs, keeping the female portion within limits. If it is already today no longer common that women only play the receptionist or earn their living as hostess-silly or prostitute, then one should expect a higher woman ratio in 40 years from now than explained in this game. It would surely have more satisfied Mrs. Winter (guest on Lunar 5) on the other hand, if one would have also deployed e.g. some able-bodied, not extremely IQ-burdened male 'attendants' on Lunar 5.
All fans of adventures that emphazise dialogues will get their money worth here. Even if according to developer's data "The Longest Journey" is not yet reached with 8 hours of voice acting, nevertheless a very similar impression remains. We by far not only get to know what we absolutely need for puzzle solution, but also familiar background of colleagues or everyday stories of this future world. Those who are not so extremely interested in all this and of course the outstanding voice acting, may select from the multiple choice dialogues only that, what they urgently need for getting ahead in this adventure game. But if you do so, be aware that you may get problems to understand the story or puzzles in all its particulars, similar as you only read every 2nd page in a book. Dialogues can be skipped fast, if one should have asked a question for a second time by mistake. Dialogue topics that are already discussed are marked by a different colour. We can also switch on sub-titles (which are shown at the top of the screen, also indicated in different colours for different characters).
As yet usual with publisher dtp, the dubbing was taken over by excellent speakers as Manfred Lehmann or Daniela Hoffmann, better known as the German voices of Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts. Also the supporting characters are very well spoken, we find references such as Norman Matt from Monkey Island or Alexander Schottky from Broken Sword. The two leading actors were selected as double pack by the fans in an online poll, which wasn't really free choice in this forced combination. Martin Lehmann is one of my dearest voices and I am pleased to hear or see him each time as actual as a private eye in a TV show, but he inevitably acts hard-nosed and adds a coolness to Peter, that isn't embodied by him at all.
"The Moment of Silence" can be controlled almost exclusively by mouse. With the ESC-key the main menu opens, the H-key highlights scene exits and the M-key uses the messenger, if you don't want to do this by right-clicking on the messenger-icon within the inventory. The standard arrow cursor changes its shape over hotspots and so suggests interlocutors, scene exits or interactive objects. The controls are intuitively detectable, but need exercise with the scene exits, because not each camera/scene change is indicated by a change of cursor shape. A detailed description of all functions offers the well illustrated 19-page manual.
Our 3rd-person hero Peter reacts very 'relative' to the relative mouse control. He follows the given movement paths and sometimes makes large detours. If I click e.g. on the right side of the screen and he runs to the down left corner, this is very strange. In order to get him, where you actually want him to go, you need a due portion of patience in some scenes. Doubleclicks, both with left and right mouse buttons let Peter run, but sometimes this man cannot be stopped at all. It can happen that he continues to run inadvertently into the next scene.
When leaving a scene or only a point of view, the average player too easily gets into the automatically unfolding inventory. To minimalize this problem, one can let show the scene exits at once without trying to find the right exit on your own. Impatient players will be surely enthusiastic about this function.
Let's have a look at the puzzles: they won't produce sleepless nights, nevertheless they are not as simple as to result in a completely unstopped walkthrough. The puzzles are classic nevertheless not unimaginative. You can deduct them all in a logical way and they are very well embedded into the story. Besides inventory/object puzzles we should particularly pay attention to important hints in dialogues and look out for some time-dependent puzzles, where we have to wait a certain time interval. Some few logic puzzles, as we know them from the Myst-like games, require power of deduction and the correct interpretation of clues. I especially loved those puzzles, where one had to free oneself from the whole twisted thoughts and recollect upon the direct and easy way. Just like in the flim scene at an Arab market, when Indiana Jones uses his pistol. That's very special!
"The Moment of Silence" is designed linear if we look at fundamental action branches, but offers the possibility of visiting a part of the locations again and again or of talking with interlocutors in nearly arbitrary order again after the starting phase. Usually we must solve puzzle A before puzzle B and also receive information or a clue, before we are able to become active on this matter. Computer and messenger are integrated into the puzzle structure. There are no game sequences, that require dexterity and likewise there is no Gameover.
I could finish "The Moment of Silence" in 30 hours, specialists will need 25 hours minimum, the normal occasional players will see one of the two possible endings after 35 hours the way I see it.
Again I would like to point out the joy, a personally solved puzzle makes. Those who use walkthroughs, take away much of their original pleasure. I am completely sure that everyone can solve "The Moment of Silence" from own virtues, if he/she has only enough confidence into the own abilities. Who so far hasn't solved adventures without a walkthrough, should take this game without any and be surprised by her/his own skills.
Only gamers who possess a computer with a DVD drive can play "The Moment of Silence". The installation procedure offers 2 possibilities: the recommended full installation of 3,3 GB or a minimum installation of 900 MB.
After the Starforce code input an error message came up on my system, which could not be bypasses after a computer restart, so that a de- and new installation of the game were necessary. Strange that no new code input was required then, what probably means that the copy protection code was not removed.
"The Moment of Silence" ist started by a small starter menu, called launcher. Here we can change some presettings such as antialiasing or sound-type. Also the installation size can be put back to minimum any time you want, if you need the space on your hard disk for example, in the same way you can again return from the minimum to the full installation, which is extremely comfortable. While having a minimum installation loading screens takes longer. The game ran however smoothly and without noticeable delay during full installation.
I had a complete system stop after clicking a not visible chat message at Peter's PC in the morning of the 2nd october. It was the only one on my machine and could be avoided by leaving and entering the room. If you have any problems, you can access a patch directory on the web through a link in the launcher menu to load files directly. For people, who don't want to use the internet, the manual indicates some support phone numbers.
The main menu, which is accessible during the game with the ESC-key, offers the 6 options start, end, save, load, help and settings of sound, gamma correction and sub-titles.
Savegames can be selected one after the other by scrolling through mini scene pictures. The number of savegames is not limited. The names are automatically taken from the actual location but can be overwritten using German umlauts too, date and hour are automatically added.
Who must interrupt the game will be pleased about the fact that resuming TMOS is possible without detours, i.e. without intro and even without the necessity to select a savegame. That's minimalism at the right place! Nearly just as quick one can leave the game again and must only pass the main menu.
"The Moment of Silence" is rated by the USK (The German Entertaining Software Rating Board) as suitable for all age groups, what means, it can be played by a 3 year old exactly like a Freddi Fish game. It's not the first time that I have my problems with the USK-rating.
TMOS is not a children's game! It addresses contentwise to a grown-up audience. Not enough, that children will have problems to understand the story, there are also some more or less unappetizing scenes, which should not be forced upon the still zombie-unexperienced. Thus starting from 12 years would have been more suitable.
If I recapitulate the changes of the world in the last 40 years, the TMOS scenario shows a tame and if you want, by the future projection even dangerously trivialised development, as measured by the already used real technologies of the present. The mentioned data-sucker Echelon is reality and nobody knows exactly, who finally receives and utilises this satellite communication, that can be eavesdropped and analyzed in real time. The US customs and attached institutions have data access on all air freight and passenger movements additionally to the scanned finger prints and photos of airline passengers starting from 10-01-2004. The readers will surely think of such catchwords as patient-servicecard, biometrics data, Terrorist Information Awareness Office or even the 'harmless' toll system. I personally think for example of the nearly silent introduction of the RFID spychips, for which the international PR agency Fleishman&Hillard actually has to neutralize the today still intractable opponents. (by the way F&H, that works also for the US military, is likewise responsible for the campaign of a messenger-like PDA/cell phone by a company named 'Danger', you can't invent the name, it's real). The future has already begun. But all changes serve our comfort and security as is generally known and we have nothing to hide, do we?
House of Tales has prepared a tasty meal out of individual good ingredients, sticks to the old Hollywood-rule, not to paint everything black but cultivating the 'Not-all-is-lost-attitude' with a hero, who tackles the impossible. The game shows, what happens, when you don't think of your own but let think.
Despite some cut backs concerning character graphics, soundeffects and handling the game undoubtedly belongs in its total impact to the genre heights of this year. The questions, we must ask in the end, should absolutely be answered in a sequel.
Adventure-Archiv rating system:
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for hardcore-adventure-freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
Minimale system requirements:
- Windows 98/2000/ME/XP
- Pentium 1 GHz
- 256 MB RAM
- 32 MB graphic card
- DirectX 8.1
- 16-bit sound card
- 900 MB hard disk
- Windows XP
- P IV 1,6 GHz
- 512 MB RAM
- 16x DVD-ROM (Artec WRA-A40)
- nVidia GeForce 2MX400 64 MB graphic card
- Sound card DirectX-compatible
To magnify click on the screenshots