Casebook: Episode II - The Watcher
Once more I'm saddled up with Detective James Burton. Despite knowing that we're off to investigate a suicide, I can't help feeling there may be more to it than meets the eye. A shiver of excitement runs up my spine. The scene of the incident, an apartment block, is weird. The residents are weirder. And the jumper - he was watching his neighbours with a video camera. Everyone thought he was nuts. Some of the recordings we find seem to support this. But something doesn't add up...
For those that haven't seen my previous review - and why haven't you? - Casebook is a hidden object game in which you play the role of a forensic investigator, searching crime scenes for clues both large and small. Aside from obvious things, like a ransom note or a bloodstain on the floor, you'll need to check for DNA or fingerprint evidence on otherwise ordinary objects. As evidence builds up, you'll need to form connections to figure out what happened, who did it and where to find them.
The second episode of Casebook - "The Watcher" - continues your adventure as Burton's partner. He asks the questions; you find the clues. Yet this is more than a mere continuation of the first chapter. For a start, the installer is bigger by about 50%. This seems to be reflected in the rooms we explore as well, which now seem larger and more complex in shape. The familiar elements are all still there, but there are new things too, such as the chemical "sniffer" that seeks out petrochemical traces.
As before, the main part of Casebook is to photograph potential evidence and bring the pictures back to the lab for processing. Pete the lab guy is back again, just as keen to crack the case and just as sharp with his put-downs should you bring back photographs of irrelevant objects. Many items may need dusting for prints, checking for hidden traces or DNA testing in an array of subgames. All the old subgames are here again, and a few newer ones too. The 3D software that shows how a dummy falls was especially different!
Graphically, Casebook continues to impress. Film clips of interviews and chats with suspects and so on bring a touch of realism to the game - the acting quality is a little higher this time around, perhaps helped by the slightly unhinged mental states of most of the characters, with only the landlady proving particularly unlikely to me. Far more impressive, however, remains the areography - the graphics engine that allows you to walk around a photorealistic crime scene. Episode 1's locations were rectangular and fairly small - it seems the engine has been revamped a little to accommodate larger scenes.
There is still a strong audio component to Casebook, with plenty of character speech and subtle background noises while you photograph. Exploring the burnt out remains of a torched crime scene is eerie enough, but takes on a surreal edge when you can hear birdsong in the distance. The developers have, however, listened to requests in this area and introduce subtitles for all speech, both in film clips and regular play. Whether my review had any part in this, I don't know! Subtitles can be turned off from the menu if you so desire.
Still very easy to get into, with plenty of help for the starting player, there is no need to have played the previous episode before getting into this one. The Intuition function, which turns the player towards an important clue when they get stuck, is still present. I think there may actually be fewer red herrings this time around, though whether this is deliberate or because of the increased size of the areas you explore I'm not sure. It's also possible that many of the objects I've photographed are utterly useless but end up in the crime folder anyway, which I rather like!
I find it hard to fault Casebook. My main concerns with the first episode seem to have evaporated, such as the lack of subtitles, and my chief annoyance with Episode 2 is the occasionally awkward positioning for taking pictures. In the first episode I managed to photograph random objects from behind other objects, which was bizarre (and took me out of the game a little). Now we have the opposite problem - objects between you and your subject can prevent perfectly sensible shots being detected, such as my repeated failure to photograph a painting above a bed because, I think, the bed was in the way. Standing too close to an object means you won't get a picture. Standing too far away stops your camera even identifying it as something to photograph. Sometimes the middle ground is thin.
All this said, I'm rather impressed overall with Casebook. They could simply have produced a second episode; instead, they've improved upon the game's engine. They've listened to their fans and included new features accordingly. This is all wonderful stuff - unlike many independent games, Casebook is rather content heavy and I couldn't blame them for wanting to focus on that. Episode 3 is doubtless underway and I am almost bouncing on my chair in excitement. There is something indefinably compelling about Casebook, and if you haven't found this out yet you really ought to start.
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