Overall Score 70%
Jane Croft: The Baker Street Murder
Jane Croft, police detective, is called to the scene of a murder. A man has been shot dead. Tyre marks lead away from the crime scene. Jane's investigation kicks off, and uncovers shady underworld dealings, crooked cops and the mysterious disappearance of her new partner. Your task is to assist her as she searches crime scenes for clues and interrogates suspects. Can you solve the mystery of the Baker Street murder?
Regular readers will know my love for the Casebook series. This is, on the surface, the same concept - a hidden object game in which you scour a series of crime scenes for clues. There are even minigames between searches for a bit of variety. After this, however, the two games diverge significantly. Casebook is all about looking for actual clues. Jane Croft looks for all manner of objects - some of them very, very odd.
Jane Croft is an easy game to play. Each location you visit has a number of areas to search, highlighted by stars. When you search them all, the plot advances. Each search gives you a "shopping list" of items to locate, and you need to identify them in the ensuing jumble. The items you need and those on display can vary from one game to the next, but they have included cars, toys, animals, the Statue of Liberty, signs, a Santa hat, a toilet, foot powder, jewellery, shoes, clocks, an astronaut, a can of worms and a coffin! Occasionally a scene will have you looking for a particular clue amongst the oddness, though I'm baffled as to how all this stuff has ended up in what looks like the 1920s.
Controls are entirely mouse, and very simple. Simply click on items to select them, and they'll be removed from the screen and crossed off your list. If you click on too many wrong spots too quickly, you lose mouse control for a few seconds - this discourages random clicking. If you get stuck (and some of those items are sneakily hidden!) you can click on the magnifying glass in the corner for a hint. This takes a few minutes to recharge between uses. Between searches there are the occasional minigames - these are fairly simple and can be skipped if you find them too difficult. There's also a bonus mode to be unlocked - find all the bullets, hidden in various locations, to play a "shooting gallery" style subgame!
The 1920s theme is clear in the location graphics, though some of the items are distinctly anachronistic and occasionally difficult to spot if you don't even know what they are. I spent some time looking for a seal once before realising it was a wax seal, not an animal seal. Fortunately the magnifying glass hints are a big help. Sometimes it's very hard to spot items because they're cunningly hidden - and sometimes, paradoxically, because they're downright enormous. Some things blend into the setting and some things look odd from the get-go, though a lot of the latter ones are red herrings. The music also fits the period, though sound effects are relatively few.
Jane Croft is very easy and intuitive to play, and I can see it mapping fairly well to iPad or similar. The main game is straightforward; the minigames lack proper instructions but are simple enough to figure out, and range from code breaking and lock picking to rewiring fuseboxes and mixing chemicals. There's no sense of urgency to anything; you can take as long as you need to find items, and minigames are generally forgiving. The bonus mode is easy enough to unlock; I didn't find all the bullets my first play through but had a clearer idea of what I was looking for the second time.
What does let Jane Croft down is the length. There's only a single plot strand, with no variation from one attempt to the next; the items you need to find change, but the locations and plot do not. The bonus game is fun, but short. Both game modes leave the plot on a cliffhanger, presumably for a sequel, which left me feeling a little let down. Most disappointing was the amount of play time - I started with the demo, which gave me an hour of play time, and discovered I was only about three minutes away from the ending when I unlocked the review copy. If your eyes are keen, you could theoretically complete the game within the demo hour. This is poor pacing!
Other minor niggles include the general lack of animation - nothing really moves in this game, except for the objects you click on floating away - and the cut scenes, which often feature speech bubbles in an unintuitive order and apparently cannot be skipped. The plot is also a little weird - your profile name is used in the plot describing you as Jane's new partner (okay) and that you've not shown up in two weeks (strange, since I seem to be picking out weird objects for Jane at the time). I don't really want to spoil the plot for anyone but it is entirely possible that you (as Jane's new partner) are actually dead. This might make more sense of the objects we're finding - we're assisting Jane from beyond the grave, solving earthly crimes in a surreal limbo dimension. I doubt it, though.
Whilst entirely servicable and with some interesting ideas, this is the least successful hidden object game I've reviewed for Bytten. It lacks the style, technology and relevance of Casebook. It lacks the humour and more cohesive theme of Brunhilda and the Dark Crystal. Jane Croft: The Baker Street Murder is surreal and atmospheric but it doesn't quite know where it's going.
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