Point-and-click adventure games aren't exactly known for their high levels of action, but Memento Mori is so slow paced that you want to bottle it and sell it to insomniacs. This tale of forgery and mysticism in the art world is a plodding affair packed with a mystifying plot and dreary puzzles that are about as exciting as watching paint dry. Grim settings and voice acting reminiscent of European art-house movies almost pull the game out of the doldrums at times, although the sheer ordinariness of everything else quickly drags it back down. Almost any chore you could do in your real life would be more entertaining than the tasks set before you here.
The playable leads here are Lara Svetlova, a Russian cop turned Interpol agent now working in the art crimes division in Lyon, France, and Max Durand, a one-time forger who must now do penance for his crimes by pulling odd jobs for the authorities. A nasty Russian named Colonel Ostankovic pulls the strings on both Lara and Max, using threats to force them to look into an apparent break-in at a St. Petersburg museum called The Hermitage. Because Ostankovic is in charge of the place, he wants to keep any inquiries hush-hush to avoid being blamed for problems that may have occurred on his watch. So he calls in the dynamic duo on the sly to check on a problem with the security cameras, which have been experiencing strange outages. Lara and Max begin working separately, but as things usually play out in these sorts of things, the two investigations soon become one after assorted evil machinations are discovered. There is an interesting tale buried somewhere in here, but everything is told in such a ham-fisted way that it's hard to appreciate the spooky saga until you get near the conclusion and the weirdness starts to come into focus. Even then, there are a lot of "Huh?" moments, especially during the ominous voice-overs that often mark the switch between characters.
But the biggest problem with Memento Mori is its dull structure. Although the writers have scripted a story with some tense moments, both Lara and Max get caught up in minutiae all the time. Almost every single little task is accompanied by something petty. This is a particular problem early on in the game. Lara, for instance, kicks things off with a thrilling quest to get a new cell phone battery from the IT department at her Lyon office and figure out how to turn on a machine in the Interpol lab. Max wanders the darkened Hermitage, where the biggest obstacle is a velvet rope he doesn't think he should cross. Unnecessary roadblocks like these pop up again and again throughout the game, disrupting and dragging out the plot. Problems themselves are tedious rehashes of ancient adventure game doggerel, so most challenges feel about as natural as suddenly being forced to complete a crossword puzzle in order to cook breakfast in real life.
If you can pick an item up, you can be assured that you'll need it down the road. So you're faced with scrounging cupboards and trash bins for everything--including clogged spray paint cans, ropes, and rocks--with the assumption that you'll be able to MacGyver something out of this garbage eventually. There isn't much challenge here, either. You never acquire massive piles of junk, so you generally just have to combine a couple of recently acquired doodads or do something as basic as use tweezers to pull a letter out of a mailbox. A logic puzzle is tossed into the mix every so often to keep you on your toes, although these brainteasers are about as challenging as a Junior Jumble. If you keep your eyes open, you'll never lack for numbers to punch into keypads or get stumped trying to rewire a fuse box.
The look and sound of the game is better than everything else, though that isn't really saying much. The game is presented in vivid third-person 3D, with you navigating the detective of the moment through beautifully realized living rooms, offices, rain-swept streets, spooky museums, sunny parks, and more. Locales have a lived-in appearance, right down to the cheesy soft porn that one creep has plastered all over his bathroom walls. That said, there is a serious animation issue. There are far too many delays caused by mandatory sequences, such as opening a cell phone or closing a door. As you repeat a lot of actions and revisit a lot of the same places, having to sit through these tedious animations is very annoying.
The musical score is nearly as grating. A repetitive piano piece plays over and over again, hitting the same few notes ad nauseam. It's like you're listening to a kid practicing for a recital. At least the voice acting is more than acceptable. Characters have been provided with idiosyncratic lines spoken with credible European accents, giving the game an art-house cinema vibe. This is a significant achievement, too. It's not often that a game with this many Russians manages to avoid turning them into Boris and Natasha-styled stereotypes. Unfortunately, many conversations run on automatic so you only get to watch, and those where you can make choices have been dumbed down to where you pick among positive, negative, and questioning attitudes. You never get to select specific topics to grill suspects with, which greatly limits the feeling that you're interacting with well-developed characters.
Memento Mori's one big achievement is that it makes a jet-setting story of international intrigue as boring as an afternoon at the Laundromat. There are a number of alternate endings that branch off from all sorts of different points in the game, although you would have to be seriously tolerant of tedium to finish it more than once to see them. Even with the moody visuals and distinctive voice acting, this is still more afternoon-nap material than a thriller.