Blue Heat: The Case of the Cover Girl Murders

Developer/Publisher:  Orion Interactive
Year Released:  1997

Review by Steve Ramsey (January, 2004)
Notoriously difficult (and therefore expensive) to find, Blue Heat is tagged as a game for mature audiences. Perhaps needless to say, the maturity aspect rests largely upon numerous photographs and sequences of semi-naked women, although there are some sex scenes (again with the women featuring prominently), as well as strong language and drug use. Whether that makes it mature, or simply titillating, will be a matter of personal opinion. My own view is that there is a lot more to an adult experience than simply nudity.

The game casts you in the role of Holly Jacobson, a detective with the LAPD who has been sent undercover following the murder of two cover girl models for the magazine L.A. Erotica. So as Dee Lattanzi, you are a wannabee cover girl on the make, attending photo shoots and erotic art openings in the hope of breaking into the industry and thereby ferreting out information and evidence that will lead to catching the killer. Being an attractive redhead is obviously a good start, but there are seemingly plenty of those in Los Angeles, so it will take something more.

Holly/Dee has clearly been well trained for her undercover role. Pouting and prancing seductively for a camera, and the finer points of pole and shower dancing, seem to come naturally. It's only her line in conversation that threatens to expose her as a police detective.

As far as gameplay is concerned, I thought Blue Heat had some quite interesting aspects. It is essentially played by visiting and searching locations, and talking to the other game characters. More and more locations will become open to you as you go, indicated on a map which is used to access each location. Some of them you will need to visit more than once, and all can be visited at your leisure should you want to search again - assuming you have found the means to get in.

You will find items as you search, and some of them you will collect, although you don't use them in the normal inventory way. Just having the right item will enable you to enter, say, a door which needs the key you found. Other items are triggers to other locations becoming accessible; find a phone number and call it out of curiosity, and you may be rewarded with a new location. Still others, particularly those found at a crime scene, can be sent to the police lab for analysis.

Your Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) is an integral part of finding the criminal, and it is through the PDA that some of the different and more interesting aspects of the game arise. Early on you will learn that you have to find evidence that will establish a motive and therefore a suspect. If you find evidence of a motive, you choose the person you believe it implicates from the list of characters in the game, and you then submit the evidence using your PDA to see if it is accepted. If so, the person is tagged as a legitimate suspect. Throughout the game, you will identify more and more potential suspects.

You then start to uncover evidence and information that will establish alibis. Again, you try and link this information through your PDA to a particular suspect. If accepted, they are in the clear.

Ultimately you need to clear all bar six of the game characters. As far as I could tell you might not have motives for all the others, but you still have to clear them. The endgame is a sting at a nightclub which will involve the six uncleared suspects. As you cannot have more than six, you must before this point is reached have cleared the others. If you still have more than six, the sting won't occur.

Establishing a motive for a suspect also enables you to put that person under surveillance. This will consist of phone intercepts and video surveillance, and can provide critical alibi information. If you haven't tagged them as a legitimate suspect, the judge won't grant a surveillance order.

You cannot, however, have more than 3 people under surveillance at any time (police resources are limited) so you will need to choose carefully. You get two opportunities to initiate surveillance.

Similarly, you cannot send more than 6 items to the lab for analysis at any one time (Victor the technician just can't cope). The game is played over 7 days, and it takes Victor a whole day to process the evidence. If you choose to end a day and you have sent more than 6 items, Victor will ask you to remove some. Again, you need to choose carefully, although you may be able to regather and resubmit the items the next day.

All of the lab and surveillance results are sent to your PDA. You can also access police files through the PDA, which will contain all manner of information on the other characters, some of which is again a key part of establishing alibis. Phone numbers found are stored here as well, and if you find voice code information you might be able to retrieve other people's phone messages.

I quite liked the motive and alibis aspect of the game, particularly given the way that surveillance and evidence is integrated into establishing both those criteria. Provided you are attentive, finding motives isn't too hard. There is also some redundancy built in so you have several opportunities to implicate each suspect. Assuming your surveillance is well chosen, establishing alibis is reasonably straightforward also, although it did take me some time to prune my list from seven to six suspects in order to set up the sting.

Other aspects of the game play will help you along. Your map indicates locations in which new information can be found, and provided your original searches were thorough there is little need to revisit a location unless new material is indicated. That said, there is a lot to be found and examined in certain locations. Hot cursors will help your search. The map will also indicate when you can complete the particular day if you are so minded.

The conversation trees were another factor I liked. They are more sophisticated than in many games, and the way they are utilised added something to the degree of difficulty.

Unlike a lot of games, the redundancy in the conversation trees is limited. You will often find when engaged in conversation that the capacity to follow a line of questioning is lost to you if not taken up when it first arises. However this can mean abandoning an alternative line of conversation. Clearly, you cannot ask every character everything. Nor can you complete the conversation and come back to the character and initiate a new conversation to investigate those topics that you hadn't covered. I did not discover a single character who was willing to have another conversation with me, unless it was a completely different conversation at a completely different time in the game.

Photo realistic environments make up the settings in which you will conduct your investigation. You can generally scroll 360 degrees in these settings, and many contain additional locations through which you can move.

The game uses full screen video cut scenes extensively as well as full motion video for the character interactions. The full screen videos are a bit grainy and pixelated but the quality is reasonably good. It can be improved by reducing the resolution to quarter screen size. This latter aspect is in fact utilised by default for the character interactions. Having initiated a conversation the character will then talk directly to the camera in the top right quarter of the screen. This is superimposed over a faded view of the setting in which you found that character. The conversation trees will appear in the rest of the screen. It's all quite neat and works well.

You must choose in the endgame which of the six remaining suspects is the killer. Get it wrong and you end up dead. You might also blow your cover throughout the game by being too nosey or by asking inappropriate questions. Blow your cover and it's game over.

Finally, you will recognise some well-known actors among the cast, Elliot Gould and Corbin Bernsen to name just two.

So there is much to like about this game, particularly the way it has been constructed. Despite a bug that caused it to crash at a particular spot (it can be worked around) I confess that I quite enjoyed the 12 or so hours it took me to complete the game.

A final word on the "mature" content. There is a lot of this, and whilst you can limit some of it, you will still be exposed to a large amount. Obviously if you are going to go undercover in the erotic magazine industry, you are going to expect this type of material. It would make no sense for the game to avoid it completely, but it is rather overdone.

As noted, you can limit it to some extent. Unlike some games, Blue Heat does not have a mature content option when you commence playing, but (for example) you don't have to click on every pole dancer in Pandoras, nor do you have to have Dee participate in six separate photo shoots. She does, however, have to participate in one, and you can't avoid that. Nor can you avoid looking through magazines and photos; relevant information is hidden in all sorts of places. And to establish your alibis, some steamy surveillance videos are essential.

Because of this content Blue Heat will be very much a matter of personal taste. However this type of material is generally shunned in games, and subject to what I said in the first paragraph, I think there is room for some truly adult game experiences. A critical issue, though, is getting the balance right. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2004. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 3.x, 95, 98 or NT 4.0, 486-66 or faster processor, 8 MB RAM (16MB recommended and required for Windows 95), 2x CD ROM, 640 x 480 SVGA video card, 16 Bit sound card, 5 to 40 MB disc space