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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Old Game Review (posted in 2009)

San Francisco ChronicleImage via Wikipedia
(Editor's Note: Every once in a while I play a PC game, which I want to review, but could not put in my mobile game review site as it's not a mobile game, so I'll put it over here. )

Review of "Women's Murder Club: Death in Scarlet" (PC Game)

Women's Murder Club is a mystery series by bestselling author James Patterson about a group of women, some in law enforcement, some not, but all in San Francisco, solving a series of crimes, mostly murder, with a lot of twists and turns. Oberon Media and I-Play now let you assuming the role of Lindsay, the detective, Claire, the Medical Examiner, and Cindy, the reporter, by playing a series of minigames, mostly "find the objects", though there are also word games, puzzles, and more. It is a casual game, as the difficulty is not too high. I finished the game in a couple hours. Other than some questionable Chinese, and some oops in graphics, the game is pretty well done, but somewhat contrived and occasionally frustrating, as are all "hidden object" games.

The game starts using comic-style panels to kick things off, and to present information at the beginning of each "investigation". A person is jogging near the Marin Vista point, stopped to stretch, looked down, and saw a woman's body down below. Detective Lindsay Boxer was summoned to the scene, and the game starts.

The game has several "modes". In "travel mode", you have a map of San Francisco with important locations noted. Such locations are police station, crime scene, suspect's work location or residence, lead location, and so on. Click on the location to go there.

At most locations, upon arrival you are expected to play "find the required hidden objects", and that's the second mode. You are basically given a list and must click on the object in the scene given. Unfortunately, there is no zoom, so those with BIG monitors would probably enjoy this more than those with smaller screens. And fortunately, there is no timer, nor any sort of penalty for random clicking. However, the objects in this game can be TINY, and some are VERY well hidden indeed. And later, the description of the object gets really abstract. When the description says "umbrella", did you really expect to click on a symbol of an umbrella off side of an upside-down box? Niether did I.

Within the scene may also exist additional puzzle(s), such as "slide-the-pieces", "fit the pieces", "reassemble the torn document" (with the pieces you gathered earlier from the visible scene), "line up the chemicals based on the clues", and so on. And if there is a body, they need to be examined as well.

Lindsay, the detective, is mainly either at a crime scene finding clues and documenting bodies, at the police station doing some paperwork and ID, or at a suspect's work or residence to conduct "interviews" and getting more clues. While this may sound exciting, what you actually do is play hidden objects game at each location. If you finish, you'll get some information (and what you expect to find is spelled out just below the objects you're expected to find), and at some locations, play additional puzzles for more evidence. Feels somewhat contrived, as in "find those objects or I won't talk to you".

Claire, the medical examiner either goes to the crime scene for more clues, or goes to her lab and process evidence. The actual activity done is finding stuff within her own office, line up the chemicals to be used in order, then "test" the evidence with the chemicals for ID. The actual "test" itself has no puzzle at all. Thus the puzzle of lining up the chemicals feels very contrived.

Cindy, the reporter, either goes to certain lead locations, sits in her office at the San Francisco Chronicle and do research, or goes to the Deadline Cafe, and find more leads. Research involves doing a puzzle with the microfiche "modules". Only if you finish the puzzle can you access the computer for some cross-referencing. If you need leads, you can go to the Deadline Cafe, find more hidden objects, and play a word game. You need to win the word game to get a free cup of coffee, then someone will give you a lead. Again, contrived. Why can't I just PAY for a cup of joe?

As in all "hidden objects" games, the stuff is rather contrived, but I guess that's the problem with trying to make a GAME out of the whole thing. And I have to say, having a real author behind the story makes the story a lot more consistent and enjoyable. The plot makes sense (mostly), as you actually feel like you're with the club members solving crimes.

However, if you look beneath the surface, you'll see that the plot actually moves without you. Finding the objects to move along the plot feels very contrived. At least every puzzle you need to do has a "SOLVE" button, if you totally give up. There are also 5 hints for each "investigation" that you can use on the multiple hidden objects puzzles within each investigation. Each hint will reveal ONE piece that you haven't found.

The game also came with a novella by James Patterson, co-written with Michael Corwin, called "Fallen Flowers", which serves as an intro to the Women's Murder Club universe... A 14-yr old girl's body was found in an alley. She has fallen to her death. Was it murder? Suicide? And what does this have to do with Internet dating, dirty chat rooms, Chinatown Triad, and a very rich man in Silicon Valley? The novella is on real paper, not a PDF, and is in a nice big typeface so very readable. It also has a few chapters from James Patterson's other book in the series, "The 8th Confession" as a preview.

My secondary complaint with the game is their choice of Chinese characters, some of which are critical to the plot. Without giving too much away... The victims have all been branded with some sort of branding iron, with Chinese characters, right on the breastbone. It's as if the writer(s) found the definitions in a dictionary,without doublechecking with someone who actually speaks / reads fluent Chinese.

You see, there were FOUR victims, first has "bu-jeng", which translates to "unfaithful / sleeps around", that's fine as the game used "whore", though I would have used "jien-nu-ren" (worthless/debased woman). The second one gets "bu-liu-yee", which translates to "not careful / careless" like "oops I am sorry". The game translated it to "indiscreet", as in "nosy, gossips too much" which is not the proper use. The game should have used "duo-sih" (nosy, getting involved in things one should not). The third one got "zhuo-bee", which does mean cheated / cheater, so that's fine. The fourth got "han-jien", which the game translated as "traitor". The problem is, "han-jien" actually means "spy" or "informant / rat", not traitor. Traitor should be "pan-too" which literally means a student who had rebelled against his teacher.

A few more oops in the graphics is quite noticeable to a real Chinese. Chinese characters are often asymetrical, so if you flipped one from left to right it'd be completely wrong and some of the "lanterns" used for decoration were flipped.

There were also a couple nagging plot holes that begs explanation, but none are available in the game. I'm not going to mention them as they are major spoilers, and doesn't really add to the review.

Well, enough nitpicking. The game is sorta fun, for people who likes hidden objects (and they seem to be the low-budget "Deer Hunter" type game that's in vogue, since there are LOTS of those nowadays), and having a major author backing it up never hurts, except for those few Chinese goofs and plot holes the plot is great, though I wouldn't really pay more than $15 for this game. More like $10. It won't change your mind of such games though.

Overall rating: 6.5 out of 10
Pros: easy to pick up, hard to mess up completely
Cons: some puzzles are contrived, some minor Cultural oops and plot holes
Verdict: pretty good hidden-objects game, if you're into that sort of thing

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