I feel like Criminel ($1.99) is a game that could have been great, but it never manages to deliver on its promise, relying entirely on story and theme without challenging the player. The premise is that you’re a new crime scene photographer in Paris in 1890, and you join the police force to help solve crimes with the investigator you work under, Max Roget. You learn the basics – you take photos of relevant evidence, examine the photos for any important aspects, then analyze witness testimony in order to find the important clues to figure out who committed the crime. Then, you get a lineup of criminals based on the collected details, and you have to accuse the person who likely did it.
That sounds like a really promising game, right? It’s got a dark and gritty theme, while still in a unique period of time. It’s not about chasing down and killing criminals, it’s about analyzing crime scenes using turn-of-the-century techniques, like early photography, in order to solve crimes. No DNA analysis here! Analyzing photos for their contents? Sure, that seems promising! Getting to analyze witness testimony for the important clues? That’s pretty cool! Then, having to make the heart-wrenching decision of who to accuse of the crime! That should be great!
It all should be. But it’s not, because the game goes for the simplest path for all those elements, and makes it practically impossible to fail. All the evidence that you need to photograph is pretty much in plain view, there’s nothing too difficult to hunt down, and you can’t progress unless you take a photo of everything. Even then, Max will give you hints if you need them. There’s fewer per level as time goes on, but considering that there’s not any way to take bad photos or run out of time, it’s not really possible at all to get stuck.
When scanning the photos for evidence, there’s no way to miss anything or fail – or to be missing photos that will help make the case easier. When examining witness’ statements, you can’t, say, ask questions where asking the wrong ones might make it more difficult to choose the correct suspect. And you can’t advance unless you point out everything necessary. At the time to accuse suspects, if you accuse the wrong person, you just go back and try again, but with even a minor bit of deduction based on the info, it’s hard to get any wrong.
Essentially, Criminel is a game that puts a teasing premise in your face, and then leaves you with the premise without the promise that you are actually doing anything, or can be rewarded for solving these crimes. It feels rote and unsatisfying because the training wheels never come off. Criminel disappointingly under-delivers on its premise. If you’re someone who just wants a study in dark atmosphere, then you might enjoy this. But I like a bit of resistance from the games I play. Criminel offers practically no resistance whatsoever, and no fail state at all.
So, if Criminel is a straightforward romp, why play it? Because it’s a wonderful display of atmosphere in a game. It’s got this dark and unnerving vibe that promises a dark finale, and it’s that fear of the unknown that left me hooked to see what was coming next. The grainy look to the game works to make it feel kind of like these are cloudy memories to experience. And the concept of traveling through crimson-lit rooms to head from scene to scene, with some of the deaths rendered in just enough shadow to be creepy, is effective. And the last chapter, where things are really in the unknown, you never really know what’s coming up next, and the game starts to deconstruct the things it has set up, justifies the entire Criminel experience. It’s genuinely eerie and left me unnerved while I played it.
But for people who want a little bit of a game-like resistance, who don’t just want a glorified interactive fiction experience? You probably want to avoid Criminel. It’s not beyond redemption – but it’s just kind of disappointing as you start to realize “Wait, this isn’t actually that difficult." It’s got such a cool premise, the look works for the game, but it decides to not really advance past the tutorial phase of the game.
I don’t know why Criminel is an iPad-only game, because I think that it could work on the iPhone without much hassle. Pretty much everything that you need to see is large enough that it would show up on a phone screen, there’s nothing as far as the interface goes that demands iPad play, and it feels like anything that would be too small, like text, perhaps, could be reformatted in some way for the iPhone. I generally have skepticism when any game is meant for the iPad only, I understand that some games are better on the larger screens, but sometimes they’re just matters of adaptation work that could help bring the games to larger audiences. Criminel being iPad-only would be like if Infinity Blade ($5.99) was an iPad-only game.
Criminel is disappointing, but to reiterate, the ending really redeems the whole experience. It’s a painful reminder that this game could have reached five-star peaks, but never tries to reach for them. Even something narrative-driven like Device.6 ($3.99) threw some puzzles in the way of the player that made exploring the game worth it. But then I wasn’t as much a fan of The Sailor’s Dream ($3.99) so you have to know where my tastes lie here. If my tastes resonate with you, then pass on Criminel. Otherwise, if a good experience, story, and atmosphere are more important to you than being tested, you might want to give this a spin.