Review: Crime Scene (Nintendo DS)

Crime Scene
Publisher: SouthPeak Games
Developer: White Birds Productions
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 02/16/2010

At this point, I’m clearly no stranger to detective games on the DS. It all started when I played Hotel Dusk. After the awesomeness that was that game, I was ready and willing to play any any other detective game just on the off chance it was that good.

I’ve played a good number of bad games that way.

From Unsolved Crimes to CSI, I’ve gotten nothing but stinkers when it has come time to review one.

When Crime Scene arrived on our doorstep, I was certain that my bad luck would run out. The law of averages demanded it.

Am I really so unlucky as to get yet another bad game for the DS?

Story

You play as Matt Simmons, a rookie forensic detective hired right out of school. Still, he looks like he’s in thirties. Whatever. Anyway, he’s assigned a case involving a murdered detective right off the bat and things don’t get any easier from there. By the end of the fifth case, you’ll have dealt with so much corruption in the government that you’ll wonder if there is such a thing as an honest cop.

Things aren’t exactly Shakespeare worthy in this game, but thankfully, there is enough character to keep you from getting too bored. Matt does a lot of thinking on the job, and for once in these games, he’s incredibly talkative. His partner has a personality as well. Sure, he just makes bad puns and tries to avoid work at all costs, but it is above the norm for these games from what I’ve played.

The real problem is that the game has an overall plot in mind for the entire game. As such, you don’t learn anyone’s motivations until so late in the game that you’re as like to have forgotten half of what you learned. There is some effort to mitigate this by having recurring characters, but it doesn’t solve the problem.

Still, the five cases in the game cover enough content that you’ll at least be interested.

Graphics

I know I like to mention Unsolved Crimes and CSI a lot, but the funny thing is that when I turned on the game, the first thing I thought when I saw the graphics was that it looked like a cross between the two. It has a realistic look done in a cartoonish style. At least that is true for the character portraits. It works for most of them, but a couple look really silly. The worst of the bunch is Alexandra, who happens to be your boss and the person you will speak with the most. There is also only one model for each character, so the doctors you speak to always have a stethoscope and a lab coat, even after you’ve put them in jail.

The crime scenes are a bit different. The environments themselves look OK, but the bodies you examine are some of the worst looking representations of the human form I’ve ever seen. However, the blandest looking thing in the game has to be the background when you’re looking at things under the microscope. It is this off white mess that never fails to bore.

Overall, the graphical style is acceptable, though it does nothing to push the DS at any point.

Audio

The sound is by far the weakest point of the game. There are two musical tracks; one that plays during most of the game and another that plays when you’re performing analysis on evidence. The latter is actually kind of catchy and great background music. The former is just some low tones and odd background noises. It gets annoying instantly. Thankfully, the sound is mixed so quietly that you won’t be able to hear it if there is anything else in the room producing any sound whatsoever. I had it on full blast and less than a foot from my face and couldn’t hear anything because my teenage sister was blabbing on the phone in the next room.

There’s no voice acting, so the rest of the aural experience is covered by effects that accompany whatever actions you take. You get some nifty clicks when you’re taking pictures, performing a blood test, and the like. There aren’t enough for my tastes, but they get the job done.

So, you get one good tune and that’s about all I can really say about the audio.

Gameplay

For the most part, I like what they were trying to do with this game. You start off by visiting a crime scene and inspecting points of interest. Using a variety of tools, you’ll collect evidence which you will later process. You’ll use tweezers to pull a bullet out of wall, a swab to collect a blood sample, dust for fingerprints, etc. When you process this evidence, you’ll run prints through databases to find a match, get a DNA profile, compare ballistic marks on bullets, etc. You’ll at times have to interview witnesses and/or suspects and have to present evidence to get them to talk. You’ll even have to put together a file in order to get a search or arrest warrant. Finally, you’ll have to give a statement, which results in you answering questions about the case you just solved. You know, just to make sure you paid attention.

It isn’t a bad setup really. It combines a lot of ideas that I’ve seen in various other adventure games. Honestly, the only complaint I have about the setup is the parts where they ask you questions when you’re not just giving a statement. You’d think the superintendent wouldn’t be surprised that your prime suspect was a cop when you’ve been talking about it together for the past day. You’d be wrong.

Anyway, where the game goes wrong is in the controls. Everything is done with the stylus, but it isn’t done well. For instance, after you’ve found a print through dusting, you’ll need to lift it with a piece of tape. The game wants this tape to be placed in a very specific way, yet it does nothing to clue you in on what that way is. I’ve sat there for minutes on end simply trying to place a piece of tape. Then, you need to press down on the tape to make sure it picks up the evidence. You can rub some parts all you want but in won’t make a difference. You’re better off waving the stylus around like a moron. Finally, once you have that tape on nice and good, you’ll need to pull it off. This is simply supposed to be a downwards slashing motion, but half of the time it doesn’t work. Similar accuracy issues arise when you use the scalpel, tweezers, and swab. It can get frustrating.

At the side of the screen is your credibility bar. If you mess up a procedure or ask for help, you lose credibility. If that meter drains completely, you lose and have to restart from your last save. The bar can be refilled by doing things correctly the first time. Each of the game’s five chapters is broken into four sections. At the end of each section, you’re given up to one hundred fifty points depending on how full this meter was. The game keeps track of your high score.

Having a life meter is nothing new for these kinds of games, but thanks to the often frustrating controls, the meter will drain rapidly as you struggle in vain to perform what should be a simple action. Every time I failed, it was because of these silly control issues.

Another problem arises in that it isn’t always clear what you can and can’t collect. There are times when you’ll happen on an area littered with debris. It turns out that you need to tape up one small section of this, but none of the rest. Sadly, if there is something you can tape onscreen, such as a fingerprint, the game kind of goes nuts. Normally, if you try to use tape in an area where it isn’t needed, you get an exclamation point that lets you know you don’t need it. However, if you’ve dusted a print and collected it already, the tape will still function. However, it will think you’re trying to collect the tape again. I know this isn’t making the most sense, so let me just give you an example. In one of those sections filled with debris, I found a print. I dusted it. I collected it with tape. Then I thought that I should be able to pick up some powder with the tape. It turns out I was wrong, but there was no way to tell. The game let me use the tape and it kept on telling me I was either too short or too big. This was because even though I was using the tape on the powder on the other side of the screen, it was reading as if I was picking up the print again. This cost me mountains of credibility and frustrated me to no end.

Overall, the gameplay wouldn’t have been so bad if not for the bad implementation of stylus control. A few of the mini-games were fun, but most either just weren’t interesting and suffered major control flaws. They also got old as you repeated them over and over again over the entire game. Still, the game doesn’t come close to unseating Unsolved Crimes as the worst adventure game I’ve ever played.

Replayability

The game has five cases that run various lengths. The shortest will last you probably about an hour and a half while the longest is closer to three hours. Overall, the game ended up being well over ten hours in length which surprised me. However, you can probably bump an hour off due to having to try the same mini-games over and over because of the controls.

The game does save your high score, so there would theoretically be some incentive to beat the missions again, but this isn’t the case. The story will be the same every time and the control issues will make it hard to max out your score. It just isn’t worth it.

Still, the game lasts significantly longer than other detective games out there. At least the one play through you get will last you a while.

Balance

As far as balance goes, there isn’t anything to judge apart from the points where the game asks you questions. Sadly, the game manages to mess this up to. While a lot of the questions are easily answered, there are some that require either odd leaps of logic or are so vague that you end up in the habit of presenting everything until something sticks. It’s a typical adventure game failing.

There is a minor spike in the difficulty curve I guess. A few of the motions you need to make to collect evidence become harder, but the difficulty really lies in finding everything and wrestling with the controls.

Originality

If you’re looking for something new, don’t look here. The game uses the same techniques that detective games on the DS have been using for years. Collect the evidence with the stylus. Examine it in the lab. Answer a bunch of questions about the case you’re working.

Oh yeah. If I play one more adventure game where I’m the hot shot rookie on the force, I think I’ll puke.

Addictiveness

The problems I’ve outlined in previous sections would normally point to an exceptionally low score. However, for some reason I was playing this game for hours at a time. I don’t know what it was really. I wasn’t into the story because it was merely mediocre. The control problems were frustrating me greatly. I had a bunch of better games I could have been playing. Still, I pushed on.

I think that’s the thing about these games. They just make you want to push on in spite of all reason.

Appeal Factor

One has to wonder what on earth these guys where thinking when the scheduled the release date on the same day as Miles Edgeworth: Ace Attorney. Fans of adventure games are significantly more likely to pick that game up over this.

Also, the price point of thirty dollars is hard to swallow. Chances are, you’re only going to play this game once and never again. A lot of adventure games thus price their games at a more palatable twenty dollars. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have played this had we not been sent our copy.

Still, for fans of detective games, this game does incorporate a lot of what’s been used in other recent games, so it should be a familiar setup. You’d just probably be better off waiting a few months until you can find it cheaper.

Miscellaneous

There is one thing I just wouldn’t feel right about if I didn’t mention. After you complete a section, the game says that it is saving. Rightfully, I assumed that this meant that my progress was being saved. Instead, it was just saving my score. Imagine my surprise then, when I turned off the game and came back to discover I had lost about an hour’s worth of work. That is just bad game design right there. Whatever you do, make sure you save the game yourself.

Unsurprisingly, there aren’t any extras with the game. I don’t really expect any different, but it just reinforces that the game is good for one play through and nothing else.

The Scores

Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Poor
Audio: Very Poor
Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Very Poor
Balance: Below Average
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Very Poor
Final Score: Poor Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Overall, I’d say that Crime Scene fits in nicely between CSI and Unsolved Crimes. It doesn’t avoid the fate of those games and ends up being a rather poor experience overall. Still, it isn’t unplayable and fans of procedurals just might find enough fun to justify the purchase. If you need a good adventure game, look towards Miles Edgeworth. If you’ve played that and you still need something to satisfy your fix, then perhaps give this a try.

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