With video game consoles sporting higher graphical resolutions, many game genres that were considered difficult to accomplish on anything other than the PC are finding their way to TV screens as well. RTS games like Command & Conquer, for example, are starting to appear on the next-gen consoles, thanks to their ability to display many detailed units on-screen at once. The point-and-click adventure/puzzle hybrid is also starting to make an appearance on home consoles, especially on the Wii where the interface provided by the Wii Remote makes for the closest substitute to a computer mouse yet. Sensing the opportunities of the console's unique interface scheme, Destineer and Magellan Interactive have teamed up to bring Cate West: The Vanishing Files to the Wii. While the gameplay can be considered limited, the story makes it one of the more intriguing games of its type.
The premise can easily be mistaken for that of a mystery novel or television show. You play Cate West, a budding writer who also happens to have psychic abilities via any object she touches. On the way home from her first unsuccessful book signing, she comes in contact with the police department, who seek out her help in solving a crime. After the crime is successfully solved, you are asked to join the force as a detective, going through 15 different crimes that not only seem related to one another but with your past as well.
The gameplay consists of different variations of pointing and clicking exercises. Throughout each level, the user will be asked to do one of several different tasks. Some parts of a level will ask you to find the objects on a list in a picture that's cluttered up. Other parts will give you two pictures and task you to locate the differences between them. Some levels will ask you to re-create a picture by placing objects in exactly the same position. Finally, the levels will ask you to choose a suspect based on the clues you found and the facts presented in the game.
The Vanishing Files survives solely on the story it tells. The gameplay is somewhat limiting, since you tend to go through most of the same tasks in the same order. The parts where you must identify suspects end up being fun, as are the parts where you must find objects. Pointing out differences in pictures ranks below that, and the parts where you must put objects back in their places ends up being the most frustrating since they seem to be stricter here about object placement. If the spot isn't exact, it won't count. In a typical game, these varying degrees of fun would likely frustrate gamers and drive them not to play, but the depth of the story will make you want to play anyway. The characters are pretty deep, and the story takes many twists and turns that are exciting to go through. Even better, the three different endings will actually make you care about doing well, since they are all dependent on the score that you get at the end of the game. If it weren't for the story being good, there'd be little incentive to play.
Multiplayer is thrown in as an added bonus, and it helps lengthen the game's life for a bit. Versus mode has you and a friend competing for high scores based on how many clues you can find in a scene and how quickly you can find them. If you can find someone who's into this type of game, you'll actually have some fun in this mode. Co-op is a much better alternative, since you and a friend can go through the Story mode together. Considering that many PC games in this genre don't really offer this option, it becomes a fun mode for genre fans and a helpful one for those players having a hard time with the game.
As one would expect, the controls for The Vanishing Files are excellent. The Wii Remote is used as a pointer for the on-screen cursor, with the B button acting as a magnifying glass for the highlighted scene and the A button used to confirm the pointer selection. The 1 and 2 buttons are used as flashlight toggles for certain scenes, while shaking the Remote back and forth cleans off dust on certain objects in other scenes. It all works very well. The pointing is accurate and matches the speed of your movement very nicely. There is also no sign of the pointer re-calibrating itself every time you move, meaning that the pointer stays exactly where you want it to without temporary quick jumps occurring. All in all, it really is the perfect replacement for a mouse in the console realm for this genre.
The graphics end up being the factor that drags down the game's quality. Just like Interpol: The Search For Dr. Chaos on XBLA, the scenes here are presented in a pretty low resolution. Yes, the objective of the game is to find object hidden in messy pictures, but most of the time, the objects aren't exactly clear even when you do find them and they are highlighted by the game. The Wii isn't a powerhouse of a console so high resolutions aren't expected here, but the images you're presented with definitely fall below the title's 480p resolution. Aside from this, though, there's really little to complain about; the HUD is rather clean, and the cut scenes are laid out rather nicely.
The sound for The Vanishing Files is surprisingly good. The sound effects don't really count for much, since they end up being nothing more than confirmation and error noises. Nothing offensive but nothing spectacular either. The music is rather well done. The subtle melodies provide the right amount of calm to the atmosphere but still deliver hints that something sinister is brewing in each scene. It bests some horror games out there by really getting you into the mystery mood it provides. The inclusion of voice-overs is a bit unexpected, since most budget titles of this variety forgo that luxury. What's more, the voice work is good, with each actor conveying the right amount of emotion without sounding bored. The voices aren't prevalent throughout the game, but most cut scenes and some dialogue scenes either contain complete cuts of dialogue or select phrases to be said without any overacting.
Cate West: The Vanishing Files isn't exactly a game made for a broad audience. The fact that this type of game hasn't proliferated yet on the Wii is proof of its limited appeal. Having said that, the story, accompanied by the musical score, is so strong that even non-fans will want to try out the game just to see what happens next. The graphics do hurt the title, though, and they unintentionally increase the difficulty thanks to the blandness and low resolution of the provided images. If you are a fan of this game genre and can overlook the shortcomings of the graphics, you'll find that the title is well worth your time.
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