Reviewed by Mark Hasley
A bit more than a year ago I purchased and played an adventure game called Art of Murder : FBI Confidential. I distinctly remember almost nothing about the game except that, to steal a line from a famous Broadway review, "It scaled the heights of adequacy!" It was absolutely, but only, OK. So when I chanced upon its sequel, Art of Murder : Hunt for the Puppeteer, I hoped for little more than a solid entertaining game, with little brilliance, and little that was terrible. And that was exactly what this game turned out to be.
The game could easily be titled 'The Continuing Adventures of Nicole Bonnet' since it stars virtually all of the same characters that were in the first game. The main individual is again the intrepid female F.B.I. agent Nicole Bonnet. She is again aided by the unflappable secretary Ruth, again saved by her mysterious partner Nick, and is again verbally abused by her boss. There really is only a basic story. It consists of Nicole wandering through France, Spain, Italy and even Cuba as she seeks a rather strange serial killer who kills people in a given spot and then moves them to another location, where he applies ropes, pulleys and hooks in order to hang his victims in grotesque poses based on ballet pictures. The tale has some interesting twists and turns, but it is basically a Ďwho-dun-ití requiring common detective work in various international locations.
If this is to become a longer series of games, the developers have established a few trademarks that will add to the gaming experience. And I sincerely hope that they are continued. As in the first game, Nicoleís life is saved by her mysterious F.B.I. partner Nick Romsky, whose only function in either of the games seems to be that of the intrepid and mysterious rescuer. The rest of the time both Nicole and Ruth seem to wonder where he is, while the boss fumes at his absence. This is silly, but itís a clever plot addition that I hope is continued.
The interface is a fairly uncomplicated point-and-click system, but the game has a couple of pleasant surprises even for the experienced gamer. At the beginning there is the usual startup screen that contains Resume/New Game, Start, Load, Save and Credits. There seems to be an unlimited space for saves. I used fifteen and that was more than enough for me. There is a setting that allows for adjustment of the various audio volumes (Music, FX, Dialogues, and Master). And graphics have some limited adjustment available (Shadows, FX, Background Animation, and Subtitles). There is also a control to allow "Save the screen ratio", but I have no idea what that means and didnít touch it. All in all, the controls are common, adequate, and not surprising. But be aware that included in this list is a control that allows the player to re-watch any or all of the cutscenes. This is a valuable item because they are really very good. The only problem with these cutscenes, and the animated transitions from country to country, is that there was a rather long lag time while a cutscene loaded.
Once the game starts, it is a classic third person point-and-click adventure. It is almost completely linear, and if the player attempts to leave an area too early, heíll hear Nicole say something like "I need to check for more clues", or something equally blatant. At any rate he cannot leave until he has done all that can be done in that particular spot.
The entire inventory is always on display at the bottom of the screen. This inventory includes not only all of the valuable items (and several pieces of junk) that are found along the way, but also a cell phone with which Nicole can call various people and send or receive documents. There is also a very convenient journal that allows Nicole and the gamer to look up reminders of what has been done, seen, or said. The game automatically records things as Nicole proceeds, and this book is a great convenience if the player must be away from his computer for a few days. The inventory also includes the control system for getting back to the main exit screen. Finally, the inventory displays one of those giant question marks that, when clicked, lights up all of the active spots on a given screen.
Items are taken from the inventory and used or adjusted easily by moving the cursor and left clicking. They are easily combined in the inventory in the same way. Documents in the inventory are readily available by right clicking and then clicking again to read them. Movement is easily accomplished by simply moving the cursor to whatever direction the player wants Nicole to go, and then left clicking. A large arrow will take the place of the regular cursor when Nicole is going where the game wants her to go. Nicole will run when she is double-clicked. Dialogues (of which there are many) are operated by left clicking in a dialogue balloon whenever it appears. But these dialogues can be readily skipped over by another left click. There is also a magnifying glass that appears when an item can be more closely examined. Again, there is little thatís new here. A gamer that has any experience will have no difficulty operating this game. However, one of the real values of the game is the simple fact that everything works smoothly and as it should. If there are no unique or exciting gaming surprises, there are also no ugly or irritating ones.
I always have problems attempting to evaluate sounds and sound tracks. The real difficulty for me is that I donít usually care much about these elements of a game. In Hunt for the Puppeteer, the sound track and the ambient sounds all seem to do the job well enough to keep the game clearly on track and to eliminate distractions. As for the voice acting, I thought it was fine. Nicole doesnít have any of the whininess that seems to curse so many other female characters. The supporting cast has voices that are effectively varied, and the game never stooped to utilizing silly accents for the various European characters. Again, I thought the voice acting and the ambient sounds were not unique or amazing, but were adequate, and never offensive.
However, there is one thing that this game does extremely well. The graphics here are quite special. The game takes a player to several European locations, and into Cuba as well. In each, the countryside, the roads, the foliage, indeed every element of every area is well and beautifully presented. The roads and buildings are well executed, and each is rather impressive. There are dozens of textures and depths in every scene. And there is always some sort of animation in a given screen. A bird flies in and out of the playerís vision, trees move and rustle with the wind, and small animals hop or crawl into the gaming area. Something normal, but very effective, is always there to treat the eye. The game is a visual gem. The cutscenes, of which there are a great many, are all well done and well integrated into the game. The player may well find himself going back to the main control screen just watch a particular scene again. The graphics, whether of urban complexities or rural tranquility, lend a special element to an otherwise pretty good but uninspiring game.
Most of the puzzles are of the inventory variety. There are a couple of Ďput-the- pieces-of-the-puzzle-togetherí problems, but mostly the problems are inventory issues. With some of these puzzles, the game provides a new and quite pleasant innovation. There are a few timed puzzles in the game in which Nicole can be killed. However, the game very cleverly has an automatic save feature that throws up a brief flag and then saves the game just before the dangerous timed section. So if Nicole (the player) does die, the game resets right back to a point just prior to that part of the game, and the player can try again with no loss of progress or ego. I liked this feature a lot.
But almost as if the developers wanted to offset this really good idea, there are a couple of fairly silly parts of various puzzles that I found really irritating. Every once in a while, Nicole must find a particular item in order to proceed. And sometimes this item will be found in the most illogical, silly place imaginable. Those who remember the matches on the toilet seat in Barrow Hill should be ready for this type of foolishness a few more times. There is, every once in a while, stuff where there simply shouldnít be any stuff. The gamer must also realize that often something that he looked at and could not use a few minutes ago, is now an active and important part of the game. It took me a while to realize that this is a game full of triggers, so that a hotspot I checked and found useless before may well be useful and usable at a later time. This results, of course, in a lot of running back and forth. The backtracking sometimes helped to solve a clever and complex puzzle. But sometimes the movements were done for no reason at all. As for the level of difficulty, the puzzles ranged from very simple to fairly difficult. There was one map puzzle that was wonderfully conceived and cleverly complex. And there was one puzzle that forced me to take more time changing a flat tire in the game than Iíd need on a real tire in the median of the Ohio Turnpike.
So tying this game up into a 'Yes' or a 'No' package is a bit awkward. The game has some truly clever and unique puzzles. It also has a couple of fairly silly ones. It has stunningly effective graphics, and some of the best cutscenes Iíve seen. The plot is fairly interesting, but the resolution of that plot is rather abrupt, slightly vague, and leaves the player a bit unclear as to whether or not the crime was solved. Is it a great game? No. Is it a lousy game? No. Art of Murder : Hunt for the Puppeteer is fairly priced, and will provide several pleasant gaming hours, with no major flaws. It will never be considered one of those great classic games that we all hope for, but neither will it ever be considered a failure or a waste of time or money. If someone likes games and mystery tales, then he should enjoy the second installment of Art of Murder.
© March 2009 Mark Hasley
Visit the Official Art of Murder 2 Website where you can read more about the story, view more screenshots and download trailers, cutscenes, music and a demo.
Developed (2009) and published by City Interactive.
Rated: T for Teen 13+ (alcohol and tobacco reference, blood, mild language, violence)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: 2.0 GHz (Dual Core 1.6 GHz) Processor; Windows XP / Vista; 512 MB RAM; DVD-ROM Drive; Nvidia GeForce or ATI Radeon with 64 MB RAM, DirectX Compatible Video Card; DirectX Compatible Sound Card; 4 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 9.0; Mouse and Keyboard
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