Crime Stories -- called Martin Mystere when it was released in Europe last year -- is an adventure game where you take on the role of Professor Martin Mystere. Early in the game, a scientist named Eulemberg is shot to death in his home, and you’re called in by the police to help out in the investigation. You might expect that Martin Mystere would then play an Adrian Monk type role and question witnesses, scan for clues, and discover intricacies too complex for the police, but instead you just complete a variety of typical adventure game puzzles, most of which have little to do with the investigation.
Consider how the game starts out. During the first act, instead of heading over to the crime scene and figuring out what’s going on, you first have to uncover a way to open your wardrobe so you can put on your clothes, and then you have to hunt for the phone number of your mechanic, so you can regain access to your car. Later, when a witness clearly has an important clue needed for the case, you’re not allowed to just demand it. You have to go through a long, convoluted sequence of puzzles so you can trade for the item.
Oddly, the game doesn’t try and introduce Martin Mystere at all. Apparently, there is a comic book series devoted to him, and the game developers simply assume that you know all about him. So they just drop you into Mystere’s life and do nothing to explain who Diana is (she might be his wife) or how a Neanderthal named Java came to be his housekeeper. You’d think instead of coming up with dumb introductory puzzles that add nothing to the story, they’d take the opportunity to let you know who everybody is. But no. If you’ve never heard of Martin Mystere before, then you’re probably miss out on a lot of references to his earlier adventures, or at least that’s the impression I got when I played.
The puzzles themselves are decent enough, if a little easy. Most involve picking up objects and using them in the right places. For example, at one point a bookseller offers you a ticket to a nightclub if you return to him the book you borrowed. So you have to return to your house, search until you find the book, and then give it to the bookseller. Only a couple puzzles are more complicated than that, and if you’re patient in your pixel hunting, you probably won’t have any trouble with the game.
I was disappointed that the developers didn’t take the time to better integrate the puzzles into the investigation, but a game with 10-15 hours of puzzles can still work, even if the puzzles are just there to be puzzles and to pad the playing time. The problem with Crime Stories is that it is also terribly sloppy. I’m not sure if it was translated poorly or just written badly -- or both -- but the written component of the game is just awful. Here’s an actual sentence from the game: “There are many remains are on show.” Uhh, yeah. At another point, instead of “hieroglyphics” the game uses “hyroglifics,” which is spelled so badly it’s almost like they were doing it on purpose. I could show countless other examples here, but you get the idea.
As a result, Crime Stories is a so-so to bad adventure game. There isn’t anything special about the game itself, and the writing quality knocks it down a few pegs from there. But it’s also harmless and it’s playable and it’s inexpensive, so it’s not the worst way in the world to spend a rainy weekend.