Well, I've been pulling on my trench coat and fedora and dipping in and out of Gumshoe Online for a couple of weeks now. Between taking care of other chores it's been humming quietly in the background, tempting me back to close the cases.
Along with some frustrations it does have its charms and challenges so I've been looking forward to returning and picking up my investigations. This is a definite contrast to my first Gumshoe excursion a year or so ago when there was a ticking clock and the cases were on a time limit. Back then I never could relax as I felt penalised for diligently detecting. With the clock gone it's a totally different and more satisfying experience.
Gumshoe Online — the title gives a clue that it's an online product so there is nothing to install on your computer. You simply log on to the Gumshoe website and play along. Sample the first case, The Osborne Mystery, and see how you go. This first mystery is free and is essentially a tutorial to demonstrate the basics. Following this there are three additional and more substantial cases to solve with a fourth coming soon. So for a small fee you can continue your investigations and hone your detective skills.
Set in the crime riddled City of Wheaton in the USA in the 1930s, Gumshoe is played in a window occupying about three quarters of the screen, accompanied by a side bar menu with access to general help, a map for easy travel, a notebook and your trusty office which is essentially the opening screen. In this screen you can review the available cases and select one to solve, receive mail when you're already on the job, and save and load your game, although it does automatically save on exit.
Your notebook contains a lot of information which is updated as you progress. It lists clues, locations and suspects, possible solutions or motives, as well as the objects you have collected. On completion of your investigations you're put to the test to solve the crime. From your notebook you must first pick the motive or solution, followed by the perpetrator or perpetrators. plus a short list of 5 clues as evidence. After this you'll learn how well you've performed.
Gumshoe Online is simple point and click affair, very easy to slip into. Moving the cursor over objects will display a description or name tag and a mouse click initiates a response from your character. There are no voices so everything is in text. This means that there is a fair amount of feedback from the gameworld although more would have helped in some instances. For example, a clear alert for objects that are usable in the future would be a nice addition. And a clear signal for everything that is simply background 'noise' and there only to paint a more detailed picture. Not that I'm complaining about background objects that you can examine, far from it, they help to create atmosphere and bring a gameworld in to focus. It's just not good, for instance, to be working hard on opening a lock that is never going to open.
There are no sound effects in these mysteries but there is an audible 'blip' when you have learned new information or collected an object. A briefly flashing graphic also alerts you that your note book as been updated. There is a repeating snippet of light piano music in the background which is fairly innocuous and fits the setting well, and the graphics are simple and stylised. They work well, too, for this type of online game where extravagance would slow up play with long load times. In fact they look rather good, muted and in sync with the game style. There are some loading delays in changing locations but they didn't bother me too much.
Conversations are streamlined, again in keeping with online play. You do have a small range of questions to ask and when you select one the related conversation is played out to give you the essential information. There is also a meter gauging the interviewees 'attitude'. The idea is to ask pertinent questions and not irrelevancies or your suspect might lose patience and no longer be open to further questioning. I should point out here that I've asked all the questions available with no obvious disadvantage so I'm assuming that you are not alerted if you talk too much, you just potentially miss a clue.
As an online excursion I must confess I was expecting Gumshoe to be a gentle trip more for the casual gamer. Not so, you'll need to be diligent in your detecting, so this is something for all aspiring detectives. There are multiple motives, lots of clues (and red herrings) to ferret out, documents, keys and safe combinations and the like to find, plus other more physical obstacles in your path.
Added to this there's a range of more abstract puzzles such as fitting pieces of paper together, sliding tiles, placing cogs and pipes, flipping levers, turning dials to the correct reading, etc. Some are simple, others need attention to detail and an eye for figures to work out the logic, and still others are clued in the gameworld. Of course how well you fair will depend on your aptitude for a particular sort of puzzle. A couple took me quite a while in the second case, Something in the Water, so I would treat the estimated playing time for these games as a rough guide only. I certainly would have had my money's worth.
Unfortunately, another thing held me up as well. Some items are miniscule, even invisible, so pixel hunting is unavoidable on these occasions. Sometimes it's essential to run the cursor finely over an object to locate the hotspot, so very likely you'll be retracing your steps to find that elusive clue or trigger to make something happen. The pixel hunting isn't impossible but it does periodically hold up play and try your patience.
Overall, and despite the few frustrations, Gumshoe Online is a decent challenge. The stylised graphics do have a charm and the stories are simple, yet handled pretty well. Each one is a separate case so you don't need to play the episodes consecutively. And don't expect a sweeping story with deep characterisation, Gumshoe isn't that type of game. Your character is a means to an end, the challenge here is to solve the crimes not intricately 'live' the story. For me they've been a fun diversion and I would recommend you have a look, especially as you can try before you buy. Also, since the inception of Gumshoe the cases have evolved in response to player feedback. Cancelling the clock is one obvious example, the music has also been added along with a save game facility, and a number of other improvements as well. Presumably there will be further refinements in the future.
You can read more about Gumshoe Online, test out the first case and continue on your journey at the Gumshoe Online Website.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2006.
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