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Casebook: Episode II - The Watcher

Score: 78%
ESRB: Not Rated
Publisher: Areograph
Developer: Areograph
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

The Casebook series takes a slightly different approach to the adventure genre making it feel a bit more like an interactive mystery show than a game. The main reason for this is the live actors and sets and real-world explorable environments.

Casebook: Episode II - The Watcher follows its predecessor (Episode I - Kidnapped) as far as this style is concerned. Cutscenes typically have you walking alongside your partner as he discusses some aspect of the case with you. The camera used in filming these scenes has a wider viewing angle than what the game allows you to see, so you can move your point-of-view around the video a bit to give it a slightly more interactive feel, but you are still pretty restricted to watching the area the game wants you to, and the camera will walk wherever it wants.

The in-game aspects throw you into a few different small environments that feels like Google Maps Street View. The rooms are still photographs stitched together to form a 3D world that allows you some very restrictive movement. Walking around these rooms can be a bit tough, but that feels more like a control issue rather than graphics, especially since the transition between the different parts of the room is smooth, unlike the Myst-style transitions seen in Google Maps.

Audio keeps up the cop-drama feel with actors portraying detectives in a bit of an over-the-top manner (though I don't know if that was intentional). Besides the dialogue that seems a bit cheesy at times, the game's sound effects are fairly low-key and take care of the bare minimum.


Gameplay:

Casebook: Episode II - The Watcher isn't just unusual visually as far as adventure games go, but the gameplay itself isn't typical of the genre either. Where most games will have you picking up objects, clicking around the world hoping to find something of interest and trying to use your inventory to solve puzzles, you are basically equipped with your camera, and maybe a few other very specific tools.

Most of the game has you walking around the victim's apartment taking pictures of anything that seems to be of interest to the case. You will have to take pictures of everything from marks on the carpet to messed up comforters on the bed. But what feels awkward is how you collect other pieces of evidence like SD cards used in the victim's camera, or earrings found at the crime scene. You tell the game you are interested in these things by taking a picture of it. I guess off camera, you bag and tag these items, because you don't see that, but get the chance to mess with them later in the forensics van.

As for the van, here you will process the pictures you took with your camera, and if that picture is of one of the items that were bagged (like the aforementioned SD cards), then you can use various tools on them to uncover whatever mysteries they might hide. For some items, shining a ultraviolet light on them will reveal fingerprints, or swabbing the surface extracts DNA. Most of these actions are accompanied by short mini-games to help determine what the new evidence really means. For a damaged SD card, you will have to adjust the video signal to see the real message; for DNA samples, you will have to stir up some chromosomes under a microscope in order to separate and identify the different strands. All of these mini-games oversimplify the real-world process, but it's nice to have them there anyway.

Once you have processed the evidence you just gathered, you then arrange the photos and evidence in your casebook. By putting the pictures in your casebook, it makes it easier to associate various items with the different suspects and even link evidence together to get a bigger picture of the crime.


Difficulty:

Casebook: Episode II - The Watcher's unique perspective on the genre means it takes a little getting used to, but once you do, the game becomes pretty straightforward. You explore the room eight pictures at a time (because, even though it is a digital camera, that's all it can hold before you have to go back to the van). You process the pictures and arrange them in your casebook. Throughout the experience, your partner will cut in with his own investigations and questioning of the suspects, and you go back to taking photos.

Unfortunately, even though the game strays away from a lot of the core mechanics of the adventure genre, it still has one of the genre's biggest pitfalls, pixel hunting. Since you only want to take pictures of items that are interesting, you will spend a lot of time looking through the viewfinder waiting for the viewer to tell you if you are looking at something you actually want to take a picture of. In order to get around this issue some, the game lets you access your intuition by holding down the (I) key, Then your camera swings around and points to some clue that you need to examine. Unfortunately, even when using this, it is sometimes hard to know what the game wants you to examine.


Game Mechanics:

Casebook: Episode II - The Watcher's most annoying mechanic is being able to walk around the environments. While I eventually got used to the situation, walking around the victim's cluttered room made it hard to get to where I wanted to go. To move, you hold down the left mouse button and walk in that direction. I found the biggest sticking points were around corners and navigating through narrow spaces (like going into his bedroom). But this isn't insurmountable and you do get the hang of it after a while, it just felt very different from what I was used to. A more standard WASD movement system might have been a bit easier to use.

Another item of concern is the computer necessary to run this machine. For PC games, I typically use an Alienware laptop that admittedly is a couple of years old now, but has at least met the minimum system requirements for the games I've been playing. It also meets the min-specs for this game, but the video ends up being really choppy ... and this game has a lot of video. Thankfully, I just got done building a new PC with fairly good specs and the game ran great on that. So if your machine only just makes the cut, it won't run very well -- at least it didn't for me.

Casebook: Episode II - The Watcher is an interesting take on the genre and is nice for something different than your average point-and-click adventure, but the game starts to feel a bit repetitive after a while and the lack of a lot of locations doesn't help. All that being said, fans of the genre should enjoy this series (or at least this episode), but if you don't typically play this style of game, then you will want to stay away.

Special Holiday Offer for Game Vortex Readers

Game Vortex readers can receive a 20% discount off any (and all) Casebook episodes valid until the end of Dec. 2009. The pricing is as follows:

Episode 3: $12.00 USD
Episode 2: $6.00 USD
Episode 1: $4.00 USD

Please use the following code: 20CBGVDEC09

Episodes can be purchased here: Buy Casebook Episodes

The code needs to be entered in the "purchase" screen and then "apply" must be clicked and the sum will reduce by 20%.

If you have any issues applying the code, please contact Areograph at [email protected] Merry Christmas from Game Vortex and Areograph!


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista, 1.5Ghz CPU, 1GB RAM, DirectX 9.0c, 1.6GB hard drive space
 

Test System:



Windows Vista Ultimate, AMD Phenom 9500 Quad-Core 2.20 GHz, 4 GB Ram, ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT Graphics Card, DirectX 9.0c

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