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DS  header logo

Unsolved Crimes

For: DS

Doff your detective cap and solve some murders

Product: Unsolved Crimes | Developer: NowProduction | Publisher: Empire Interactive Ltd. | Format: DS | Genre: Adventure | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
Unsolved Crimes DS, thumbnail 1

We're sure being a homicide detective in real life isn't all that exciting - in fact, it's probably just like any other job, just with disagreements over who has to take the next murdered tramp instead of who has to refill the stationary cupboard.

But try telling that to Now Productions - creator of Unsolved Crimes. A game which makes hunting down murderers seem not only exciting, but also quite easy. In fact, after playing it I'm fairly certain I could have tracked down the Suffolk Strangler with little more than a keen eye at the crime scene, a few vague stabs at answering multiple choice questions put to me by my attractive police partner and a final exam-style grilling from my boss.

To explain Unsolved Crimes, it's basically a point-and-click style adventure with a detective theme. As a rookie detective, you're led through a series of murder cases by your assistant, Marcy (who also happens to have her sister kidnapped halfway through the case, which lends some diversion to solving the game's eight main crimes).

Just like murder-solving in real life, Unsolved Crimes involves some methodical investigating and probing. Unlike similar games, though (probably the most obvious to compare it to are the Phoenix Wright ones and Undercover: Dual Motives) this one sticks to a fairly formulaic structure.

There's no exploring outside the crime scenes, or interviewing witnesses for instance. Instead, the typical murder is solved something like this:

Your boss Abbot gives you a briefing: you have a wander around the crime scene and tap on interesting things to prompt Marcy into telling you what they are ("a light switch", "a lamppost", "a door", "ooh, a bullet lodged in a wall") and once you've gathered enough evidence you attempt to rule out suspects and piece together the crime using said gathered evidence, witness statements, multiple choice questions and - quite often - a bit of educated guess work. When you've conclusively proved what happened, you can report back to Abbot and he makes you go over the whole thing again.

There are definite benefits to the structure. Finding a piece of evidence always triggers a related query to solve, so you can never stray far from what you're meant to be doing or get completely stuck because you didn't, for example, notice a scrap of paper hidden under a desk.

The structure is also regularly brightened up with little mini-games - like piecing together bits of torn up paper and shuffling through items in a cupboard, all done using the DS touchscreen. Most of these mini-games are well thought out and only the occasional puzzle (I'm looking at you Mr Safe Puzzle) doesn't make sense.

Finding Marcy's sister also works as a sort of series of bonus side quests, and these mini-missions go off the formula completely, letting you control Marcy, drive a car, take part in observation-based tasks and even gun down some criminals.

That said, it still feels like there are missed opportunities going on here.

Its structure means your hand is held too much. There's definitely some lateral thinking involved, but the game doesn't strongly test your skills of deduction or observation. Nearly all questions can be answered by double-checking witness statements or - if you can't be bothered with that - just guessing.

At least two of the four answers you get to choose from in the multiple choice questions usually sound completely wrong, so you've got a 50/50 chance of guessing right even if you haven't found the right evidence yet. Yes, you have three lives but you also have limitless continues (although your end of level ranking won't be as good if you use them).

Better are the times you're asked to choose which piece of evidence led you to the conclusion, which is similar to how it's done in Phoenix Wright (and undoubtedly more challenging). A small stroke of genius is being able to register a 'hunch' of who did it roughly halfway through each case, the equivalent of shouting "it was the postmen" at Miss Marple on the telly. If it turns out at the end you guessed right, you get bonus points.

There's still an overriding problem with Unsolved Crimes though - its dry execution. Its characters are about as charismatic as an Ian Beale glove puppet with X-Factor 'winner' Shayne Ward's hand stuck up it. In fact, after many of the cases I was left with more empathy for the murderers I'd just got banged up.

Which actually brings me onto a final problem - the outcomes of the cases are all a bit depressing. Who exactly is going to be punching the air with joy when they're told [bit of a case spoiler ahead] they've just successfully convicted of murder a friendless recluse who - while contemplating suicide one night - thinks he sees an angel and grabs her, accidentally bashes her head against a stone monument then - coming to his senses - realises he's just murdered a pretty girl walking through a park? Talk about keeping things light.

Yes, it's likely to leave you craving for the comical court cases and bonkers banter of Phoenix Wright, but Unsolved Crimes isn't without merit. Joyless dialogue aside, played properly (as in, without guessing your way through), its cases are enjoyable, with the odd inspired moment. Fans of a good old-fashioned murder mystery will enjoy themselves. Those who liked Phoenix Wright and perhaps Hotel Dusk: Room 215 though will find this a bit short on content in comparison.

Unsolved Crimes
Reviewer photo
Kath Brice | 4 November 2008
A point-and-click detective adventure which is a touch too linear and not particularly daring with its plot or characters. That said, murder mystery fans will enjoy the gradual whittling down of suspects through evidence gathering and problem solving
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