Crime Lab: Body of Evidence, a puzzle game with a crime exterior, is a bit of a mixed bag. It doesn’t really excel at any one thing, but it’s not entirely lacking either.
The game puts the player in the role of FBI agent, Nicole Bonnet, who is on the hunt for a serial killer. However, that’s not the story from the outset, it is something the game builds up to – albeit in a very poor way.
Crime Lab, in a nutshell is a mix of ‘I Spy’ set against a story, combined with puzzles with a dash of mini-games. The player has the choice of starting out by playing the lackluster story or by jumping into one of the mini-games that involve picking locks, bypassing circuits, or cracking codes (all of these are also present in the story).
In addition, there’s a separate “Crime Scene” mode that plays even more like ‘I Spy’, giving the player a list of items to search for within a crime scene.
The main problem with the story in Crime Lab has to be the cliches. At the start of the game, players have the “problem FBI agent” who’s in trouble with the brass – because of purportedly leaking things to the press. As a tool to allow the gamer to sympathize with the character, it can work, but in this instance, it didn’t. The biggest reason having to be how flat and life-less the characters are. All archetypes are there: The cavalier agent, the lab technician (it is called Crime Lab, after all), the perpetually pissed boss, the Internal Affairs agent who’s peaking over your shoulder, and a medley of supporting characters. There’s a lot of people to meet throughout the story, they were just all forgettable.
The story gameplay progresses in a formulaic fashion. The bottom touch screen allows the player to scroll around and investigative the area – to look for clues – while the top screen shows you what to look for, the time remaining in the chapter, and the player’s score.
The score is affected by how quickly gamers clear the chapter and individual puzzles. Clues are gathered and used to solve contextual puzzles that allow the player to progress – if you happen to become stuck and are unable to find the next piece, the game has a hint marker that shows you what to do next.
Mini-game challenges dot the story here and there, contextual to the situation at hand, whether it be disarming a bomb or the above mentioned circuit bypassing – or even lock picking. However, I experienced some problems with the DS recognizing where my stylus was pointing – which resulted in me having to re-do certain mini-games. The mini-games did have a large amount of variety and were challenging without being overly so, and if they were, players can skip the puzzle – for a nominal amount of points. This option significantly reduces the amount of frustration on certain puzzles – and ups the enjoyment factor a tiny bit.
On the flip side, there are some incredibly difficult story-related puzzles that you are unable to skip and the game leaves you with pretty poor instructions on how to proceed. They’re not impossible, but they are puzzles where the answers don’t exactly smack you in the face.
As the player progresses through the game’s chapters, they’ll receive different types of awards to unlock, reflecting different kinds of accolades, like reaching a high score, solving the chapter within a certain amount of time, or collecting various case notes dotting the levels. Other extras available include the game’s cutscenes and character bios to help you remember who some of the key players are.
DSi camera support includes movement recognition through the camera, shape recognition, and facial recognition. In the game, the latter two are used for fingerprint scanning and retinal scans.
Overall, the Crime Lab is going to appeal more to a casual gamer audience, people who want something fast to play – during rides on the bus or whatnot. The game isn’t likely to resonate with hardcore DS gamers who, no doubt, have found different options for the adventure/puzzle genre – in games that have already been released. Crime Lab: Body of Evidence is not a “bad game,” the design is fine – it’s just forgettable and doesn’t have any qualities that really stand out to separate it from the rest of the genre.
Crime Lab: Body of Evidence is available now for the Nintendo DS and DSi.