Full motion video is a gaming format that I have a particular soft spot for.
Recently my FMV dreams have been fulfilled with a bevy of new titles and brilliantly released games. Yet the biggest criticism towards these games is whether or not they all become a bit binary. You have a choice whether to go right or left or whether to take the bad person’s choice or the good. Very often it feels like you are just watching a film where you choose the ending.
But in Criminal Expert, the FMV is mixed with some gameplay elements and puzzles. And most importantly it tries to make you a criminal expert.
I have always been a fan of ambition in games and Criminal Expert is no different in what it tries to do, even though at times it makes things feel so hard that it takes away some of the enjoyment. But the story and the feeling of being a detective of a case, with a time limit to solve it, is always exciting.
The game starts with a bit of film, placing us outside, in the woods, on a road. A woman who is distressed and injured is running from something. She wanders into the road much to the surprise of a driver who then picks her up and takes her to safety. The action then cuts to a police station, as you discover yourself playing as the lead investigator. You have to work out what is going on and what happened to the woman. Who is lying and who is telling the truth?
The writing of the scenes from each of the characters you meet along the way is good and the options you have to push the investigation on are all fine as well. The actual story is a disturbing – yet intriguing – one, and it certainly kept me interested all the way through. I liked the Polish setting, rather than that usually utilised, and it helps that there is no dubbing either, instead making the most of subtitles.
The gameplay consists of you sitting down in the police station, working a menu screen of options. You have your phone which you can run leads, requesting people to come in for questioning or searching phone records for you to pore over, all in hope of discovering some clues. There is the interrogation room too, where you will meet a few different suspects, the victim, and friends of hers. Here the action again turns to full motion video as you ask various questions from the evidence you gather.
Gathering evidence will sometimes take you into a minigame where – for example – you are placed in a scene of the victim’s apartment. You may need to find three items that are connected to the case. The bad news is that you only have three attempts to get this right, before the clue is lost. Personally, I didn’t like this mechanic at all and felt the brutal element of not giving you clues in doing this task to be a strange one. The results seem pretty random as well, so much so that only the cleverest, or luckiest, detective will get the right results. I think some of the gameplay is perhaps a bit too pressured in terms of this and also the time used to solve the case. Maybe it’s just me, but throughout Criminal Expert I felt a lost man.
However, the performances in the video sections are very good. There are some enjoyable, yet understated, performances that keep the mystery and push the narrative forward. Other bits of design suddenly use comic book still frames and strangely some suspects are shown as just a drawing instead of video. Honestly, this never flows with the tone of the game.
The ambition of Criminal Expert is high and I love a lot of what it tries to do in terms of mixing FMV with actual detective-styled gameplay. The narrative is intriguing and the dialogue effective. But the restrictions it puts on the tasks in hand, along with the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ pressure are not good. In fact, it made the journey through more annoying than anything.
Ignore that though and you’ll find that there is a lot of talent in Criminal Expert from both the writers and the performers. It’ll be interesting to see what they do next.