Crime Scene Review
In recent years, the DS has helped bring about something of an adventure game renaissance. French developer White Birds, known for making adventure titles for both DS and PC, once again puts the DS through its paces with Crime Scene, its latest point-and-click adventure game. Taking its cue from games like CSI: Dark Motives, Condemned: Criminal Origins and the Phoenix Wright series, Crime Scene creates a unique forensics-based adventure enhanced by an intriguing interrogation mechanic.
Crime Scene is set in the crime-ridden city of Crossburg and tells the story of Matt Simmons, a young detective who's just been promoted to forensics specialist. Phoenix Wright fans will feel right at home in the game, which contains many similarities to the popular Capcom series, including: interviewing suspects and witnesses, investigating crime scenes, analyzing evidence and presenting evidence to legitimize the investigation. Put simply, your time in Crime Scene is divided between two things—talking to people and doing lab work. You'll spend a lot of time asking questions of police, witnesses and suspects, both on site and at the police station. Not everyone is a willing interviewee though, so you'll have to learn when and how to press someone (via threat or persuasion) in order to get the information you need.
Between interrogations, you'll spend your time visiting crime scenes and collecting evidence. This is done by moving the stylus over the screen until the cursor grows, indicating a suspicious area. Tapping this presents you with a close-up of the area where you can look further and collect evidence such as fingerprints, footprints, blood, hair and bullets. Wherever you go, you've got a full arsenal of forensics tools at your disposal and you'll collect these bits of evidence using things like tweezers, scalpels, and swabs. Mind you, collecting evidence isn't as simple as it sounds. Every tool you use initiates a timed mini-game wherein you demonstrate your forensic skill by using the stylus to trace various random shapes, sometimes repeatedly.
Now spotting all the pertinent evidence within a scene takes a keen eye, but collecting evidence is only half the job; the other half is analyzing it. Once you've gathered your samples, you'll analyze them by playing an entirely different set of forensic mini-games. These consist of doing blood work by taking samples from test tubes and zapping them with a laser under a microscope. They also entail performing DNA analysis on blood, saliva or hair by matching DNA chains as they scroll down the right side of the screen. Forensics is a complex business so the analysis doesn't stop at blood and DNA—you'll also do ballistics tests like determining the caliber of a bullet or the weapon it was fired from by photographing the bullet and then searching the police database for a match for the size or the marks on it. Make sure you get nice and cozy with the database because you'll also be using it a lot for fingerprint matching.
Once you've gathered all your hard-hitting evidence, the last step to putting someone away is using the evidence to gain warrants for either searching or arresting. That's done by creating a file from your collected evidence and presenting it to your boss, police Superintendent Malone. Be warned--Alexandra Malone is one tough cookie, not likely to give you what you want unless you can persuade her both by presenting good evidence and by knowing the details of your case through-and-through.
Crime Scene has a lot going for it. It offers lots of different modes of gameplay, and is reasonably realistic in terms of crime scene investigation. You have to go through each crime scene very carefully to catch all the evidence and be patient enough to spend time analyzing and making sense of it. The game has an easy map icon navigation system and though the graphics are somewhat basic, they offer a good enough range of characters and settings to keep things interesting. Each of the five cases in the game is distinctly different, but the writing manages to expertly weave the threads of the cases into one complex, over-arching storyline. That's the good news.
The bad news can be boiled down to one issue: controls. For anyone who's ever fantasized about being a forensics investigator, Crime Scene should be a dream come true. Sadly, fantasy turns to frustration when the controls prevent you from doing simple things like cutting fabric with a knife or using tweezers to retrieve a bullet. The problem appears to be an imprecise relationship between the graphics and the touch screen. Firstly, it's unclear when using a tool, whether you should put the stylus or the tool graphic within the tracing shape. This makes for a very fussy tracing mechanic and repeated mini-game failures. Similar issues plague the swab and fingerprint collection mechanic. With the swabs, you're meant to collect fluid samples by rubbing a swab within a stained area. Unfortunately, the invisible target area is often smaller than the graphic, and harder to find, thus making it easy to break the swab and fail the mini-game. Ditto the fingerprint tape; it can be all too easy to tear the tape due to vague touchscreen/stylus interaction. The overall problem in regard to these fairly clumsy mechanics is that every time you fail a mini-game you lose points from your credibility meter. Too many points lost and you're off the Force. Ordinarily that would be fine, however most of us will agree, it's a little ridiculous for a cop to get fired for being unable to use a pair of tweezers.
Crime Scene is an interesting game undermined by frequent bouts of poor interactivity. Adventure fans will enjoy the complexity and realism of the story while aspiring forensics specialists will get into the variety of the forensics-based game mechanics. Both, however, are likely to be disappointed by the game's poor stylus interactions. This is really too bad, because while there's real fun to be had inCrime Scene, it's doubtful most gamers will have the patience to find it.