Review: The Cross Formula (PC)

The Cross Formula
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: KatGames
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 02/02/2012

I might have grown a tad fond of hidden object games, but I’ve been playing so many of them recently, I figured I was due for a break. So, it wasn’t with much hesitation that I jumped at the chance to play and review The Cross Formula. It promised a classic point and click adventure experience without all of the hidden object sections.

That alone probably wouldn’t have been all it would take to get me to play the game, but I tried out the demo and though the setup looked interesting. It also seemed to have a good dose of personality. I was more than happy to give the full game a spin.

Story

If you like amnesiacs, this is your kind of game! You play as a young man who wakes up in a hotel room with no recollection of who he is or how he got there. On top of, he discovers that he is wanted for murder! With the aid of a unknown person via text messages, He sets out to retrace his steps (via GPS in his car) in order to solve the mystery before he gets locked up for a crime he may or may not have committed.

The story continues nicely from there, with cryptic flashes and amusing if inconsequential side characters. Mark, as that is your character’s name, has a great inner monologue with a dry sense of humor and plenty of insight. You’re led to several interesting locations throughout the story and the build up to the end is very interesting as it seems all of the answers are a few steps away.

However, the ending fell flat. There were several loose threads that weren’t tied up and the requisite big twist ending felt forced. More than anything, it feels like we’re simply missing the rest of it, which was a huge disappointment. By the time I got to the end, I was invested in the story, and the lack of a true resolution left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. So while the journey may be solid, the destination isn’t worth it.

Graphics

The Cross Formula eschews the typical look associated with causal adventure games and uses a 2D animation look. Simple lines filled in with washed out colors is what you’ll get here, and it looks pretty decent. It actually reminds me of the CSI game I reviewed for the DS, albeit glossed up and looking much better suited for the PC. The humans could use a little work, but the simple animations help lend some personality.

In terms of visual effects, the game isn’t exactly full of fireworks. Players on the casual setting will get the typical sparkles of the genre at times, and there are some interactive objects, such as an Elvis toy that dances when you click on it. It was more than a lot of games I’ve played offered, which I appreciated.

It may not be a heavily ambitious looking game, but it gets the job done and was a nice break from the more serious nature of the previous adventure games I’ve played.

Audio

For most of the game, there is very little music. It uses mood noise to set the tone, and does so about as well as can be expected. There are some nice jazz and rock tunes throughout that show up during certain areas. These are actually quite nifty and I wish the whole of the soundtrack were made of this kind of stuff.

There is no voice acting in the game, and the sound effects are typical of what you’d find here. There was one that actually got me in a spot of trouble, as it was a dead ringer for the alarm signaling a fire call. I had to put on headphones after that.

Overall, there was nothing spectacular here, but there were highlights. I certainly never had to turn the sound off to enjoy the game, and at times it did work quite well.

Gameplay

This is about as simple a point and click game as you can find.

You start out in a location, and you need to work your way through it. You do this by talking to characters, picking up items for your inventory, and by interacting with puzzles. In order to add an item, you need merely click on it. Once there, you can click and drag it to where it needs to go. There were some items that could end up in your inventory forever, never getting used, but there were only a couple of these.

The puzzles are the typical fare for this kind of game. Most of them involve rotating shapes to fit them into a larger shape, rerouting power circuits, and other such things that adventure aficionados will be quite familiar with. However, there were some more unique ones. In order to fix a jukebox, you had to sync up the movement of three dolls with projected images. The best puzzle was the final one, which had you timing animations so that they flowed perfectly, even though they were attached to different images.

The hint system is equally flawed and useful. It tells you what you need to do, but won’t point out a tough to spot item. I usually knew what I needed to do, but occasionally there would be a stubborn item I couldn’t find. At those times, I wish that I could have used a hint to find the tricky item. There was one instance where the hint flat out lied to me by telling me an item was in a certain location when it wasn’t. I was not at all amused by that. It also allows you to skip whole puzzles after a certain amount of time.

If you’ve played any adventure game in the last three decades, you know what to expect as well as how to control this game. The puzzles could have been more interesting, and that would have boosted the score a bit. However, what’s here is fine and does the job well.

Replayability

From start to finish, it took somewhere between two and three hours to complete. For any subsequent play through, that time will be significantly diminished, as you’ll know where everything is and how to solve each puzzle. That’s not a great running time, nor a good way to keep players coming back for more.

There are three difficulty settings, but again, what’s the point if you already know where everything is. With no bonus content for players to look through, this ends up being an incredibly brief game with no replay value. Basically, it falls into the classic adventure game trap.

Balance

I’ve already gone into how the hint system works, so I won’t bother repeating myself on that account. With three difficulty settings, it’s easy to get the right balance for you. The difficulties simply address how often you get hints and whatnot.

This is a classic adventure game in pretty much every respect. This includes the awkward moments where you get stuck and end up clicking on everything until you find the one thing you missed before. Most casual adventure games avoid this via a strong hint system, but that isn’t to be found here.

Beyond that, the puzzles aren’t too difficult, and you can move on with enough clicking. This isn’t a hard game. It simply has the chance to be an annoying one from time to time.

Originality

I can’t think of a single original thing in this game. Someone trying to reclaim his memory by retracing his steps is nothing new. Even the art style, which seems unique by comparison, is something I’ve seen in licensed DS titles. That’s nothing to be particularly proud of.

This game does seem unique in many ways, but this is mostly because it goes a different route from the grand majority of its genre. It sticks out in this regard, but in reality, it’s the same old song and dance with a different coat of paint.

Addictiveness

I unintentionally played through this game in one sitting. This was for two reasons. Firstly, I was curious as to where the story was headed. Secondly, the game is so damned short that I beat it in a couple of hours.

This presents a bit of a conundrum. On one hand, I was engrossed in the tale (even if it ended up letting me down). On the other hand, I don’t reward such short games because they end before you can tell if they were truly addicting.

The tiebreaker is going to be the gameplay. This is classic point and click stuff with plenty of familiar puzzles to solve. Fans are going to eat it up and enjoy it for what it is. I’ve long said these games are all surprisingly addictive, and this game is the same. It still loses some points for being short, but not as much as it could have.

Appeal Factor

This is another section where a conundrum takes center stage.

First, this is a classic adventure game that is extremely accessible. It has an interesting hook and a fun presentation. It’s not a instant classic by any means, but it has enough to appeal to people at a glance. I enjoyed the demo enough to play through the whole thing, which should say something.

On the other hand, I can’t help but feel that paying normal prices for a game with so little value is a huge turn off. You will never get enough time out of this game to justify the asking price, unless you really really end up liking the story. Even then, you’ll never need to play through the game again, as the puzzles don’t change and the big twist is already known. It’s the same reason why I’ve only watched The Sixth Sense once.

Miscellaneous

With no bonuses to speak of, this is a severely limited package. It’s almost unforgivable when you think about it. Every other casual adventure game I’ve played has offered something, even if it was only some concept art or wallpapers. All you can do with this title is replay it, which just doesn’t cut it.

Overall, I was disappointed by this game. I think there are plenty of good ideas on display here, and a larger, more conclusive game would have been something I could recommend to everyone. As is, however, it’s hard to tell anyone they should play this.

The Scores
Story: Below Average
Graphics: Above Average
Audio: Decent
Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Worthless
Balance: Below Average
Originality: Awful
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Poor
Final Score: Below Average

Short Attention Span Summary

I really wanted to like this game. It had a lot of personality and style, but it let me down in the most important ways. A good adventure game needs to have three things: a good story, good puzzles, and some element of replay value. This game ended up disappointing on all three accounts, and therefore, does not qualify to be called a good adventure game. You’re likely to still have some fun with it, but this is one game you can safely avoid.

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