Publisher: Empire Interactive
Developer: Now Pro
Release Date: September 30, 2008
I'm pretty surprised that we haven't seen more DS games in the vein of Unsolved Crimes, a police procedural drama of sorts brought to the touch-screen handheld. Sure, we've had the Phoenix Wright series and Hotel Dusk, but until now, we haven't really seen anything that involves basic evidence gathering and forensic-style work. I'm surprised we haven't at least seen a decent "CSI" game on the system, but after Unsolved Crimes, perhaps a developer or two will take notice that the idea is completely plausible.
Unsolved Crimes doesn't spend any time in the court of law. You play the part of a new detective in the NYPD, taking on eight different cases throughout the game, with one larger case that weaves its way in and out of all the others. The entire game is shown from a first-person perspective, and while most of your interactions are going to be menu-driven, there is a bit of exploration available when it comes to crime scenes, allowing you to walk between rooms, look around with the stylus, or zoom in and inspect various surroundings in an attempt to dig up clues.
You begin Unsolved Crimes with a simple tutorial to introduce you to the most basic of cases you'll encounter. It's a simple issue with graffiti that's been sprayed on the outside of the department building. The captain, a slightly overbearing and typical TV/movie character, runs you through the various tools at your disposal. At the bottom left, you have a book that contains all of your current suspects, any evidence that's been uncovered, and various notes on what you've found out thus far. Using the touch-screen, you can even bring up a small notepad that you can write on, allowing you to jot down your theories and thoughts along the way.
Selecting your group of suspects gives you headshot photos of each of them, with a small description of who they are and how they relate to the case. You can also read each suspect's testimony, which might change as you advance in the game and uncover new evidence. You don't actually get to question anyone, though, which is a little disappointing; you're pretty much relegated to exploring crime scenes and piecing together the puzzles.
The evidence section will show any objects of interest that you've uncovered, and you can then click on those to get a full 3D view, allowing you to zoom in and out and turn the object in any direction. Sometimes, you'll need to take a closer look at these items to uncover further clues, like fingerprints, handwriting and so on. Later in the game, you'll come across objects you'll also need to piece together.
Once you've gone over your initial information, you'll want to head out into the field. Each location you're able to visit will allow you to walk around in a first-person mode, which is a little awkward, control-wise. You can alter your camera by simply moving the stylus around, but to turn, you need to use the left and right shoulder buttons. Each time you hit one it turns you to the left or right once, so you might need to mess around with your camera angle and the turns to get the right shot of the item you were trying to view. You can also change the elevation of where you're looking with a small slider on the right-hand side of the screen. As you explore the crime scene, there will be certain objects you can tap on, some of which aren't necessary to take a look at, while others will contain valuable clues. The game kind of tells you what you can and cannot use, so you won't be wasting a lot of time on useless junk. Your partner will also inform you of the next step to take when you come across something useful.
Assuming you've found new evidence or information, your partner will provide a question based on what you've found, usually with a multiple-choice answer to go along with it. This is a bit disappointing, since it's pretty easy to guess and get things right without understanding the logic behind the answer, especially since some of the multiple-choice answers are pretty ridiculous. However, like in the Phoenix Wright titles, there are "lives" or chances, and if you continually guess wrong, you'll run out of chances and fail the case, forcing you to start again from your last save point. This is probably going to be a non-issue at the outset, but by the time you reach the last few cases, it becomes more and more difficult to piece together the clues.
Once you've accumulated enough evidence, you'll be allowed to finally point the finger, but not before making your final case with the captain back at HQ. Once there, you'll need to lay down the evidence you've discovered, and typically the captain will ask you why you've come to your conclusion. This is the equivalent of the math teacher who wouldn't let you just answer a problem; you had to show your work as well. This part is a little interesting, and I would have liked to see Unsolved Crimes work on this aspect more, since you literally have to write in your answer. It clues you in on what the game wants you to write, since it will show you how many letters it's expecting in the answer, and typically only one word is needed. A game that focuses on writing recognition and multiple paths to arrive to the same conclusion could be interesting somewhere down the line.
As far as the story goes, it's decent, but definitely not as fun as Phoenix Wright or as stylized as Hotel Dusk. Unsolved Crimes is set in the '70s, for reasons unknown to me. What's odd is that the characters and locations don't really represent this, and even the character portraits you come across could easily have represented people from the year 2000. The story is somewhat bland and has no real style behind it, so the real fun comes from figuring out the various mysteries, and not so much in seeing how the overall plot plays out, or what the kidnapping subplot is all about.
Speaking of the subplot, the times when Unsolved Crimes touches on this are usually major departures in the typical gameplay, and these instances feel like mini-games, to a certain degree. One involves a shoot-out that requires you to tap the targets you're trying to hit, while another will have you dodging out of the way of a homicidal driver. These are minor distractions to what you'll be doing for the majority of the title, but it is interesting to see them mixed in with a typical adventure game setup. They're not bad, but if they weren't in the game at all, I wouldn't have missed them.
Despite a ho-hum presentation and some odd design decisions, Unsolved Crimes is definitely one of the more solid adventure titles on the DS. I like the idea of playing up an actual cop drama instead of the goofy anime styling of Phoenix Wright, but I think Hotel Dusk captured the serious tone of adventure games with a lot more flair than Unsolved Crimes. The focus on gathering, inspecting, and figuring out how evidence fits is really fun, but it's not quite enough to base an entire game on. It's definitely worth checking out for genre fans, but it's not a game that will bring newcomers into the adventure fold.
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