Unsolved Crimes
Reviewed by Unsolved Crimes
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-10-19 Nintendo DS Adventure T (Teen) Empire Interactive / Now Productions

After attending a conference call for Unsolved Crimes last month, I had been eagerly awaiting my chance to step into an interactive version of one of my favorite television genres ?‚™ the ever-popular crime drama. With shows like CSI and Law & Order: SVU being a couple of my favorites, I was definitely a member of the target audience for Now and Empire's take on the genre, and I am happy to report that the game has lived up to the vast majority of my expectations.

Set in New York City in 1976, Unsolved Crimes places you in the role of the "never seen, only heard" rookie detective, partnered alongside an experienced detective named Marcy Blake.

You'll be led through each of the game's 13 levels by Captain Abbot, who spends a few moments at the beginning of each case describing the preliminary evidence found by the street-cops before your arrival, as well as introducing you to any suspects that may have presented themselves during the initial investigation of the scene.

From there, Marcy will escort you to the scene of the crime, where you'll begin your own investigation. With crimes ranging from pretty standard murders to more complicated events like supposed B&E's (breaking-and-entering) and suicides, you'll find yourself collecting items both commonplace (for instance, notebooks and beverage bottles) and unique (fake fingernails and flower petals, as examples).

Movement is controlled either via the D-Pad or the stylus, depending on which you prefer, with the stylus obviously granting you better control of your view. Played from a first person perspective, you are given a camera slider with which to change your perspective from higher in the room (as if you were standing) to lower in the room (as if you were crouching or bent over). Furthermore, you can change the view to literally any direction and angle you desire by simply tapping and dragging on the touch screen until satisfied.

Once you tap on an item in the room, Marcy will give you a quick rundown of its identification and will automatically log anything that directly pertains to your case into evidence. That being said, you can expect to be rejected on a lot of the items you tap on, with a standard "this item has no significance" brush off that tells you to look elsewhere. While this does of course add a lot of unneeded tapping to each scenario, it also adds more realism to each case, as real detectives obviously make a living by deciphering what is important and what isn't.

Once you start finding various pieces of the puzzle, Marcy will break in and quiz you as to their significance. That is, finding a pile of broken glass may very well be important to solving the case, but only if you can tell the game that you understand why. Each query is separated into various multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions that, once answered correctly, tend to open up a new chapter of the overall story. You'll also find yourself reporting back to Abbot at set intervals throughout each case in order to debrief him on what you've learned so far.

Having quizzes rely mostly on multiple choice questions lessens the difficulty level drastically, often because some of the choices will be so absurd that they can be immediately eliminated. On the other hand, in later cases, as the difficulty rises, some of the choices tend to be worded poorly, causing you to miss them and have to start again after being reprimanded by your partner, and/or boss.

Now, even though at the beginning of the game, the multiple choice mechanic often finds itself repeating items that you have already learned elsewhere, just to make sure you're keeping up, towards the end of the game, you'll be almost entirely on your own in terms of hints, and will truly have to figure out "whodunit" by your lonesome. This definitely adds an aspect of challenge both for younger players and for those who aren?‚…t very observant, along with a true sense of accomplishment and satisfaction once you?‚…ve put the murderer behind bars.

While the main portion of gameplay is presented in a case-to-case fashion, early on in the game, Marcy's sister is kidnapped, and at random intervals throughout the rest of the title, your progress will be interrupted in order to follow a new lead pertaining to her disappearance. These "interruptions" are almost entirely different from standard cases, and provide for the majority of action within the game.

For instance, at one point you'll be tasked with swerving through a dark alley avoiding trash cans and other debris as you try to catch a suspect's car, and in another instance, you'll find yourself in a shootout with some hired thugs where you tap on each person to shoot them, all the while worrying about your own susceptibility to shots and not running out of ammo. These instances are easily the best in the game as they raise the excitement level 10-fold and are just downright fun. They also include some of the best graphics found anywhere within the game.

Overall the game displays a Hills Street Blues-like appearance, with dirty buildings, streets, etc. along with the standard in stereotypical police dialogue. Each case begins with a dark and moody cutscene, where all identifiable features have been removed (after all, what would be the point in investigating a scene if you see who did it beforehand), and are instead filled with gray figures representing the persons involved.

The game takes on an even darker look almost 3/4 of the way through, as a storm causes a blackout in the city, with the "afterwards" being when the real "freaks" start to come out, leading to cases revolving around gruesome dismemberment and decapitation, among others.

As for the standard environments, most of the 3D crime scenes are nicely presented. Sure, some of the smaller items in each location like tubes of lipstick or keys may lack specific details, but overall the graphics do a fine job. As I said though, it's in the cutscenes that they shine.

The sound department is also quite impressive. While most of the music is reserved for cutscenes or the aforementioned driving / shoot-out levels, the entire game comes equipped with realistic sound effects like ringing telephones and background chatter in the police station, along with creaky door frames and the crunching of broken glass. When the background music plays however, it is, like the rest of the game, quite moody and does a nice job of conveying the drama and tension throughout the title.

Overall, with the outcome of each case being set in stone, there is absolutely zero replayability here, which is unfortunate to say the least. And while I am not one to normally read other reviews for games, I have to admit that I did for this one, and am sad to say that I think I'm one of the few who really liked the game for what it was, without trying to compare it to something greater.

Sure, the graphics aren't as impressive as something you'd see on the 360 or PS3, but this is a DS game after all, so it?‚…s absurd to expect the same quality. That being said, the inconsistency of the difficulty level along with the lack of replayability does place the game in more of a rental category than anything else. However, for those who do decide to make this a purchase, whether a crime show junkie or not, there is plenty of entertaining gameplay here to keep you satisfied for a few days.

Special thanks to Kate Hancock and Empire Interactive for providing a copy of this title.