Note: This review was originally posted July 5, 2008
As a Polish-American myself, I enjoy all things Polish such as pierogi, Wigilia (Polish Christmas Eve) & Bill Mazeroski’s 1960 World Series home run. I only mention this because City Interactive – the developers of Art of Murder: FBI Confidential (AoM) – is located in Poland and this is their first game to be released in the United States. Art of Murder was designed by the creators of the popular PC adventure games Schizm: Mysterious Journey and Mysterious Journey II, both of which featured some of the most devious and mind-boggling puzzles ever seen in an adventure game (wipe that sweat from your brow, no Mensa-worthy math puzzles this time around).
AoM is a murder/mystery, third-person point-and-click adventure in the tradition of Still Life and Post Mortem. It also, like the aforementioned, features a young, female protagonist - Nicole Bonnet - who is an FBI agent working her first case: a serial killer who removes the hearts of his victims.
But, AoM also calls to mind Sierra's original Police Quest series as mundane tasks must be completed during the course of the workday. Yes, you will need to put paper in the printer if you want to make copies and yes, you will need to return to headquarters for a police warrant. Many adventure gamers might cry foul though when Nicole asks the secretary for a phone number and then, even though Nicole is standing right there, the secretary emails her the phone number! But you know what, I worked in offices for many years and such stupidity is actually normal.
Most of the puzzles are inventory-based and actually a lot of fun and there is even a *gasp* timed puzzle that for once makes a lot of sense in the context of the game. The in-game graphics and cut-scenes using the Wintermute Engine are extremely detailed and at times striking. Sound effects take extra care in little matters such as the difference in sound a character's footsteps make stepping off cement onto gravel. Most games overlook such small details.
But - I hear you waiting for the other shoe to drop and here it is - you can never shake the feeling that you've played this game numerous times before in better incarnations. It's as though the developers wrote the story by drawing slips of paper with clichés written on them from a hat.
Cliché #1 – While on a coffee run during a stakeout, Nicole's partner is killed. During her first case. Give me a break.
Cliche #2 - Nicole trained at Quantico in Virginia and is a Special Agent in New York City. The cliché? Has there ever been any game developed outside North America that is set in the U.S. that is not set in New York City? It would have been a welcome change of pace if the story had unfolded in Washington, DC or even Gary, Indiana for that matter.
Cliché #3 – Maybe I've read too many Agatha Christie novels or watched too many episodes of Law & Order, but the identity of the murderer was obvious about a tenth of the way into the game. And there is one scene early in the game that all but screams "Look at me, I'm the murderer!"
Cliché #4 – Nicole tracks the murderer to Peru (see any Broken Sword game, or any Runaway game or any…). And of course she does so against the advice of her superior, thus threatening her job.
There is more, to be sure, but the clichés would be forgivable were it not for the numerous glitches that distract from the gameplay: the sound during cut-scenes is either non-existent or fades in and out; there were a few instances where I had to guess at what had happened. Too many words are misspelled in the subtitles. Regardless of whether it is a one-man project or a Triple A title, a game immediately looks amateurish when simple words such as 'professor' are misspelled. Most egregious of all though is the blatantly poor grammar on the retail box: 'Fit all the element of the murderous puzzle' (?) and 'Become Nicole Bonnet: A young female FBI agent and except (sic) the challenge.'
The linearity of the game is also a determent. A map in Nicole's car never offers any locations to go to other than the one you must visit. Nor are you permitted to leave a scene unless every puzzle in that area has been solved and every necessary dialogue option heard. The in-game hint system just piles on to the feeling that City Interactive is doing everything they can to solve the puzzle for you and their next step is a phone call with one of the developers walking you through the puzzle.
There is some mild profanity, but it feels and sounds entirely natural unlike the recent Alone in the Dark remake where the developer's idea of maturity is to drop an f-bomb every other sentence. Unfortunately, much of the dialogue is stilted and while the voice-acting, especially that of the main character, is more than passable, there are also occasions when either the emphasis is on the wrong word in the sentence or the delivery is flat and emotionless.
Special Agent Nicole Bonnet is a charming character with a lot of personality (I even got a kick out of her off-key singing) and small touches, like her calling a squad car to take a librarian safely home late at night, brings her to life. It would be a shame if Art of Murder were to be her only appearance, but it would also be a shame if a sequel were to not correct the numerous minor issues that weigh down the game.
Final Grade: C