Art of Murder: Cards of Destiny is the third entry in the Art of Murder series, following in the footsteps of FBI Confidential (2008) and Hunt for the Puppeteer (2009). In all three games you control an FBI agent named Nicole Bonnet. As Cards of Destiny opens up, you’ve just returned home from a vacation, and you discover a package at your apartment. Inside the package, you find a rusty bolt and a light bulb, and from these strange clues you begin your pursuit of a serial killer called the Card Man, who leaves behind a playing card at each of his victims.
Cards of Destiny does about what you would expect from a police thriller adventure game. You scour crime scenes looking for clues, you question witnesses for details about the murders, and, because the Card Man is one of those serial killers who enjoys taunting the police as much as he does killing his victims, you have to jump through a series of hoops, solving a multitude of puzzles along the way.
Most of the puzzles in Cards of Destiny are inventory based, where you pick up items and then either combine them together or use them in the right place. By and large, these puzzles are pretty easy, simply because there aren’t many extraneous items, and so when you pick something up, the odds are pretty good that you’re going to need it in a puzzle in the near future. As an example, one of the first puzzles involves cleaning the rusty bolt from the package from the serial killer. Even if you don’t know anything about rust, if you find a glass of water and an antacid tablet, how long before you drop the tablet into the glass, and then insert the bolt? Not very long.
Other puzzles in the game are kind of odd. For example, when you visit the first crime scene you find a playing card, but to analyze it you have to pick out three special spots on its surface. If there’s any rhyme or reason for why some spots work and some don’t, I didn’t detect it -- and then when you complete this “analysis” it turns out to be meaningless, because all you end up doing is searching the crime database for other cases involving playing cards. The game is just riddled with all sorts of conversations and situations that don’t make any sense, and which repeatedly remove any sense of being involved in a real investigation.
Cards of Destiny also has problems with its dialogue. City Interactive, the developer behind the adventure, is from Poland, and almost nothing from their script sounds authentic. Characters regularly say bizarre things, and conversations often appear as if they were penned by two different writers who only had a passing interest in what the other was saying. A lot of this is probably due to the so-so translation the game received (which includes a lot of funny lines like “this wooden block is soiled with cement”), but I suspect that having a Polish guy write an American crime thriller just isn’t a good idea. Maybe City Interactive should have watched some “CSI” or something first.
All of that being said, Cards of Destiny is playable. The puzzles make a certain amount of sense, the storyline is decent (in a nice “twist,” the serial killer actually has a reason for what he’s doing), the interface gets the job done (you can accomplish everything by left clicking and right clicking), and the location graphics and cut scenes are first rate. But elsewhere, Cards of Destiny plays like what it is: a budget-priced adventure game, with all the rough edges such a denigration implies.
I didn’t play either of the first two Art of Murder games, so I have no idea if Cards of Destiny is any better or worse than its predecessors. What I can say is that it didn’t evoke much of a response from me. I didn’t love it or hate it, and it seems to be a pretty representative example of what the adventure game genre has become -- a bunch of middling games that spend way more time on their graphics than they do in creating anything memorable or innovative. But such is life.