Art of Murder; FBI Confidential
Publisher: City Interactive
Developer: City Interactive
Release Date: 07/29/2008
Art of Murder is the first North American published game by City Interactive, Poland’s large video game developer and publisher. It’s great to see all these European developers coming to the States, as we American gamers tend to (erroneously) only think of the US and Japan as the two big areas for game development.
When I first saw the screenshots of Art of Murder and heard a little bit of the plot, I thought the game was going to be a rip-off of Microids and The Adventure Company’s game, Still Life. Even the main characters look a lot alike. What I discovered however was that the games are only similar in that they are both games featuring FBI agents who are trying to stop a mysterious serial killer. Still Life took the #30 position in my Top 30 Spooky Games Countdown, but how does Art of Murder: FBI Confidential compare?
Art of Murder is about the adventures of FBI Rookie, Nicole Bonnet. On her first outing she is teamed with FBI veteran James. On a routine coffee run, James is murdered by an unknown assailant. Grief-stricken, Nicole is reassigned to partner with Nick, a character who never actually appears in the game directly until the final cut scene, and even then you only hear his voice. Nicole’s new assignment involves trying to catch a serial killer who is murdering his victims as if they were sacrifices in an Incan ceremony.
It sounds pretty cut and dry, doesn’t it? Well it’s actually not. The game spans over ten days, and by the end of the third day, the game goes in an entirely different route. Without spoiling the game I’ll just say that sometimes what looks like serial killing isn’t, what looks like a single killer isn’t, what looks like a big conspiracy isn’t, and the game takes you from New York Cities to the wilderness of Peru where you uncover a revenge scheme twenty years in the making.
The characters and the twists and turns that befall them are quite intricate and unique. The game manages to take some clichés, like the nearly supernatural partner you have and make them quite intriguing. You can figure out before the game is half done who is behind everything because the game telegraphs it with a complete lack of candor or subtlety, but it’s not until the very end of the game that you know why.
I will say the ending of the game is very lackluster and anti-climatic. There are no less than three unresolved plot points, one of which the game even admits to as the last line of the game. Is this a setup for a sequel? Well, we’ll have to see how the game sells for that. The other two involve the fact that there is never anything about James’ murder brought up after the beginning of the game, even though you use a lot of his stuff. At one point you have an idea of who killed him and the game starts to point you in that direction, except for the fact that guy uses a knife and James is shot. Alas. The final dangling thread is the lack of any true resolution. It just ends. Boo-urns.
In the end, the game features a core story that is quite interesting, but contains too many lapses or judgment or areas where you needed more than a suspension of disbelief (Like a girl who has never flown a plane before can repair and fly a broken down twenty year old plane from Peru to New York) and one of the most disappointing endings I’ve seen this year. With a little work, Art of Murder‘s plot could have been gold. Instead, it’s just okay.
Story Rating: Above Average
Art of Murder is presented in a third person point and click environment. Like most of these games, AoM has (mostly) static backgrounds featuring crisp and highly detailed backdrops and location designs. AoM’s artists had a real eye for detail, and at times various locations looked lifelike.
Character models however, are merely mediocre. Characters just don’t look right when they move. Animations are a bit off, and it doesn’t help that there are noticeable jaggies on each model as well. Some characters like Warren, the curator of the museum or a certain professor down in Peru look quite nice, as does what little you can see of Ruth, the secretary of your FBI office. Most of the other characters look about a generation behind in design and detail. Nicole especially, which sucks as you are always seeing her.
Cut scenes were a mixed bag as well. I wasn’t terribly impressed with any of them, and they seemed a little too hazy and grainy compared to the rest of the game. Again, animation was a bit off and it made them hard to really enjoy.
A mixed bag here graphically. It certain looks better then several Adventure games I’ve played this year, but titles like Dracula: Origin and The Lost Crown leave it in the dust.
Graphics Rating: Above Average
The music of the game fits the somber and eerie mode of the title nicely, but even with an enjoyable score can’t save a title from some awful voice acting. Nicole’s voice actress was especially bad, showing little to no range or emotion. I actually laughed the one time she screamed as it was so fake. Aside from Ruth, Chaser, and Warren, the voice acting is something you would expect to hear more in a PSX or Sega-CD era title. Very unimpressed with the assembled talent for Art of Murder
Sound effects help bring up my final overall opinion of the game’s aural aspects to merely mediocre. From the meow of a cat to the hiss of a snake, the sound effects manage to impress me when I otherwise clicked through the voice acting so as to save my ears. A real nice attention to detail here.
As the game gives you visual text of every line in the game, consider muting the actors and you just might enjoy the title more.
Sound Rating: Mediocre
4. Control and Gameplay
Due to the point and click nature of Adventure games, it is generally hard to mess up the controls. After all, you’re just using the mouse and clicking on items or locations in order to advance the plot and solve puzzles, right? Well, Art of Murder certainly does its best to bring down the gameplay standard of the Adventure genre.
For one thing, there are some mouse click detection issues. Nicole is supposed to run when you click the mouse twice, which you will be doing a lot as she is ungodly slow otherwise. However, sometimes the game just doesn’t notice the clicks, so you’ll be clicking three or four times instead. As well, there are some areas where the game will only let you walk. Sadly these are place like in the Peruvian automobile workshop where you start on one side of the screen and each time you want to talk to Jose you have to watch Nicole WALK over to him on the other. Kill me now. Factor in the most location backtracking I’ve seen in a long time (And I thought the Egyptian level of Dracula: Origin was bad) and you have one of the slowest moving Adventure games I’ve played in years.
The other big issue I found with playing the game is that the clickable areas for everything in the game were amazingly small. You can find yourself clicking forever in one area that you KNOW you are supposed to interact with in hopes you might find the pixel or three that are actually linked to activate. Stupid airplane gas tank. Thankfully the game does have a hint option, where you click a magnifying glass, and for a few seconds everything that can be clicked on shows up. However the magnifying glass doesn’t always match up with the areas you can click on exactly, leading to a tad bit more frustration. As well, some ideas don’t show up with the use of the glass, as they might not activate as interactive items/locations until later. Of course this means you go into these areas a little while later assuming you can’t interact with those items at all and well, again you walk away from AoM annoyed. Finally, there are some things, like the elevator wires in the last area of the game that NEVER work in conjunction with the magnifying glass, so you just click around and end up accidentally interacting with them. Huzzah.
Aside from those two issues, and don’t get me wrong as they are two HUGE issues for an adventure game to have, the engine behind Art of Murder is quite solid. Adventure game fans or not, you’ll probably be frustrated with the interface and the limited active region of each item, but after the first in-game day with the title, you’ll have the hang of it and it will be almost second nature to click multiple times instead of just once. This doesn’t make it acceptable though.
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Most adventure games are exceedingly linear. The game progresses in the same exact way every time you play them with no variety whatsoever. This makes the majority of them a one shot for the average gamer unless the plot is truly exceptional or there are multiple endings. Although Art of Murder features NEITHER of these, the game does feature something quite unusual that helps to breathe new life into this title – randomly generated puzzles and solutions.
There are about a half dozen puzzles or so in this game that will have different solutions each time you play them. They are still the same puzzle, but things will be in a different order of what switch is attached to specific lights will be different each time you boot up the game. This means, if you turn out to be a big fan of the game, you get something slightly new each time, meaning the usual rote memorization of an Adventure game doesn’t cut it here. This is a nice little addition to the game, that helps to increase its replay value, but makes me glad I don’t have to write an FAQ for the title. Yeesh.
Replayability Rating: Above Average
The balance of Adventure games rest solely on the shoulders of the puzzles it contains. Are they fairly logical and obvious? Are they a bit out there? Are there answers only the mind of the developers could naturally figure them out since they are so freaking outside the realm of reality? Well Art of Murder has a bit of both.
The weirdest puzzle I found was having to make a ladder out of very old pots, even though there is a worn brick chimney right next to where you build the pot ladder. Let’s see, something fragile and made of brittle clay, or something that is solid and has grooves for your hands and feet. INSANE!
Most of the puzzles however are fairly straight forward and although they aren’t necessarily realistic, they are logical. Say, using a sandwich to attract flies, using the flies to attract a spider and using the spider to…chase off a viper. Okay then. I thought it would be food chain progression.
There’s nothing truly hard in the game. All the puzzles are pretty obvious, like changing a name on a safe from the alias to the real name, or analyzing samples using proper scientific machinery. There is even the mind blowing puzzle of “Oh no! I need to print something but the printer is out of paper.” The solution is,”Get paper out of the supply closet.”
Probably the most challenging thing you’ll encounter in Art of Murder is either that you didn’t check everything you possibly could, or dealing with all the backtracking between multiple points like this was a Soul Reaver or Tomb Raider game. So much walking, so little doing.
Although the game is rated T, there is little to no on screen violence or blood, which is odd considering you’re dealing with a half dozen murders in the title. This means parents can let younger children enjoy the game and not worry about grisly gory gruesome details. Thanks to the relative ease of most puzzles, it also means their little minds won’t be too sharply challenged either.
Balance Rating: Above Average
I was quite happy to find Art of Murder was quite distinct from Still Life. The game offers a somewhat usual story and several unexpected plot twists, but it’s also laden with some VERY obvious ones. The cast was pretty deep compared to a lot of other video game secondary characters and there was a level of complexity to them you don’t find in other video games.
There were also several puzzles I haven’t seen rehashed to death by the Adventure genre, which was another nice touch. In the end though, the majority of the game is your standard generic third person point and click.
Originality Rating: Decent
I beat the game in two four-hour sessions. From that admission is probably sounds like I really got sucked into the game. In fact, I just railroaded through Art of Murder because I have five other games hitting me this week and I was so disinterested in AoM, that I knew if I didn’t finish it right away, I probably never would.
The title has its moments, but I was so bloody bored with bits of the game. All the backtracking for minutes between the same two locations. Over and over again. It was driving me nuts. I understand it was realistic, but holy crap, that didn’t make it any less BORING.
If it wasn’t for the more intricate then usual story of the game, I wouldn’t have been able to complete the game. I was curious to see where things were going. If the interface was better, I could have gotten more into the game, but when the game moved at a snail’s pace, and I had a devil of a time clicking on things, it just killed me enjoyment dead.
Addictiveness Rating: Bad
9. Appeal Factor
If you like whodunits, you’ll certainly enjoy the story of Art of Murder. Adventure games however, have become niche titles here in North America, and thank to this game’s particular issues, I can’t see your average Adventure game fan having fun with it. It’ll be mainly for CSI aficionados or true hardcore Adventure fans.
Appeal Factor Rating: Bad
Although I’ve been a bit hard on Art of Murder at times, it’s a pretty good value at only $19.99. As the game will last you about ten hours from start to finish, that’s only $2/hour. There’s not a lot you can get for that these days.
Yes, the game has some flaws, and one or two that are pretty big, but it still has its good points and they shouldn’t be overlooked.
Boasting a fun story, but with a lackluster ending, some well developed characters that look a bit ugly, and some nicely rendered locations with subpar voice acting, Art of Murder: FBI Confidential is a decent little game that sets itself up for a sequel. If the developers learn from their mistakes, the second title has a good deal of potential indeed.
Miscellaneous Rating: Decent
Story: Above Average
Graphics: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Bad
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
This is City Interactive’s first game for North American audiences. Looking through their catalog of games back across the Atlantic, it’s also their first Adventure game. For a first attempt, this isn’t bad. Art of Murder certainly has its flaws, but if you can deal with the monotony, there’s a nice story and some interesting puzzles to occupy you for a few days. For a budget title, you can certainly do a lot worse. As this is the biggest week of the year for adventure games, you might choose to invest in the Homestar Runner, Dracula, or other titles soon to be available.