|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: ARC System Works||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Aksys||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: June 10, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
It's understandable why interactive novels are not a hot commodity in the gaming market; anyone can curl up with a good book if they want to read vast expanses of text. On the whole, gamers want to actually PLAY a game when they sit down and fire up their favorite systems. Sure, we've all come to expect a certain level of plot structure and crafty dialogue to give the gameplay some deeper meaning, but games with too much storytelling and not enough action tend to defeat the purpose.
Last year's Hotel Dusk: Room 215 proved the idea of an interactive, noir-styled detective story on the DS had some merit; yet even with a superb plot and decent gameplay, the reading intensive title had its fair share of dull moments. Then there's Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles - a game that seems hardly like a game at all. Rather than rolling boil, the latest interactive crime drama to hit the DS essentially simmers down to an uninspired, choose your own adventure title. However, player input apparently has little bearing on the final outcome of each case; there's so much handholding involved the game practically plays itself. It's like the developers forgot to take off the training wheels.
There's not a lot of mystery to Hunter as a character. He's your typical well-manicured, chain-smoking private investigator who finds himself on the beat with a trio of tough cases. Hunter fits the stereotype impeccably. If the game featured voice work, you'd half expect him to bust out phrases like, "it was a dark, stormy night in Aspicio City " in that classic detective drawl. While not quite as corny, his narratives border on violently cliché. Hunter's somberness and the game's serious tone can also get overly heavy at times, for the otherwise light mystery fare.
Three cases are included on the cart, and they can be played in any order. With support from his compassionate assistant and a few other re-occurring characters, Hunter winds up investigating a strangling in Aspicio City's Central Park, a missing persons case in the Depono harbor city, and a killer on the loose at the Ceteri raceway. Each case takes around two hours to complete, and they're easily wrapped-up in a single sitting apiece. The mysteries themselves are not particularly unique in any way, but they're strong enough to hold your interest for the few hours it takes to wade through them.
The game's locations are pleasantly detailed, but they're limited to 2D backdrops. A few animated cutscenes in each case liven up the experience. There's not much else happening in the visual department. The same bland, non-animated character portraits are recycled throughout the game, which is disappointing to say the least.
As a piece of interactive fiction, Jake Hunter isn't quite recommendable. The fiction portion of the equation isn't horrible, but it's also not anything special. The cases are rather predictable, and the presentation lacks excitement. Also, the interactive elements falls horrendously short of what average gamers are going to expect from a title - even for a game that is clearly reading intensive. Adding insult to injury, the gameplay is so paper-thin it's hard to really call it much of a game.
Most of the "gameplay" involves scrolling through tons of dialogue. As you move around to different locations, you'll be able to inspect each area and interact with people by selecting options from menu trees. Usually you'll ask questions; sometimes you'll answer them. It's mostly a matter of exhausting all conversation and exploration options in one spot and moving on. You won't be able to progress until you've gathered enough clues to trigger the next sequence in the game. On rare occasions, you'll access a minimalistic inventory to hand out business cards, make a call on your cell phone, or use other items, but this is severely limited in scope. There's no backtracking involved, since the game lets you know when you've still got something to do in a particular spot. In a few instances, Hunter will find himself in some dangerous situations that involve minimal combat. Rather than implementing touch screen controls or another mechanic, these brief encounters are settled by selecting your actions from yet another dull menu. Combat is limited to punching and kicking, and it's hard to tell if your selections truly have any real impact on the result of the encounter.