August 1, 2009
Index+, France Telecom Multimedia
When I first set out to play Artematica’s Crime Stories, I really wasn’t expecting much. Let’s face it, I’ve seen more exciting names on cereal boxes, and the“Investigative Thriller/ FBI” billing and milquetoast packaging did little to pique my interest. To be honest, if my hard-earned dough had been on the line, I probably would have left this one on the shelf.
That would have really been a real shame, because, this game turned out to be packed with just about every element that captures my interest. Yes, it’s an “investigative thriller,” but with heavy doses of occult mystery, ancient Aztec ritual, and the pursuit of immortality. It even has a dash of humor.
The game centers around Martin Mystere, a professor and FBI agent extraordinaire who’s called to investigate the brutal murder of esteemed colleague Professor Eulemberg. If the name Mystere sounds familiar, it’s no mystery. Not only is the game based on a comic book character of the same name created by Alfredo Castelli, it was previously released for the European market under the name Martin Mystere: Operation Dorian Gray.
While the operations’ namesake isn’t even referenced in the game, it does give a clue as to the ultimate nature of what Martin will uncover during his travels. You see, the good Professor Eulemberg had discovered clues to an ancient Aztec rite of passage, the nature of which I’ll let you discover for yourself. During the course of his investigation, Martin will have to follow these clues to Mexico in hopes of finding the killer.
Martin is accompanied by his housekeeper Java, an apparently prehistoric man who speaks only in guttural grunts, delivered Scooby-Doo style. He also has his buxom wife Diana by his side, whom you’ll actually be able to control for a brief period of time.
All this travel will require a map, of course. This is a staple of your inventory, which shows along the bottom of the screen. You can choose to hide the inventory or show it by clicking an icon on the bottom left corner of the screen. The top left corner displays an icon that allows you to save, load, and exit your game.
The interface is overall intuitive, and operates as standard point and click. The icon changes to offer one of three options: examine, use, and talk. You can do any of the three with any object or person, so this doesn’t always provide clues as to an object’s use. You can, for example, choose to talk to a chair, but Martin will respond with something like, “Meh?” Yes, for some strange reason he says things like “Meh” quite often.
Most of the puzzles were inventory-based, and were usually quite logical. If I recall correctly, there was only one traditional puzzle, and it wasn’t difficult at all. This game won’t pose a challenge to hard-core adventure gamers, but it’s still quite fun.
I loved the graphics in this game, and felt the characters were overall well done. The Aztec ruins were especially beautiful, and that’s where this game really shines. Game-play is third person, and the characters are all rendered in 3D.
Now if I may put on my hat of disapproval for a moment…as a woman, I couldn’t help but notice that all the female characters were portrayed as over-the-top, busty broads with personalities as two dimensional as the backgrounds on which they’re rendered—the nightclub pole-dancer included. Diana consistently makes trite, unintelligent remarks when you take over her character, and her inventory consists solely of a compact. lipstick, and a diary. While I realize the game isn’t about Diana (and this is a computer game, after all), they could have at least tried. Okay, hat of disapproval is off now. Glad to have gotten that off my chest.
The background environments are lush and vibrant. Martin’s luxurious New York home is meticulously detailed, and I enjoyed wandering around, investigating the knick-knacks. As you might expect, our friend has eccentric pieces from around the world, and each one has a story. One of the challenges of this game is sifting through all the objects, both here and in other places like Professor Eulemberg’s estate, to discover which ones are relevant. It can be easy to miss important clues amid all the artifacts. Incidentally, I came to the conclusion that the game’s designer is a clean freak, because detergents were everywhere!
Each location has its own vibe, and appropriately, its own soundtrack. Martin’s home, for example, featured light jazz, bordering on blues, while Mexico had a new-age/ ethnic theme. None of the music intruded on the dialogue, and although repetitive, did not distract from the environment.
While the music gets two thumbs up, I can’t say the same for the dialogue. Now, I’ve heard bad dialogue delivery in my day, but this game had a special, irritating little quirk. It’s as though the voice talents read directly from the subtitles themselves, rather than a script, resulting in sentences that sound something like this: “Boy, the professor sure has…. A lot of pictures in the…. study. He must have really enjoyed…. collecting artifacts…. everywhere that he went… during his extensive….travels. “ Yes, it really is that bad, and Martin’s comments tend to run on so long that this becomes excruciating after a while.
There were other problems having to do with incorrect translation. For example, placing your cursor on a statue of a griffin outside Professor Eulemberg’s house yields the description, “police car,” and there were several times the characters used strange grammar or phrasing. At one point Diana, she says, “What you say?” for “How do you say it?,” which sounds very odd when said with an American accent. Some of these instances are understandable translation difficulties, but others, like the griffin/ police car snafu, are just plain carelessness. Another oddity I noticed is that Martin and Diana had different names for the same things. What Martin called glass furniture, Diana referred to as a cabinet. I couldn’t figure out if this was intentional to show different perspectives, or if two translators were at work here.
Because of these unfortunate flaws, I’m going to have to downgrade an otherwise enjoyable game. I do recommend Crime Stories to anyone who enjoys plumbing the depths of ancient mysteries, but I just can’t say that this is first class material.
Thank you to JA Reader Kimberly Blocher who pointed out that the name of the operation ("Operation Dorian Gray") is actually referenced in the game, either when Dr. Eulemberg's assistant and Martin are being held captive at the shipyard and the assistant tells Martin that they called the operation "Dorian Gray" or when the Professor tells this to Martin after he enters the temple.
Final Grade: B