Christopher M. Brendel (Unimatrix Productions) originally conceived the story of Lifestream back in high school. It wasn’t until 2004 that he brought that story to life so that we, the adventure starved of the world, could share in his vision and look forward to this new independent developer.
Lifestream begins with a troubled Randolph Holton. We hear his thoughts as he feverishly writes in his journal.
Had I known my research would come to this, I never would have begun. The interest is gone – my time wasted – driven away by feelings of rage and hate. The research controls me now…though I suppose I am its willing victim. The end result isn’t what I expected, however, the outcome is far greater than I had ever imagined. For my supreme protector is also my ultimate jailer. Truth, deceit, love and hate. They are ALL here, all mixed into one uncontrollable sensation. THAT is my greatest trial…and my utmost desire. Truly, this is both Heaven and Hell. But my grand fear is yet to come. For is the Lifestream manages to protrude further into the existent world, then doomed are we all...
There is an immediate switch and you will begin play as John Holton. John has just arrived at his father’s house. It seems that his father, Randolph Holton has been missing for 3 weeks. Interestingly enough, John’s father is a “Father” or more clearly; a priest. Now, for all you Catholics out there, you’re probably thinking that Father Randolph should not have a son, right? Don’t priests normally take an oath of chastity? You would be correct. Father Randolph certainly seems to have one huge secret to hide. His son, John, is also aware that if anyone found out, it could ruin his father’s career in the priesthood. So, in essence, investigation of his father’s whereabouts will prove more difficult and disallow the involvement of local law enforcement. John will have to pursue this investigation on his own.
Your first task is to get in the front door, but of course, it’s locked. Looks like you’ll have to find another way in. Hence, you will encounter your first puzzle. But never fear, it’s a pretty easy one. Ok, so now you’ve managed to make it into the house. You’ll only have access to a couple of rooms at this point which is enough to begin finding clues. Just as you think you’re on to something, the prologue ends and we proceed to Chapter 1.
Chapter 1 – A Place of Worship
In Chapter 1, you will get to play as Father Randolph and see events as they happened in the past. We watch Father Randolph getting ready for mass. His sermons haven’t been the best as of late and Father Grandl (one of the creepiest priest I’ve seen) has been helping Randolph to improve them. Father Randolph is also scheduled to handle today’s confessions. During one confession, a strange voice whispers from the other side. The person claims they are being followed and rattles off some weird instructions about the post office. A key is left and the mysterious stranger takes off. Father Randolph takes it upon himself to investigate this mysterious event. He stumbles upon secret information pertaining to something called the Lifestream. The Lifestream is parallel universe co-existing with ours. Could this truly be possible? Or perhaps it is a hoax? There must be a way to find out more. Fortunately, Father Randolph has left behind pages to his journal and a lot of clues that will help to decipher some of the mystery.
And so, the story continues. With each ensuing chapter (ten in all), you will switch back and forth between the present playing as John and the past playing as Father Randolph. John will need to uncover all the clues left by his father in order to solve the mystery.
Lifestream comes in a jewel CD case with one CD. The game can be played with or without the CD in the drive. There are a few technical glitches here and there during game play, but I found that removing the CD from the drive corrected them for me. Chris has also provided patches for all known glitches on his website.
Lifestream is a 1st person primarily point-and-click adventure. The game progresses through the use of chapters. Completion of all the required tasks will close the current chapter and allow for progression to the next chapter. You can save your game as often as you like and have the option to overwrite an older save or create a new save game. The save, load game and exit features are accessed by right clicking anywhere on the game screen which will highlight a toolbar at the top of the screen. These are the only options you have available. No adjustments can be made to the display or sound.
There are quite a few characters to interact with on your quest. There are other priests, of course. Father Dan has been around a long time and is the one to consult when faced with a difficult problem. Father Grandl is supposedly Father Randolph’s friend. Now, it’s not nice to judge a book by its cover, but Grandl looks shifty and sounds it too. If you were in the same position, you wouldn’t trust him as far as you could throw him. There is Anne Rose whose very presence seems to be a catalyst within the story, although it is not intentional and unclear as to why until much later in the game. Anne Rose is a parishioner who hasn’t come to church as often as she should and would like to change that. There are a few incidental characters that also appear such as a clerk and a couple of seeming ghosts. Or are they? The character renderings are commendable. Initiating conversation is what activates the animation of the characters. After the conversation, the character will return to a still picture state. It will remind you of many of the Nancy Drew games. Facially, the characters looked pretty darn good, but they all did have very stiff arm movements and positions similar to the way a puppet would move. The voice acting, however, was extremely good. John Bell, one of the primary voice actors in Lifestream, should grace us with his presence in more games. His talent is well noted. The choice of music was also notable. The music was unobtrusive while enhancing the mood of the game at the same time. Just the right amount of tension was provided in the music for the final scene.
Lifestream has been created using Adventure Maker. Adventure Maker is a game engine that is available to all aspiring game creators. There is a limited free version available and a small price tag for the full version which can be used to create a commercial game. Adventure Maker primarily utilizes slide-show still frames/pictures as backgrounds. While the backgrounds in Lifestream are not overly detailed or particularly amazing, they accomplish the task at hand. Most of the backgrounds are dark in order to convey the darker mood of the story. Some are more detailed than others. The primary locations you get to visit are Father Randolph’s house and the Church. Within each of the main locations there are quite a few rooms to investigate. A nice job was done on the church in conveying how large it actually is. You could almost hear the room’s acoustics just by looking at it. Also infused into the game are some cinematic cut scenes. These are actually done quite well and are enjoy able to watch. The only negative aspect of the animations is the transitions used to convey movement within the game. They tend to be blurry and do not add to the game. It would have been better to not have a transition. If you’re a stickler requiring your games to have mind-blowing graphics, then you may be disappointed. The focus of this game is on the story and the journey to the truth. It is in this aspect that Christopher Brendel has successfully made his mark. What is most interesting is that the story, which seems to start out as a simple “missing person” kind of search, just gets weirder and weirder as you go along. There is nothing cliché in Lifestream.
Getting around the game is pretty standard. You have arrows to provide you with direction. One cursor is used to examine, pick-up and use items. Inventory is stored at the top of the game screen. Running your cursor over the word inventory will allow the inventory to be viewed. There is a magnifying glass which you can click and drag over any item to view it further. Inventory items can be combined by just dragging them over each other.
The puzzles in Lifestream for the most part are on the easy side for the seasoned adventure gamer. But, they manage to throw in a couple of more difficult ones to mix it up a bit. There is a classic slider puzzle and a tic-tac-toe puzzle. You will get to play a little music on the organ. One puzzle that was particularly difficult for this reviewer was a Pentagram Folder Puzzle. It involves clicking on corners within the pentagram to make a gem appear. Subsequent clicking will slide a gem over to a different space that is connected by a line. You must find a way to get all the gems (8 in all) to appear using the connecting lines. This puzzle was frustration in a nutshell. There are also notes to decipher and plenty of clues to be read. No mazes, you ask??? Hah, before you breathe that sigh of relief, it must be noted that there are two mazes. That’s right…..two. One actually isn’t that bad once you figure out the puzzle behind it. But, you’ll need to make sure your speakers work correctly as it involves your hearing. And, make sure if you’re using headphones, you have them on correctly (right side – right ear). Not doing so (as someone did) will result in utter confusion. The other maze is a downright confusing -- all the walls look the same! -- where the hell is the exit? -- type of maze. All in all the puzzles were interesting, diverse and quite a bit of fun.
Also available through a separate purchase is the Official Companion Guide. This was the first time I had ever seen a companion guide offered by an independent developer that was so detailed. It contains character profiles, puzzle hint section, complete walkthrough, story notes and a full list of in-game easter eggs. I wouldn’t recommend using the guide the first time playing unless you’re stuck. The guide is best right before playing for a second time. You will gain deeper insight into the plot as well as learn the locations of all the easter eggs. The easter eggs are one of the coolest features of the game. However, without the guide, it would be impossible to know that clicking on an item 6 times will give you a special surprise. One such easter egg has Father Randolph surrounded by psychedelic lights performing a strange song/dance. It is extremely humorous to watch and you will definitely get a kick out of it.
Unlike a lot of other games, Christopher Brendel was kind enough to provide us with an epilogue. It is here that all the major questions are answered. And, believe me, you will have a lot of questions. What was particularly enjoyable about the epilogue is that it provided a definite (although surprising) conclusion to the game while still allowing for possible further continuation of the story in the future. I can think of quite a few games that could have used an epilogue.
Lifestream turned out to be an impressive first game by Christopher Brendel consisting of a solid storyline, fun puzzles and an original ending. The novice and the seasoned gamer will be able to enjoy the game and appreciate what independent developers have to offer.