As an adventure game junky and a lover of grand stories to boot, I had high hopes for Next Life, a game that seemed to promise fun exploration and a worthy quest. Developed by Future Games and published by The Adventure Company, Next Life's story revolves around man from Prague, Adam Raichl, whose life is swiftly snatched away by an explosive accident. When he awakens, he discovers that he is stranded on a strange island bubbling with even stranger people. What makes these folks odd is their tendency to talk to Adam about historical events like they happened yesterday - Watergate just happened? The World Trade Center is still standing? Are these people crazy? Thus are the sort of questions Adam asks as he slowly discovers hidden messages and the disturbing reality that is Next Life. Now, about those high hopes…
Where the engaging premise of Next Life waves a hook and line in front of anyone who enjoys a good adventure, it doesn't take long for anyone playing the game to swim on. The key distraction prevalent throughout the game is Adam's ability to transform into a slug. No, not literally, but you may think so after you watch him climb the same hill fourteen times at thirty seconds a pop. A part of this problem is the inability for the adventurer to figure out the puzzles themselves. Instead of simply providing an inventory and an open-ended environment, Next Life strains the mind by forcing the player to engage in conversations that "unlock" areas of the game that were otherwise unattainable. Thus, even with the necessary items in-hand, you may find yourself performing dawdling tasks again and again just to (eventually) reach the next environment.
As you break through the initial stages of the game, Adam learns about the mysterious bell tower that sends everyone on the island into a deep sleep after three rings. When this happens, Adam finds himself in mysterious dreams that abound with even more frustrating puzzles. Instead of just collecting, maneuvering, and placing items in their respective "slots", these puzzles require fast-pace mode of thinking that will leave most players with a re-dead Adam and a load screen the first few times. Although tedious, some of these puzzles are fun simply because of their principles - one such example is a dream sequence where Adam must escape from a car stranded on railroad tracks, with a speeding train half a mile down the rails. Unfortunately, even though the scene creates a fine amount of tension, there is no room for error when deciding how to get away, and the cold embrace of the load screen ever looms. Needless to say, the game is marred by too much trial and error.
Where the gameplay lacks, the graphics and sound make up for. Next Life looks spectacular on any decent computer, and the environments and characters work together like old lovers. Since Next Life requires the player to take on conversations to continue the story, the developers have done an excellent job creating camera angles and actions that make verbal exchanges (even the boring ones) a bit more engaging. As Adam explores sea breeze environments and the ebony underworld that makes up his dreams, players will feel like they are truly manifested in Adam's shoes. Thankfully, just as the characters and environments look astounding, they sound just as sweet. The voice actors do a terrific job staying in character, and there is nary a hitch of slowdown while the island's strangers dish out their lines - and Adam, his. Not only that, but the gorgeous environments blended with key sound effects turn tedious exploring into tedious exploring with charm.
Unfortunately, that tedious exploration is what lowers Next Life to a generic adventure game driven only by its brilliant plot and characters. While it is worth checking out Next Life merely for its intrigue, the slow pace and brain-numbing puzzles will leave most adventurers high and dry and barred from the continued storyline that might otherwise quench their thirsts. If you have the patience and willpower to make it through Next Life, you will be rewarded with a thrilling mystery that leaves you wondering. Otherwise, by all means, stay out of the afterlife.