I was quite excited about reviewing Unsolved Crimes. Granted, not as excited I might be about covering, say, Call Of Duty: World At War, or Resident Evil 5, but even though I had heard very little about this title until shortly before it dropped through the letterbox, after just a quick scan of the press information explaining what it was all about, it had me interested.
See I'm a bit of a Crime Thriller buff. I read, on average, about a book a week, and I'm a big fan of shows like CSI, Cracker and Wire In The Blood, so the idea of a video game which has you as the detective investigating and solving crimes in 1970s New York sounded like just my cup of tea. Particularly considering that the investigation and crime solving in this game makes up the majority of the gameplay, rather than just being a simple back-story for your usual blend of arcade action.
No, Unsolved Crimes eschews the usual all-action bad-guys-blasting 'rogue cop on a mission' format that you might expect from a video game 'crime thriller', and instead asks gamers to use that organ which - if the critics in the mainstream media are to be believed - most video games don't always require: your brain. Under the guidance of an experienced partner, your rookie detective is tasked with solving a series of cases, each more complicated than the last, by visiting the crime scenes, studying the evidence, interviewing the suspects and figuring out exactly what went down. The pace of the whole thing feels a lot like an episode of Columbo, because there's no rushing around, you're instead required to engage in some slow, measured, insightful investigative work, plodding through the evidence until you come to the answers you need.
Essentially, the format of the game is as follows: you are assigned a case and given an initial case file. This file is usually sketchy at first, containing only the initial reports on the crime that you're dealing with, but it fills up as you uncover or deduce new evidence. And this evidence is found by examining the crime scene, which you can walk around in and study with a combination of the d-pad, the buttons and the stylus. This control method is a tad complex (using the d-pad to move and the stylus to have your character look around while at the same time also holding onto the DS requires a reasonable amount of dexterity), but as the emphasis here is on investigation and not quick reactions, that's not too much of a problem.
As you wander through the scene, you can touch different objects and your partner will then give you reports on them, and hints as to whether they might be evidential. A bloody knife, for instance, is probably a clue to the murder, while the fridge probably isn't (unless it was dropped on them or something).
As you unearth new evidence, and learn things about your suspects, your partner then progresses the investigation through a series of 'Queries'. These are questions about the case which, if you answer them correctly, move the case along and can also boost your colleague's confidence in you, as shown by a star rating on the top screen. Get the question wrong, you lower their confidence in you, you're told to go back and study the evidence again, and, if you need it, ask for a hint. If your colleague's confidence drops to zero, then you're off the case!
All well and good, and for the first 20 or so minutes of playing this game I was actually reasonably impressed. The presentation is fairly smart, with the crime information presented to you by the other detectives in a way that builds the mood and starts to help you to get into the mindset of a would-be 70s Homicide investigator, plus the first couple of clues you uncover leave you feeling quite chuffed with yourself.