Monday, June 27, 2011

Oui, mademoiselle

Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer
Game Category: Adventure
Developer / Distributor: City Interactive
Release Date: 17 Feb 2009 
Rating: ESRB - Teen

Introduction
CSI style games are quite the rage today, so for a change of pace I thought I'd take you through a murder investigation.

Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer has you attempting to follow up on a series of grisly murders taking place in France. The murderer, suspected to have originated in New Orleans appears to be active now in Paris, the City of Love. The murders in Paris are not an act of a copycat murderer as this guy's modus operandi is apparently similar to the case back in the States. The New Orleans murderer has this fetish for propping up his victims like marionettes on strings and leaving behind an ugly caricature of a doll dressed in 18th century clothing.

You will be playing the role of FBI agent Nicole Bonnet (once again) as you try to stop the perpetrator from committing these senseless murders.

The Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer is the second game in the franchise from City Interactive, a developer based in Poland. For those who love to collect or learn more about the entire franchise, the title of the first game has the tagline of FBI Confidential while the third game is known as Cards of Destiny.


Elementary, my dear Nicole
Game Play
Adventure games are usually designed to be logic thinking games. You are expected to find many items during the adventure, figure out how to combine some of them into something more useful, use these items at the correct location, solve some intricate puzzles, and watch some cool movies that move the plot along before finally concluding the adventure triumphantly.

Well, if only that were entirely true with Hunt for the Puppeteer. Sure, you get to do everything I mentioned previously, but the game does have some niggling problems that will be made clear as soon as you attempt to complete the first part of your adventure. The game starts off with you investigating your very first crime scene and finding all the evidence left behind by the killer. If you ask me, this section is sort of a tutorial session that teaches you some basic fundamentals.

Nicole meets French Inspector Pety
Nicole moves around with the help of your mouse. A single click causes her to walk to that location while a double click makes her run. If you move your mouse over hotspots on a screen, a special icon will appear. This icon either has a hand or an eye symbol (or both) accompanying it. The eye means you can take a closer look at the object (via right mouse button), while the hand indicates that you can use or take the object (with the assistance of the left mouse button).

Items that are collected are placed in your inventory which is found right at the bottom center of your display. You can always right click on objects to see a huge zoom-in view of the object, or left click to use the object to interact with a location on the screen (for example using a key on a keyhole) or another object in your inventory (for example using cotton wool on a match stick to make a swab).

It's wiser to just grab everything in the drawer
Everything I have described so far are all basic interface requirements for movement and object manipulation in an adventure game. There is but one last icon, that of a speech bubble which means you can speak to the character. You get to speak to quite a number of people in the game, which is a good thing.

Conversations are easily handled in Hunt for the Puppeteer, topics are listed at the bottom and you just have to click on it to listen to the voice over that reads out the conversational text to you.

Sorry to butt in but I need some help here
There are a further four icons at the bottom right of the screen:
  • The first opens your journal which lists all previous dialogue conversations you have already accessed, displays a list of documents you have for your reading pleasure, and also provide insights in a journal section.
  • Next is your phone which shows the faces of all the people you could call and speak to.
  • There is a question mark that you may come back to again and again - it's a handy hint system. Clicking on it will show you all hotspots that are hidden on the current screen. Hotspots are either marked by a box-with-an-arrow icon indicating new areas you can enter, a camera icon that tells you you must use your camera and take a photograph of that area, or a question mark icon that highlights to you all objects that you can interact with.
  • The last icon is a suitcase. Clicking on it brings you back to main menu where you can perform a save or load. 
Yes Ruth, tell me what I should do next
Graphics
It is obvious that the graphics in Hunt for the Puppeteer is rather well done. Almost every location has been lavishly furnished. Even the crime scenes tell their own little version of a story as you start to form scenarios of what could have taken place. The 3D models for Nicole and the characters she meets are also detailed with accompanying mannerisms that add to their life-like behavior. For example, the rather stocky Inspector Pety seems to be continually munching something whenever I see him.

If you thought that was all, wait till you see quality of the video cutscenes. I thought they were pretty good. You get a visual treat as you unlock each of these little snippets to view. There are also a couple of lengthy videos that help to move the story along.

Time for another FMV
Audio
The in-game music is mysterious enough that it automatically sets the mood for the game. However, I kept hearing the same thing over and over again for quite a period before it finally changed to some other piece. The sound effects were in my opinion average but the voice overs are rather good; the actress portraying Nicole projects an image of inner strength, while Inspector Pety sounds like a typical portly and haughty French man.

Sneaky ain't she?
Game Analysis
The key thing that won me in Hunt for the Puppeteer would be the graphics. I was however disappointed by the haphazardness of some of the inventory puzzles you encounter.

Pros:
  • Without a doubt, the graphics has won me over. I get to visit many locations in France (and elsewhere in Europe and the Caribbean) as well as watch cool movie scenes, that I looked forward to solving the next conundrum the game threw my way.
  • The hint system that showed me the hotspots helped me quite a great deal. Without which, I would have given up on the game long ago.
  • The voice acting is pretty cool in this game. Coupled with lovely graphics, the atmosphere they invoke is very good.
Alas, if only the rest of the game had worked out. Read on below...

This trip to Moulin Rouge brings back fond memories for me
Cons:
  • The inventory puzzles in the game are rather difficult to solve since the hint system does not present you with any solution. Most of the time you will be doing a desperate trial and error routine as you try combining an object with another hoping to get some useful doodad. In the meantime, you have to endure it all as Nicole complains with "These items do not match.", "This won't work.", "No can do", "Nicole, think!", and "Trial and Error, they say."
  • There are also pieces you find that seem to have no correlation to the main story at all. For example, you will find a floorboard with some numbers on it, but what do they mean?
  • The characters are stereotyped to the core. You get a French Inspector who drips with typical sarcasm at first, but overly warms up to you later on. The French police officers are easily enticed by (of all things) a free cuppa and a freshly baked croissant. There's also the impossible boss, the motherly receptionist, and the talkative hotel operator.
  • The phone is practically useless; most calls to in-game characters go unanswered (unless they have been scripted into the game).
  • The story seems shallow and contrived after the second murder.
  • The ending is sort of an anti-climax. There could have been more, but alas everything came to an abrupt and unsatisfying end.
  • The localization effort (translating to English) is questionable at a few points in the game.
I could use a helping hand
Conclusion
Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer is an interesting little diversion of an adventure game that has you taking the role of a bright young woman in her bid to solve a series of macabre murders that started off in New Orleans and winded up in Paris.

The game comes from City Interactive, a game developer based in Poland. Most often, their games are criticized for being of poor quality but one thing's for sure though, I can't say the same for this game. Art of Murder: Hunt for the Puppeteer does a decent job of what it originally set out to do, offering you a one-of-a-kind experience in a investigative case that is sure to intrigue the Sherlock in us all.

Lesson #1 - How to handle a difficult boss
Daily PC Game Review Score: 6 / 10
Review Date: 27 Jun 2011

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