Unsolved Crimes Preview
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-09-19 Nintendo DS Adventure T (Teen) Empire Interactive

I've always been a crime / mystery show junkie. There's nothing I like more than to sit down in front of the TV to watch a show or play a game where the object is to answer questions like "whodunit" and "why". Whether the show or game in question be something like CSI, which is focused heavily on the more scientific parts or the "how" of a case, or whether it's more along the lines of Law and Order, where the "why" is more important, I find myself equally fascinated.

It's not everyday that a game is developed that encompasses aspects from both of these types of crime dramas, but Unsolved Crimes from Empire Interactive is set to do just that, and at a conference call with Director of Project Management P.J. Snavely, I was able to find out just how the game is set to turn the action from such shows into an interactive experience.

Set in 1970's New York City, players start out as a rookie detective by making their way through a couple of basic crimes which serve as tutorial levels and familiarize players with the gameplay found in the title. Luckily, basically everything you would need to know about the game is introduced within the first 10-15 minutes of gameplay, with any specific details being added as needed.

Each case starts with a briefing from your lieutenant, which gives you the basics in terms of information about the case and the evidence gathered so far. You are then set loose on the crime scene where you can expect to dig trough garbage cans, investigate blood pools and other evidence like a CSI would be expected to do.

Overall, Unsolved Crimes can be looked at as a combination of DS brain games and point-and-click PC games of old. That is, while the game may be played in a 3D environment, gameplay isn't reserved for one genre, but instead involves three completely different types.

The first type of gameplay is the most obvious and revolves around searching your environment for clues in both obvious and discrete locations. The second portion of gameplay comes in the form of puzzles that require you to perform tasks such as opening safes or repairing torn paper via use of the touch screen.

The third aspect of gameplay sounds to be the most intense and has players experiencing multiple action segments and cutscenes that require active participation from players. During the call, Snavely informed us of one such cutscene that involved a car chase and afterwards required you to remember the license plate number of the car that got away. Little aspects like this are set to make the game incredibly realistic, in that you must take on the mindset of a detective to truly succeed. There's no "sit-back-and-enjoy" time here.

Throughout the game's step-like progression, players will frequently be met with quizzes that recap the case so far, and will be required to check in with their lieutenant to keep everyone in the loop. These check-ins with the boss serve as completion checks that will inform you if you have missed any evidence during your investigation of the crime scene, and along with your partner, will help to lead you in the right direction if you are feeling lost.

Since you never actually finish a case without finding every piece of evidence, if you do happen to find yourself stuck at a point, your partner will tell you to go back to the crime scene and keep looking. If you were to try to end the case early, your lieutenant will ask you about the holes in your story, which you then have to go back and fill. If you are familiar with crime shows at all, this can be equated to times when attorneys deny cases because of a missing alibi or piece of evidence.

While the game is striving for an authentic look and feel (which Snavely described as very "Hill Street Blues" in nature) by including car chases, shoot-outs and other realistic touches, the game's learning curve has been structured in such a way that players shouldn't have to worry about keeping up.

In fact, Snavely said that the difficulty level was the most challenging part of developing the game. After all, Empire's goal was two-fold: keep the game hard enough to pique players' interests, but also keep it easy enough to not frustrate players to the point of quitting the game.

This difficulty curve is such that, by the end of the game's nine cases, players should be solving said cases like pros, but if that confidence in your crime-solving abilities takes some time to develop, you can feel free to go back to previous cases via the game's case select screen in order to get a higher rank on each.

Even though the game does contain the expected partner mechanic that will inevitably lead you in the right direction, the game doesn't seem to be without its fair share of challenge, specifically in the area of deductive reasoning. That is, you may see something that the game responds to as being significant, but it's still up to you to figure out what makes the evidence important, rather than the game doing it all for you. For example, in one of the cases, a pile of broken glass is found, but you have to decide if the broken glass indicates a struggle between the killer and the victim, or if it is simply rubbish left behind from another time.

That being said, you should know that the game will allow you to choose the wrong suspect during the case, but by doing so (or by answering too many questions incorrectly on the game's quizzes) you will be met with a response from you partner that tells you to go home and clear your head. Afterwards, you can either pick back up at the last completed quiz, or you can retry the case altogether from the beginning.

With so much realism and drama packed into a portable title, Unsolved Crimes is definitely one that has found my attention. Unsolved Crimes is rated T for teen and will be released on the DS on September 23rd at a price point of $29.99. Check back with GrrlGamer after the game?s release for a full review.