Special Crime Unit: Blood on Campus draws heavily from the CSI television shows. The game opens up with a look at a grisly crime scene with suggestions that it’s a sex crime. This is an adventure game at heart so most of the action involves pixel hunting, knowing when to use the right tools at the right places and engaging conversations with people. It’s a more laid back style of gaming that is slowly disappearing from the mainstream. But as I found out during my time with Special Crime Unit, it makes for a fantastic cell phone game.
Special Crime Unit divides itself between crime scene investigations, forensic lab work and interrogation. You’ll basically oscillate yourself between those in a fictitious busy metropolis. The crime scene investigation involves questioning witnesses and searching for clues. Clues, of course, require digging around the gameplay area on your cell phone screen. They could be locks of hair, blood stains, footprints and most of the time you’ll know you hit the jackpot because the game shows a close up. Although all the graphics are hand drawn, some of it can be pretty gruesome so if you have young ones around, it might be better to keep them away before you start probing the body on the autopsy table.
Of course, these days, you can’t fight crime (or so CBS wants you to think) without spending long hours doing forensic tests. In Special Crime Unit, you’ll be assisting in doing autopsies as you learn about the fate of the victim. This is where you have to find the correct tool and poke or prod at the right places. This is not very challenging as the game basically highlights what areas you need to look at but you’ll be doing it repeatedly to try to unravel the case.
One of the things I appreciated most about Special Crime Unit is the dialogue. In questioning witnesses and interrogating people back at the precinct, the dialogue is presented in a series of conversation trees. These branch out and expand depending on what clues you have on hand. A lie detector is available so you can threaten and harass the detainee into telling the truth; kind of like how Jack Bauer from 24 does it except you don’t stick a knife in the guy. What makes this part of the game so good is the smart and clever script. It really draws you into the case you’re trying to solve and a lot of the characters are written very well. Kudos to the game designer; who can moonlight as a sub for the CSI writers.
Overall, Special Crime Unit has good pacing to keep the action moving. You’re never at a loss as to what needs to be done next as new leads and locations open up for you. Sadly, once you finish it, there isn’t much motivation for you to revisit the game. Higher difficulty levels in the game only mean you have less time to solve the case and the mini-games to process evidence are less forgiving. Otherwise, the plot remains the same. Perhaps a branching plotline or some kind of random murder mystery generator would have kept the game going indefinitely.
A handy notebook keeps track of your progress so if you put down the game for a long time, you can at least read them to get up to speed to where you are in the story. I personally never had to do that since I had a hard time putting down the game. I found myself sneaking away on coffee breaks and staying an extra minute or two on the commuter trains to try to unravel the next lead. The story is that addicting.