Publisher: The Adventure Company
Release Date: March 21, 2006
Classic adventure titles have had a bit of a renaissance lately, with a lot of titles being released over the past year. Unfortunately, most gamers would prefer to pass over these relics of a bygone gaming era to play the latest twitch shooter. Who can blame them? With the state of gaming being the way it is, most people would rather play a game that has had a ton of development time, resources, manpower, and most importantly, money, invested into it. That means they probably won't be playing adventure titles such as Crime Stories, a classic point-and-click adventure.
Point-and-click adventures have always been a favorite of mine, ever since the days of King's Quest V and Space Quest IV. When traditional adventure developer Sierra switched from the text parser to the point-and-click interface, it made it far more enjoyable to navigate through these titles. Unfortunately, the point-and-click interface brought along a host of other problems, most obviously the "pixel hunting" mentality that it takes to complete many of the puzzles found during the course of the adventure. Pixel hunting is the dreaded practice of moving your mouse cursor over the entire screen, looking for something with which you can interact. Crime Stories has a fair share of pixel hunting episodes thrown in, which is frustrating, but it's certainly not the only thing wrong with this game.
You play as Martin Mystere, a paranormal investigator of sorts, who is called in to help with the inquiry into the murder of a renowned professor of archaeology. First of all, this is one of the most clichéd adventure plots in history. I don't know how many times I've played a detective who is investigating a death, especially one that was involved with South American rituals. Indigo Prophecy, anyone? IP also had a mysterious organization that was involved in South American prophetic mysteries, and detectives investigating a murder. It is also a much better game than Crime Stories.
My problems with Crime Stories started almost immediately. The game opens with Martin at home, dressed in his pajamas, and unable to find the key to his wardrobe. His wife has hidden it in hopes that Martin will take the day off and relax. Not only do I have to investigate a murder, but I have to find out how to get dressed. Just take me to the exciting stuff already! Another annoying quirk is that it is impossible to skip dialog. Whenever Martin looks at an item or you click on something to take a look at it, he describes it in depth, with no opportunity to stop listening. It's kind of annoying, to say the least, but there are numerous artificial length-adding measures in the game. Martin walks incredibly slowly, which isn't a problem in rooms like your kitchen at home, but in a large museum, it's just tedious and unnecessary.
The game interface also has some issues. The first thing you get is the cordless phone from your bedside; from it, you can call any numbers that you might have to call during the course of gameplay. Of course, one of the first puzzles is to get the number of the mechanic, where your car (a Ferrari, go figure) is in the shop. You need to find the number so you can get the mechanic to deliver your car to your address. Of course, the number is ripped in two pieces, and once you find it, you have both halves of the number. You can't just dial the number as you found it; you need to combine both pieces of paper to get the whole number. Then you have to use the piece of paper with the phone in order to actually dial the mechanic. It is counterintuitive to let the player dial numbers on the phone if you aren't going to let them dial it by themselves anyway.
Graphically, Crime Stories is pretty sharp. The graphics are rather detailed, the landscapes are colorful, and you can usually get a good idea of which things to interact with from the detailed scenery. The title takes on a bit of a cartoonish style, more of a live comic book than a detailed, realistic world, which makes sense because the Martin Mystere character is based on a comic book series. The style works well for the game and helps set the mood nicely. The only problem with the graphics is that there are no options to tweak if you have a low- or high-end system. You can't change the resolution or detail level, and there are no graphical tricks you can turn on or off. What you see is what you get.
Sound is a mixed bag, some good, and some bad. The voiceovers suffer from stilted acting, and at times, it seems like they are splicing in conversation where it doesn't belong. It could be that the voice actors read their lines without any knowledge of what the other pieces of the conversation were. It doesn't help that there are numerous pauses where conversation should be seamless, which interrupts the flow of conversation. Sound effects are minimal and don't always coincide with the action onscreen, but the background music is pretty soothing and fits nicely in with the mood.
The whole game takes a while to complete, so you will get your money's worth out of it. Unfortunately, a lot of that time is spent moving around Martin or his wife from location to location, and sitting through dialog and description every time you talk to a person or examine the scenery. As with most adventure titles, there is little replay value. Once you've played through and seen the ending, you will probably have no incentive to go back and play through it again. Alas, this is a complaint that can be leveled against most any adventure title out there, but it is still a viable complaint in an age of extras and other goodies that can be unlocked in both PC and console games. It is unfortunate, but not unexpected, that Crime Stories does not feature any extras or goodies to unlock.
Overall, Crime Stories suffers from some poor design decisions as well as a downright annoying presentation. Adding the ability to skip or speed through dialog would have dramatically improved the gaming experience. It would have also been helpful to move the game away from the sort of clichéd plot that we've seen before. However, the story is serviceable, you do get to play as more than one character, and the plot develops nicely, so there is enjoyment to be found here. Colorful graphics and some decent music add gameplay value as well. If you're an adventure fan and like to play every adventure game that comes down the pike, Crime Stories is probably good enough for you to enjoy. For those who don't particularly enjoy adventure titles, there are other candidates that are more worthy of your time.
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