Inside Pulse 12

Review: Crime Stories (PC)

Crime Stories
Developer: Artematica
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 3/21/06

Crime Stories was originally released in Europe last year under the name Martin Mystere: Operation Dorian Gray. I barely remembered the name due to my always on the look out for obscure video games, but it didn’t click with me until I booted up the game. Martin Mystere is a popular Italian comic book character (I know, I’ve never heard of him either). Apparently from what I dug up on Google, he’s a combination of Fox Mulder and Indiana Jones. Mystere is a paranormal archeologist who runs around looking at ghosts, vampires, aliens and probably loads of other things. As I’m not familiar with Italian comics, I can’t get you much more than what I got out of this game or online research. Needless to say, Mystere doesn’t sound like a comic that would go over well with North American audiences. Maybe a pulp novel form of Mystere would take of here, as the game sure felt like one while playing through it.

I have also been informed that there are some changes between the Euro and American releases besides the name, but as I have not played the European edition of MM:ODG, I’m going to have to play the ignorance card on what those are. It’s probably a good thing though, as from what I read the European version was pretty buggy, not that this version isn’t without its technical goofs.

So how accessible to North Americans is a game designed specifically for European gamers who are meant to be quite familiar with the characters and setting of this game?

Let’s Review

1. Story

The game begins with Martin Mystere being awakened by from a nightmare by one of his colleagues. It appears a M.I.T. professor, Dr. Eulemberg, has been found dead in his home on the outskirts of New York City. And yes, it’s quite possible for someone who works in Massachusetts to live in New York. A little insane, but quite possible. But this type of convoluted storytelling is par for the course of the game. Before you say, “But an Italian wrote this! You can’t expect him to know little details like that!” My response is, “They expect us to know details about a Italian comic book that’s never made it state side such as why Martin Mystere has a Neanderthal as a combination French maid and sidekick, so it’s fair play baby!” And for those of you who want to know why an evolutionary misstep is dusting bookshelves at the beginning of the game, it’s because Martin found him in Mongolia and took him home. Yes, I know. Like I said, the entire game is pretty bloody convoluted.
The game gets worse from there. The plot revolves around traveling across the globe in order to solve not just the mystery as to why Professor Eulemberg was done in, but the mystery of eternal life and other concepts that you wouldn’t expect in a title called Crime Stories. Of course the European title of Operation Dorian Grey is equally a misnomer due to the fact that nothing in the game relates at all to Oscar Wilde’s famous novel. Okay, MAYBE the fact there is immortality and the concepts around it being discussed, but that’s really pushing it.

The dialogue is very stilted and it has an engrish style to it. I have some very archaic speech patterns and even I was saying to this game, “No one talks like that, you git!” I’m sure a lot of it was due to the translation (Again, I haven’t played the Euro version), but I know this game was released in the United Kingdom, so that means someone, either here or abroad should have done some trouble shooting with the English variant. It’s all just really poorly done.

In truth, the game’s story isn’t that horrible. It’s just so well…vapid. There’s a lot of errors that even I, a non New-Yorker caught about the area. How does a university professor have 2 cars, one of which is a Lamborghini in Manhattan? HOW DOES HE FIND PARKING IN MANHATTAN??? There’s a lot of folklore/archaeology errors, and so much of the plot relies on an understanding of characters we are meant to have encountered outside this game. By the end of the game the only left for certain is that the old motif of “no one stays dead in comic books” is adhered to, even within a video game version,

Maybe this story would have been good in four color format, but as a video game it’s shallow, weak, trite, and lacks any real hook to draw the readers in and make you care about the characters. It’s ten hours of forgettable B-Movie scripting. It’s too bad too, as there are some things hinted at and lightly touched on that good have made the game better. You know like, giving the characters personalities.

If you’re a plot based gamer, run, don’t walk to Crime Stories

Story Rating: 3/10

2. Graphics

Like most adventure games, the interactive backgrounds and scenery in Crime Stories is pretty good. It’s not great, and there are a lot of games in this genre that are 5 or so years older with more realistic and/or detailed graphics, but Crime Stories is acceptable in its visuals.

Where the game is pretty ugly is in the 3-D character models. Now I’m sure that the graphics are a spot on rendition of the comic book characters, but all I could think of when I saw Martin Mystere was, “Even Bruce Campbell would be aghast by the size of this man’s chin.” It’s funny too, because the graphics of characters on the box don’t look much like the graphics in the game. Hmmm. I suppose it could be worse. The graphics could be inspired by Rob Liefield drawings, thus lighting up the forums at Newsrama.com to mock the creator of Cable & Deadpool yet again for his particular artistic stylings.

There are some scenes that are quite striking, such as the bedroom where you find a corpse lying covered up in the bed, but aside from that the game looks like something you would see on the old PS1 or Sega Saturn.

Again, Crime Stories fails to impress here. The game has a slight attempt to feel retro, but all it manages to pull off is feeling outdated.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

I really enjoyed the music of the game. It has a great 50’s swing/jazz feel to it. I’m not really sure why they went with that style of music as jazz would be more in place for a noir style detective game and not a 2005 “Let’s hang out with Casper the Friendly Ghost and insult ancient Mexican religions!” kind of game.

The voice acting however…oh Great Cthulhu, smite me from this earth so I won’t have to hear their voices ever again. Oy very, was it bad. Not Shining Force Neo bad, but still pretty sodding awful. What’s worse is that in some places The Adventure Company has replaced some of the original voice acting with American voices (because New York is not filled with Cockney accents like the Euro version of this game supposedly was), but not all. It’s quite haphazard. You can imagine my reaction when I am greeted by a BRITISH MECHANIC in Manhattan. Now I realize most people aren’t as “familiar” with American-British immigration laws, but the only way a mechanic from Great Britain is going to get citizenship is if he gets an American woman pregnant. Even suspending my belief regarding reality vs. this game for the second dozen time since the game started (and this little faux pas occurs a half an hour into the game…), it just adds to the stack of times you will be saying, “WTF” in regards to this game. Usually, TAC (and his Siamese twin Dreamcatcher) is superb with their voice acting choices. This has to be the exception that proves the rule. Please. Oh god, don’t let this be a trend. It’s that awful.

So to recap, enjoy the limited soundtrack. Cover your ears whenever you left click an item or characters interact.

Sound Rating: 4/10

4. Control & Gameplay

Usually Adventure games are like Strategy RPG’s: The controls are so tight and constant, they are almost impossible to screw up. Then there’s Crime Stories.

The controls in the game take a little bit of getting used to. Most PC Adventure games involve using the left mouse button for picking things up and either the right mouse button, or the bottom of the screen for calling up the inventory of items you’ll be using. Not so here. In Crime Stories, you’ll be using the right mouse button to circle through three options: describe, grab, talk to, and then the left mouse button to activate the action. It’s a rather weird feeling, especially for veteran adventure gamers, when usually all these options are combined into one command. Why the game is so specific, I’m not sure, but it feels unwieldy and uncomfortable for the first one or two acts of the game.

As well, the in game animation is very choppy. You’ll see Martin (or one of the two other character’s you’ll have access to in the game) reach for something or bend over to pick something up. The character however, will only go through half the motion and then voila! The item is in their hand. It’s very unsettling, this combination of telekinesis and teleportation. Sadly, this isn’t the only weird aspect about the animation. Martin walks VERY SLOWLY. Throughout the entire game, even when beset by the concept of giant killer bats he will walk at the same pace. A run option would have been nice, but probably would have also cut the total timed played down by 25%.

I never thought I’d be saying this about an adventure game, but holy hell, are there some horrendous camera angle issues. The game will shift camera angles depending on where you character is standing. The problem with this is certain items are only available at certain camera angles. Now I don’t mean the items can only be seen at these angles. I’m talking about you can see and interact with the items on all angles, but only at certain ones can you actually pick up an item and add it to your inventory or use something from your item collection with it. It’s maddening.

The game also has a few bugs where it will lock up on you. This is even more frustrating to me after I looked online and learned these bugs were in the European version as well. Why would you not take that year+ time that this game has been out and have the developers fix those bugs before bringing it stateside? Arrrgh!

An adventure game is generally the last thing you think of in regards to getting upset about poor controls, camera angels, and poor playtesting. Crime Stories manages to continue its streak as the deformed insane reject that should have been kept locked up in the TAC attic where they pretend it was stillborn and use a dumbwaiter to bring it its daily supply of ham hocks and collard greens.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 4/10

5. Replayability

Ha ha ha ha ha. Oh wait, I do have to review this category, don’t I.

Well, there’s some extras where you can unlock artwork and watch the cinematics. However there’s only one ending, the game is amazingly linear, even for an adventure games, and it’s dreadfully boring to sit through the first time. I can’t come up with the slightest reason WHY you would sit through this game a second time.

Okay, this is normally where I’d insert some taking the piss comment giving an extreme example where playing Crime Stories twice straight through would be a better alternative to say, f*cking a angry crocodile whose babies you just jumped up and down on repeatedly in front of it while it was held back so it could rush forward and savagely tear you apart. But that’s just not a very realistic situation, is it?

Saved from the minimal score possible by allowing the masochist or Italian comic book fans to look at artwork.

Replayability Rating: 2/10

6. Balance

Well besides the camera angles, wonky speed, and strange plot holes in the game, we have the bread and butter of the adventure genre: Puzzle Solving! Again, Crime Stories does not fail to disappoint with abject insanity. First off, the only puzzles in the game involve item usage. You find items, you pick items, and you eventually use some items. That’s it. Every other adventure game on the planet that I can think of at least has some actually variety to their puzzles. Not here.

Then we have the bizarre nature of the puzzles themselves. Usually in adventure games, the items are a clue in and of themselves for how to use them. As well, the puzzles are often logical when you think about them. Not so in Crime Stories.

To give you an idea of what you’re in for if you play this game, I’m going to spoil two early puzzles that drove me insane. The first involves the fact that you can’t leave your house until you find your cell phone. Now the last adventure game I played before this one was Scratches and I had a similar puzzle where the only solution was to open every drawer in the house. So I assumed it would be the same thing. No cell phone anywhere. It took me fifteen minutes of profanity filled mutterings before I clicked on my home phone, which I had used to call a mechanic earlier in the game, and found that I could actually manipulate the phone rather than use it in conjunction with phone numbers on pieces of paper. Turns out there was a called ID built into the home phone. You call your cell phone on the home phone and then following the ringing. You find it under some couch cushions, which was the first place I looked when I was told I need to find the phone because it was so fricking obvious that it would be there. Instead I was told “What’s the point?” ARRRRGH!

The second puzzle involves driving your car to get to the professor’s rotting corpse. If you left click on the car, you get inside. By this point you have car keys. You would THINK that to drive the car, you would take the car keys and use them with the car. However, there was no starter or way to use the keys with the car interior. In fact, the only reason the interior exists…is to get a business card out of it. Sigh. After you come to this conclusion you probably think, well I should use the car keys with the OUTSIDE of the car. When you try this is says, “Better not!” What did they think you were going to do? Scratch your Lamborghini? It turns out all you have to do is simply right click on the car at any time, and off you go. Please not this is the ONLY time in the game I recall where the RMB functions as the LMB. Again I scream at the insanity of it all.

The puzzles in the game generally make little sense or they are time consuming rather than fun. Such as “Walking around the house to find a slip of paper.” Most of the time puzzle games challenge your brain. Here you just find yourself wondering how the developers came up to the solutions for the puzzles in this game, and what kind of hallucinogenics were needed for you to ingest to arrive to the same conclusions.

At first I was kicking myself over being shortsighted in regards to the phone solution. By the end of the game the only kicking I wanted to do was to the developer’s families and loved ones in order to elicit a verbal oath swearing never to make a video game again.

Balance Rating: 3/10

7. Originality

This is probably the hardest category to judge. The game’s like Broken Sword or Gabriel Knight but without the substance or the feeling that you had at least a little fun some time during your hours at the computer.

There’s plenty of adventure mystery games out there already, and even Scratches with its hideous bugs is a better buy than Crime Stories. Nothing in this game is truly original. It’s a game based off a comic book, the plot is hackneyed and cliche from beginning to end, and even the puzzles are merely variants of the same thing throughout the entire game. There’s nothing in this game that say, Maniac Mansion didn’t do better. And I didn’t even have pubes when that game came out!

Originality Rating: 2/10

8. Addictiveness

Wow. I haven’t had this much vitriol for a game in a long time, have I? I’ll be honest where games like Dark Corners of the Earth, Shining Force Neo, and Guardian Heroes Advance were just truly shitty, shitty games with no true redeeming value except for the knowledge that the men and women that made those games would some day thankfully be dead, my anger at Crime Stories is that it had a spark of greatness for a few brief lingering seconds, and then the developers snuffed it out by covering with a few hundred layers of crap. Had this game gotten rid of the bugs, the camera angles, the poorly scripted dialogue and even worse voice acting, why this game might have been…mediocre! Instead, I worry that this is going to be someone’s first Adventure game, which will merely ensure that that open minded young lad or lass will never touch the genre again.
There nothing to really pull you into the game at all, unless you’re a fan of the comic book series, or are a mindless fanatic to the genre.

Addictiveness Rating: 2/10

9. Appeal Factor

Behold the magic of cut and paste!

There nothing to really pull you into the game at all, unless you’re a fan of the comic book series, or are a mindless fanatic to the genre.

Next category please!

Appeal Factor: 2/10

10 Miscellaneous

So what have we learned due to the mess that is Crime Stories?

1. When a game takes a year+ to come over from the US from Europe, FIX THE BUGS.

2. When a quarter of the game’s plot will only make sense if you are a European comic book reader, maaaaaaybe it’s not the best choice to localize for North America.

3. 3D Adventure games usually (but not always) SUCK.

4. While it may seem a really cool idea on paper to have one of the final solutions to the game on an insert tucked into the game box, in practice it will probably anger many gamers who borrow the game from their friends. However, Crime Stories does get bonus points here for sticking it to bit torrent geeks in this manner.

5. Don’t play Crime Stories. It is sub-par in almost every way, and for your $30, you can generally buy TWO really well made adventure games instead of this one.

6. Don’t play Crime Stories. Don’t make me add a number seven.

Miscellaneous Rating: 3/10

The Scores
Story: 3
Graphics: 5
Sound: 4
Control/Gameplay: 4
Replayability:2
Balance: 3
Originality: 2
Addictiveness: 2
Appeal Factor: 2
Miscellaneous: 3
Total Score: 30
Overall Score: 3.0 (BAD)

The Inside Pulse

Unless you wish to give this as a gift to someone you secretly hate, do not buy this game. Do not also judge this game as the typical offering from TAC. This (and Jekyll & Hyde, although thankfully no one but myself seems to remember that game exists) is the exceptions to what they normally put out. Get Still Life or Post Mortem, or Darkfall, or Dracula: Resurrection, or pretty much everything else in their catalog. Hell, even get Curse! Just don’t get this. Go buy a kitten instead. Kittens are guaranteed entertainment. Crime Stories is a guaranteed “Why didn’t I buy a kitten like my beloved Sub-Cultural Icon told me to?” Buy the kitten and let Martin Mystere crawl back to Italy. BUY THE KITTEN!