Art of Murder: Cards of Destiny is an adventure title by City Interactive, a company that's known for publishing unique, non-licensed adventure games that are somewhat reminiscent of the adventure titles of yore. However, the games are cheaply made and usually budget-priced, and that typically shows in the end result. Art of Murder: Cards of Destiny heavily relies on voice acting, which is pretty bad and will grate on your nerves long before you finish. It's a shame because otherwise, the game features some inventive and challenging puzzles, great atmospheric music, and decent 3-D work.
Cards of Destiny puts you in the role of FBI agent Nicole Bonnet, whose vacation is cut short when she receives a mysterious package in the mail. The package contains a couple of mysterious items, a rusty bolt and an old-fashioned theater projector bulb. Along with that is a newspaper clipping about a recent string of murders, with the phrase "serial killer" and your character's name circled. Figuring that it's some kind of bad omen, your character starts to solve the mystery of where the package came from and what it all means, thrusting her headfirst into conflict with the serial killer from the article. The setup brings up enough questions to keep you interested in how the events play out. There's even a fairly grisly introductory video of a young woman who's unconscious, bound and tossed into a dumpster, which is dumped into a garbage truck while inattentive garbage men inadvertently crush her body. The serial killer obviously means business, and we learn that playing cards are the villain's calling card of sorts.
The game focuses heavily on adventure gameplay. If you've heard of old LucasArts titles such as Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones or Monkey Island, Indiana Jones, then you'll have a rough idea of what to expect. Your character is constantly on-screen, going from location to location to gather clues and figure out what is going on. Each visited location usually consists of a number of individual screens, which you'll reach by pointing your character in the direction you wish her to walk and then clicking the mouse.
The opening sequence is set within your apartment. From there, you can have her walk from the foreground to the background or up to her bedroom on the second floor. Clicking on certain objects, like the bed or desk, will zoom your view into a first-person exploratory mode, allowing you to search drawers or pick up objects by clicking on them. If you can pick up an object, oftentimes it'll automatically be added to your inventory, where you can rotate and further inspect it.
Certain objects can interact with other inventory items or things you'll find in the environment. Sometimes this is as simple as finding a key and unlocking a door, but sometimes, they're a little more obscure, like collecting a pack of Alka-Seltzer, opening it, dropping two tablets in a glass of water, and then dropping in the rusty bolt to clean it off and discover the hidden writing. These puzzles are fun once you've figured them out, but it takes a lot of guessing, and you get little in the way of clues to figure them out. There were plenty of times when I stumped and scratching my head, and I had to resort to an online FAQ. This reliance on solving vague puzzles broke up the pacing of the game and took away some of the enjoyment.
Plot-wise, Cards of Destiny is pretty good, but it's peppered with some awful dialogue and lengthy voice sequences. As I mentioned earlier, the voice acting is largely atrocious, and you're subjected to it often. I realize that the title was probably made on a pretty tight budget, but if half the effort went into the voice acting that went into the music, we'd have a pretty well-rounded adventure game on our hands. As it stands, when you get to a sequence that requires a minute or two of talking heads, you'll immediately want to turn off the sound, and I'm sure that isn't the desired reaction. There is also some awful dialogue when the character talks aloud to herself and in interactions with other characters, and you have a definite issue with a game that depends so heavily on the story. Imagine a great film concept being marred by horrible actors and dialogue, and you'll have an idea of what I mean.
The 3-D models are a little dated by today's standards, but the title looks pretty good, given its budget price tag. I'd compare it to the middle ground of the previous console generation's offerings, and that might be pretty disappointing if you're a PC-only gamer. The lack of graphical fidelity doesn't impact the gameplay in the slightest, as it's pretty easy to find objects to interact with, and everything is visible within your environment. Picking up items for close inspection reveals a surprising amount of detail in otherwise basic 3-D models, and while character animations are a little wooden, they get the job done. It would have been nice to have some graphical sliders so you can run the game at a slightly higher level if you have the hardware to do so.
I have some slight control complaints, though. The game focuses on the mouse for just about everything. There are no hotkeys or keyboard shortcuts for inventory access, so to bring up your character's inventory, you need to drag your cursor to the very bottom of the screen to access it. This becomes a problem when you're moving from location to location within a scene, as you often need to find the nebulous position at the bottom of the screen that doesn't trigger your inventory but gives you the "move" icon. I'd often go too far and accidentally click on an inventory item instead of clicking to move, and it was aggravating enough to become my biggest pet peeve by the end of the game. If you click on an item in your inventory to inspect it, you have to hit the X button on the screen to back out instead of clicking outside of the frame to exit. It's a slight problem, but since you spend so much time in your inventory because you're combining items and trying out possible item combinations, you'll be begging for a shortcut in no time.
If you enjoy adventure games on the PC, you could do worse than Art of Murder: Cards of Destiny. For the price, it'll provide you with a pretty lengthy and well thought-out adventure, but there are enough problems with the story's presentation to keep it from being an excellent, must-have purchase. If the dialogue and voice acting issues would be big annoyances to you, too, then I'd suggest avoiding this title. If you can get past that or tend to play your PC titles while listening to music or something else, then the actual gameplay is pretty solid. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for, but it's worth checking out for adventure game fans.
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