Playing City Interactive’s new adventure game, Crime Lab: Body of Evidence, for the Nintendo DS and DSi has been one of the strangest gaming experiences that I’ve had for quite a while. To say that it’s derivative of the publisher’s Art of Murder: Cards of Destiny, a PC adventure game released earlier this year, would be a bit of an understatement, as the game reuses environments, characters, a few puzzles, and the most basic plot elements from the previous PC game. It wouldn’t be quite right to call it a port, either, since the elements have been rearranged into an entirely new story and much of the PC game’s actual content has been streamlined to better fit casual gaming on a portable console. Even if you set aside the connections between Crime Lab and Art of Murder, however, you’re still left with a game that, despite its nice graphics and diverse gameplay elements, just seems to be slightly off.
The gameplay in Crime Lab: Body of Evidence is probably where the most jarring problems with the title occur. You play as FBI agent Nicole Bonnet, who is wildly famous for reasons not really discussed in this game, as she chases down a deranged serial killer. Chasing down a deranged serial killer, however, is a decidedly action free affair, as this game has you jumping back and forth between insultingly easy hidden object sections and puzzles plagued with the vague and inhuman logic that’s characteristic of the bad parts of many adventure games. There are minigames sprinkled throughout the game, too, and though they are a nice diversion, several of them are not explained clearly, making them unnecessarily difficult to complete. If you happen to have trouble with any of the minigames in particular, the game allows you to skip them in exchange for a score penalty, but this option feels more like a crutch for the problems with the game itself than an actual helpful feature for gamers.
Another issue with the gameplay presented in this title is that, if it is compared to the description on back of the box, the claims are about as accurate as when a five dollar handheld game found in the toy aisle at Wal-Mart says it contains over 1,000 games. Supposedly, this title has over 300 activities, but as far as I can tell, most of these 300 activities are just the standard tasks involved in playing adventure games, such as finding helpful items and solving puzzles. If you count the minigames and more situation-specific puzzles in this count, it does help a bit, but since many of these incredibly brief games are repeated two or three times, even that doesn?t go very far towards explaining where the idea that there are 300 different things to do in this game came from.
The idea that this game says it was training me in ?becoming a master of crime scene investigation? is also insane. If crime scene investigation really does involve figuring out that in order to break into a window, you need to disable an air conditioner, crack it open, snap off a fan blade, and use it as a makeshift lock pick, then television, film, and even the news are all perpetrators in a conspiracy to completely misrepresent how things actually work. There are notes scattered throughout the game that contain facts about serial killers, but their educational value is minimal and seems awkwardly shoved into the rest of the game.
If I did have to pick an area in which Crime Lab: Body of Evidence was successful, it would have to be the graphics. Though I was constantly bothered by the emotionless polygonal puppets found in Nicole Bonnet?s prior PC adventure, the bright and well drawn comic book style art in this game is appealing and does a good job of conveying each character?s personality. The extremely static cut scenes are problematic, but done well enough to help in moving the game?s story along. When going through crime scenes, the environments are also presented very cleanly, meaning that when a puzzle is difficult to solve, it is never the graphics? fault.
The sound is also relatively well done in Crime Lab: Body of Evidence, though it does come off as a bit generic. The music and sound effects do their best to enhance the game?s dark atmosphere, but are easily forgotten the moment that they?re shut off. At times, the overactive drum machine found in some of the songs can also get a bit grating. However, I?m not sure if that?s the fault of the songs, as I think that whatever music I was listening to while trying to adhere to the crazy robot logic found in many of these game?s puzzles would have eventually become synonymous with the rage I was feeling towards the game itself.
Even though I found a lot of things about Crime Lab: Body of Evidence to be seriously flawed, it would be difficult to deny that the game is stuffed with content. The main quest isn?t incredibly long, though it lasts for more than a few hours, but the game compensates for that by providing achievements, three difficulty levels, several stand-alone hidden object puzzles, replayable versions of all of the minigames, and some DSi functionality that, despite it?s being sparsely used and awkward, will probably count as a positive for some gamers. The game?s story, while slow to start, is also fairly interesting. Seeing all of these things as a bonus, however, is dependent on a gamer?s enjoyment of the game itself. Crime Lab: Body of Evidence is undeniably an ambitious game, but it comes off as below average due to its strange attempt to blend the accessibility of casual games with the tedious and confusing puzzles found in lackluster adventure games.