Developer: City Interactive
Release Date: July 29, 2008
Because I am an opinionated egotist, it's very rare that I am at a loss for words, but Art of Murder: FBI Confidential leaves me speechless in its failings as a murder investigation game. Since my WorthPlaying editors would hunt me down with pitchforks if I ended the review here, I'll continue.
You play as Nicole Bonnet, an utterly two-dimensional character charged with the solving of a series of bloody murders involving South American artifacts. The plot is so predictable that it should have been stapled to the bottom of a "Columbo" script. For a game that puts you at multiple crime scenes as you try to find a killer, the total absence of detective work is a glaring omission.
As an example, one of the early moments has you look around the murder scene after the crime scene team has already been there and apparently exhausted all of the fun and interesting gameplay options. Instead of scouring for errant fibers, fingerprints and DNA evidence, your job is to complete various Resident Evil-style puzzles in order to track where the killer will be next. This may sound like an interesting dynamic on paper, but Art of Murder involves some of the most absurd and arbitrary puzzle concepts I've ever seen, save for perhaps Monkey Island.
In another classic example from the game, you find a life raft and a fire extinguisher that you use to force a crate out of the way, showing at least a base level of ingenuity in the puzzles. This is then followed up by having to find an "X-ray gun" in order to search the crates for a particular object, as if a crowbar wouldn't have been crazy enough. It seems that throughout AoM, the developers saw realism and thrilling police work and decided to go in the opposite direction for fear of making an interesting game. What we're left with are MacGyver-style gameplay elements loosely attached to a story that feels as though the player may be slowing it down.
Art of Murder seems almost hell-bent on telling a story regardless of the detriment to the gameplay. Large sections of the story are explained through monologues, which end up detailing crime scene investigation information and intricate psychological insights into the killer's mind. It makes AoM feel as though it's missing out on a huge part of potential gameplay. The puzzles never seem solidly related to the story, mainly serving to connect the player to the next narrative segment. It's as if the story and the gameplay were done by two different people — presumably a writer with one eye on an Agatha Christie novel and the other on the Wikipedia entry for "noir," and a developer with an almost scary obsession with brainteasers for preschool.
Art of Murder is punishingly linear. I expected some leeway in your investigation, such as multiple options for questioning and the ability to be wrong, but everything in AoM feels forced and taken out of the player's hands. There is no way you can progress down any other path, so there are no Fahrenheit-like alternate endings. This restriction removes any actual element of gameplay that can be performed by the players themselves and stands in the way of any character-building. The point-and-click aspect of the gameplay may be suited to the limited available options, but it feels repetitive after the first few minutes. The "Hints" button renders any independent thought unnecessary, although it's impossible to find every plot-essential item or clue without it.
Graphically, AoM is less than appealing. Certain scenes, such as the tower block and run-down apartments, have some aesthetic charm, but most of the pre-rendered backgrounds feel very small and lack the feeling of real locations. The issue with the size of the levels is compounded by the extrasensory perception of Nicole being able to tell when there are still things left to be done in an area. The cut scenes are terrible and look like the PS1 on a bad day, which is a shame, since one of the most important events in the story is shown in the first of these grainy, poorly animated shorts.
In the annual Worst Video Game Protagonist of the Year awards, Nicole takes the prize for worst voice acting, most sarcastic and least sense used in obvious situations. The opening cut scene — or what I could make of it beneath all of the inexplicably cast shadows — shows Nicole running upstairs to find her partner has been shot, then continues to run to the roof only to see the car escaping. Whether or not she believed the killer could fly and the roof was a good place to start looking for a fleeing criminal is not discussed, but it leaves an impression about the type of person you'll be controlling for the next few hours of your life.
The voice acting in AoM is pretty average, although it's lacking in overall style and professionalism. Nicole sounds almost robotic, and what she lacks in emotion at some tense moments, she makes up for in snide comments whenever you improperly use an item, as if using a crowbar on a lock is more of a leap than using an "X-ray gun" in any situation other than in comic books. She reels off vast amounts of information without any real emotion, and a lot of her dialogue sounds phoned in. The only time she seems to care about the situation is when she is calling you an idiot for not being able to fashion a radio from coconut shells or some other ludicrous scenario.
When push comes to shove, Art of Murder: FBI Confidential cannot deliver. As a point-and-click adventure, it fails by not being very adventurous, and it falls short as a crime thriller by not including any elements of deduction or thrilling moments. Thanks to a totally lamentable main character, there is no real relationship between the gamer and the story, and a seemingly arbitrary connection between the gameplay and the plot means AoM suffers from a disjointed gaming experience. Any redeemable features of this cookie-cutter title can only be found if you haven't played any of the other (and much better) point-and-click crime adventures. Sub-par in almost every respect, this is a title that should have been left confidential.
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