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Unsolved Crimes Package Art
Now Production
Empire Interactive

Unsolved Crimes

Capcom's Phoenix Wright broke the mystery adventure genre niche wide open on DS a few years ago, but no game has really gotten into the forensic side of crime investigation the way that Unsolved Crimes does. Set in 1970s New York City, Now Production's moody, mature crime scene investigation game shows a lot of promise but has a couple interactive shortfalls that keep it from greatness.


Much of Unsolved Crimes' action takes place in 3D rooms and hallways with enough detail and clutter to keep sleuths looking for clues in every nook and cranny. At a crime scene, the camera can be aimed via stylus at nearly any angle, as well as raised to the ceiling or dropped to the floor to look for less obvious evidence. After collecting evidence, it can be rotated and examined in the game's inventory system, occasionally presenting new, crucial details to solve the mystery at hand.

The few serviceably designed in-game characters, which pop up for dialogue sequences, are presented as static stills with minimal animation. In fact, the quality of these stills is almost blotchy or ink painting-like, as if the graphics were dropped down in quality to save space on the game card, and they're a strong contrast to the cleaner grpahics of the game world. Suspects and victims of crimes are never seen other than a simple, static, pencil sketch-styled portrait, which removes a little intensity and engagement from the crimes.

Speaking of, a graphical highlight is the animated movies that open up each major case. A grainy filter and dark lighting covers the screen, and featureless white mannequins pantomime part or all of the crime, almost evoking an 8mm snuff film. Considering the gruesome nature of some of the crimes, these little cinemas set the mood well.


The audio is another spot where Unsolved Crimes shines. The soundtrack composer did a great job arranging a '70s themed soundtrack, complete with an epic theme song carried by french horns that's also mixed to other vibes with different instruments elsewhere in the game. Additional tracks in the game, while few, are equally as catchy and use expected bongo drums, Shaft-like piano and scratchy guitar. Plus, the foley artists went on overdrive as every single clickable object in a crime scene, whether relevant or not, has an appropriate sound effect, from squeaky faucet turns to pens rattling in a cup to the swoosh of curtains being pushed aside. When audio is generally unremarkable for DS games, Unsolved Crimes is a step above.


The bulk of the game consists playing as a faceless, nameless and genderless rookie detective assisting senior detective Marcy in solving murder crimes assigned by the police chief. The eight main crimes are unrelated, but an overarching plot concerning the kidnapping of your partner's sister pops in between cases, often offering completely unique arcade-style gameplay, like lane changing a car through a cluttered alley in pursuit of a suspect; tapping faceless assailants, shooting gallery-style, in a warehouse ambush; and a great touch-screen-intensive puzzle in the final case that we don't want to spoil. These activities are respites between scouring crime scenes for every possible clue (which can usually be done in one thorough sweep) and then going through multiple choice quizzes to solve the case.

Working through a case is a logical, steady process that's more trial and error than engaging. Marcy will realize assumptions about evidence as you gather it, and then ask you to prompt her for a question about said evidence. Once queued, she'll ask a question about the crime or a piece of evidence, and three to four possible answers will show up on the touch screen. Usually the answer's pretty clear. Things get trickier when she asks for a specific piece of evidence or suspect's testimony as the answer, which can mean a far greater number of choices and a possibility for ambiguity when two pieces of evidence seem they could logically answer the same question. Selecting a wrong answer will cause a life bar of 3 or more points to deplete by one, and fully depleting that will get a sound scolding and removal from the force. Fortunately, the game can be saved as frequently as desired, allowing a rookie detective to save, go through answers until the right one is found, reload to the previous save point and choose the right answer on the first guess. Plus, trickier questions will reward an extra point to the life bar for the duration of a case.

Ultimately solving a case will require mid-case and end-of-case reports to the chief, which follow the same multiple choice format, but throw in an even more interesting fill-in-the-blank answer mechanic. The chief will ask for a specific word to answer his question, or a time of day, and the gamer must write in the letters one-by-one to fill in the allotted spaces, kind of like Hangman.

The only thing bringing down the entire experience is that, with a majority of crime solving based around answering multiple choice questions, the mysteries are not only easier to solve (and thankfully they're always logical), but it seems that the police already know the answer to everything and are one step ahead of the player, who exists merely to confirm the detective and chief's assumptions. Solving a case is only partially rewarding because it seems solved already-- definitely more reactive than proactive. Plus, there's never any interaction with suspects, including crucial testimony gathering, which always occurs in a period of mere seconds between the sound effect of a door closing, then opening. Fans of Pheonix Wright who love that series' twisty, character-intensive interactions will find Unsolved Crimes to be much more focused on material objects than interpersonal interaction.




That's not to suggest that Unsolved Crimes is disappointing. Thanks to the variety of murders and their sometimes graphic and brutal nature, working through suspects' motivations and the killer's method of attack is often compelling, and the kidnapping side plot, as well as the terrific, surprise final mystery, are very engaging. Fans of forensic analysis and a decent mystery yarn presented in starker, more realistic tones than other DS games will enjoy this title, and we hope it becomes a franchise like Phoenix Wright, potentially returning with more interaction with suspects and witnesses.

final score 6.5/10

Staff Avatar M. Noah Ward
Staff Profile | Email
"Death narrowly avoided, thanks to another friendly NPC."

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