Next Life, from Czech developer Future Games, starts out with an intriguing premise. Your character “dies” in an automobile accident but then wakes up the next day on a strange island. There are nine other people on the island with you, but they don’t know anything more than you do, and, more oddly still, they seem to come from different times and places. If that wasn’t enough, you’re plagued by strange dreams, and every time the bell tower on the island rings its bell three times, you instantly fall asleep. So is this some form of purgatory, or perhaps a bizarre science experiment, or maybe an offshoot of the show “Lost”? That’s what you’ll discover as you play your way through the game.
Unfortunately, while the premise is rife with possibilities, Future Games doesn’t really do anything new or interesting with it. They do a nice job in setting up the situation, and in making you wonder what’s going on, but then they suddenly dump the answer on you (after exploring the island for five days, you suddenly discover notes from a previous “castaway” that all but explain everything), and when you hear the answer, you’ll no doubt shake your head at how preposterous it is. I think this is a case where simpler would have been better, and where a vaguer answer or no answer at all would have been more pleasing. Sometimes it’s better to let people imagine what the black smoke is for or what the hatch is protecting than to tell them (yes, those are more “Lost” references; I’ll stop now).
The puzzles in Next Life are generally fine, but they suffer from some oddities, too. For example, the best puzzles in the game take place in the dream sequences -- and the dream sequences are also sort of cool because they’re far different from what you usually see in adventure games -- but the problem is that the dream sequences don’t really have anything to do with what’s happening on the island. They’re sort of like interesting commercial breaks from the game.
Meanwhile, the island puzzles, which should be the heart of Next Life, are full of drudgery, and they mostly only answer the question “Just how many puzzles can you solve using five rocks and three sticks?” which probably isn’t a question that most people stay up worrying about. Worse, your companions on the island barely care about what’s going on, being content to just sit around and do nothing, and after a while their malaise starts to get to you. But on the brighter side, you frequently get to barge in on your companions while they’re in the shower (especially the females), and they always seem to have the one strange object needed for a puzzle -- during the rare times when rocks and sticks just aren’t enough.
Next Life has some other problems -- the voice acting isn’t great, the translation is a little sloppy, and there are a few annoying mini-games that you have to play -- but basically it’s just another mediocre adventure in a long line of mediocre adventures. If you play it then you’ll get about 15 hours of passable entertainment, and if you skip it then you won’t miss anything. I liked Next Life better than Culpa Innata, but that’s about as left-handed as my left-handed recommendations get.