Casebook Episode III: Snake in the Grass
First posted on 11 December 2009. Last updated on 24 December 2009.
Casebook Episode III: Snake in the Grass is the latest episode in the Casebook series from New Zealand developer Aero who, according to the developer, "makes games that look like films". Casebook is a series of mystery adventure games that seem to be inspired by the popular American television show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, with lots of lab work and close investigation of crime scenes. Although the era of FMV (Full Motion Video) games that feature live actors and full motion video clips has long since passed, I have always been a fan of the technology and am glad to see it used here so well by the developer. I recommend this game to any gamer who enjoys a good story, memorable characters, and fun mini-games.
While the game alludes to characters and events in the earlier stories, gamers new to the series will have no issues picking up and following the storyline. The player takes on the role of Detective James Burton's partner and must help the detective gather evidence that implicates Marlon Hapman, Burton's nemesis. Hapman appears to be perfectly innocent, but Burton is convinced that he is responsible for the murder of a local man, whose bloody remains have been discovered inside a small chapel. The game is set in a small town named Garden, a peaceful and lovely town that seems an unlikely place for a brutal murder.
As the player gathers evidence from the various crime scenes, Burton stops in occasionally to offer insights or tips, and well executed cut scenes show Burton interacting with other characters such as the reluctant town sheriff, a crazed teenager, and a senile old priest. The acting is terrific and adds a great deal of interest to the game. The player also interacts remotely with a lab technician, who wants to help Burton but seems to think he is so obsessed with proving the suspect's guilt that he may be misinterpreting the evidence. Naturally, the player will form separate conclusion as the game progresses.
Most of the gameplay is spent exploring crime scenes, searching for hotspots to photograph. The game makes use of Areo's own Areograph technology, which essentially lets the player explore a 3D environment in photorealistic detail. This realism adds greatly to the experience. Whenever the player spots potential evidence, such as a bloodstain, the player can activate the camera to take a picture of it. Once a number of photos are collected, the player can process them in the crime van—a crime lab on wheels. Logistically, I am a bit perplexed about how fingerprints, liquids, and DNA samples can be taken from digital photographs, but I suppose that the act of photographing implies that the player will also gather the corresponding physical evidence which is simply not shown on screen. Anyway, this oversight has not detracted from my enjoyment of the game.
Perhaps the weakest element of the gameplay is the lab work, which amounts to simplistic and mostly unrealistic mini-games. One of the mini-games has the player turning circles with the mouse cursor to operate a spectrometer. There is also another mini-game in which the player has to click on DNA strands to isolate them for analysis. Perhaps the most difficult puzzle occurs at the end of the game, when the player must mix a compound. This puzzle requires deductive reasoning as well as patience for trial and error. There are a few other clever puzzles sprinkled throughout the game, but the game needs more engaging puzzles as a whole.
All in all, I have found Casebook Episode III: Snake in the Grass very interesting and well worth my time. The story, characters, and dialog are all top notch and professionally done. The game is also paced quite well, and the grand finale is well worth the effort it takes to see it. I recommend this game most strongly to fans of mystery or crime drama who prefer a more casual approach to puzzle solving. Other gamers may find the game less rewarding, but I know I am already looking forward to the next Casebook episode.