PC GAME 'Missing' uses real-world elements
Some puzzles are more annoying than others.
By MATT SLAGLE
It's been months since journalist Jack Lorski and his companion vanished at the hands of an elusive serial killer.
With "Missing: Since January," you must solve their disappearance and track down the villain -- known only as "The Phoenix" -- behind the mystery.
This PC game successfully stitches together a fictional narrative with threads from the real world. If only there weren't so many maddening puzzles.
The story picks up after Lorski buys an old movie projector still loaded with a reel.
It's mostly quaint footage of a vacationing mother, father and daughter on a Greek island, but ends chillingly: While shooting a vista, the father accidentally captures blurry footage of two men murdering another person.
We later learn that the little girl in the film is Lorski's companion, Karen Gijman, decades ago. Her father, who unwittingly filmed the murder, has been missing ever since.
Lorski and Gijman had picked up on the case, but apparently stuck their noses where they shouldn't have. Now they're missing, too.
You play as an investigator who receives a black CD-ROM from the Phoenix that's filled with macabre imagery, grainy videos and chilling sounds. The disk was sent to Lorski's employer, the SKL Network, and they need your help.
"Missing" unfolds as a series of disturbing video and animated computer clips. Occult influences run deep and it's very reminiscent of creepy mockumentaries like "The Blair Witch Project."
Where "Missing" really breaks the adventure game mold is its use of the real world.
I received dozens of tips from helpful colleagues and cryptic notes from the Phoenix at my personal e-mail address.
I also had to plumb the depths of the Web, using Google and the language translation site Babelfish to learn passwords or names.
There are hundreds of fictional Web sites mixed in, but I found it hard to tell fake from real. (I wonder, however, how long the artificial Web sites will last in the always-changing Internet. This game would be useless without the online information.)
Use caution with what you find: several times my Googling turned up cheat guides to walk you through the game with minimal effort.
As with any sadistic criminal mastermind, the Phoenix regularly chimes in with short notes, calling you his "Little Friend."
The plentiful puzzles fell into two categories: simple diversion or excruciating pain in the you-know-where.
In one of the more annoying "games," I had to push letters into the four corners of the screen.
Dragging and dropping with the mouse wasn't an option. Instead, I had to press other nearby letters to "blow" the correct letter to the proper corner. Suffice it to say, I was bashing my keyboard for hours until I solved it.
For $20, "Missing" is easy on the pocketbook and owners of older computers. You'll only need a 333 megahertz processor with 128 megabytes of memory and an active Internet connection to play the M-rated title, which was released as "In Memoriam" in Europe last year.