James Noirs Hollywood Crimes 3D (3DS) Review
There’s always going to be that one game that was announced alongside a console, but missed the launch window only to be quietly released many months later. James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes 3D is one of those games and despite being an original franchise and completely built-for-3DS experience, it manages to fall short in many aspects. Thankfully it still does try to do as much as possible, but ultimately the experience does not feel anywhere near as substantial as you would expect, especially at a full retail price.
James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes 3D takes place in the 60s and has a rather unsual structure. It’s 1961 in Hollywood and the game takes place in a world where many American citizens worship the winners of Incredible Puzzle Masters, a locally produced television show that propels it’s participants to stardom. Hollywood Crimes follows the player, who has recently been accepted to participate in Incredibly Puzzle Masters. Following your first round, however, it’s discovered that a murderer is slowly hunting down the winners from the past versions of Incredibly Puzzle Masters and one of your own childhood friends, who is now an FBI agent, has come to Hollywood to solve the crime and find answers.
The game essentially alternates between conversations between the characters and actual participation in the game show itself. While touted as an incredible and intense thriller, to be quite blunt, nothing is tense nor will the player get any thrills from the narrative. Hollywood Crimes is at its core, a very by-the-numbers whodunit story but with one thing wrong – the player never really “bonds” or spends enough time with the characters to care about them, so once the big reveal is played at the end, players will not be surprised, interested or even care about the outcome. In a game whose story is so character driven, the complete lack of any character development is incredibly disappointing.
James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes 3D is a bit weird when it comes to its presentation. The typefaces and general appearance of the game do a great job at evoking a vision of Hollywood during the sixties and late fifties, but also employs a strange visual effect to portray it’s characters. Similar to the late CING’s DS title Again, Hollywood Crimes puts filmed actors into the game and animated them poorly. While it does look incredibly tacky, I have a feeling that this is very intentional and as such it doesn’t really look that bad. At times, you will notice that the mouth movements don’t match the dialogue spoken and that the animations are simply about five or ten frames looped over and over – although really, that’s part of the charm. During actual scenes involving three dimensional rendered objects, the game does look great ,with ambient mood lighting and very smooth edges on most buildings and objects – but these moments are very rare.
The 3D is used to good effect, but the game itself isn’t built around the function – it could easily be on the original DS. Every single environment has very discernable layers and every character (combined with their filmed animation) pops out like a story book. But like the trailers might have implied, the 3D effect is not used to great effect during the game’s puzzles which is quite a bit of disappointment, being the first puzzle game released for the console in the west.
James Noir is definitely story oriented, but it’s important to realise that it’s a game first and foremost. The whole game is played by solving puzzles – where solving certain puzzles advances the game’s story. Hollywood Crimes takes place in two very distinct phases – the first is the puzzle game show itself, where players must complete puzzles to earn points in order to advance the story. The second is the actual investigation of the crimes themselves, where the player must complete puzzles left behind by the killer. There is literally no interactions between characters that is driven by the player – all you’ll be doing is completing puzzles to advance the story. That’s it.
It does sound like I didn’t really enjoy the way that Hollywood Crimes played out, but that’s simply because the game doesn’t feel anywhere near as substantial as you would hope it would be. The same kinds of puzzles are recycled multiple times (albeit harder / easier), the structure of the game is incredibly linear and the payoff is incredibly dull. The repetition of these puzzles makes the game feel more like a chore rather than an intriguing movie. There is a hint system that allows players to gain hints [Surprising! – Ed] – some of which solve the puzzle for you, while others just provide more and more clues to solve the puzzle. The biggest problem with this system is that there’s just no punishment involved with the process, or no incentive to stop from using hints besides your fragile ego.
As I’ve mentioned before, the game is incredibly repetitive, although the opening hours are quite intriguing as the game does a good job at using not only the 3D and touchscreen but also the camera to mimic a mirror during some cutscenes. But as you make your way through the eight hours that the main story offers you, the repetition of puzzles makes you realise how poorly structured the game is. To be fair, some of the puzzles are quite tough and in these situations, not even the hints can help, so the play time may be extended anywhere up to ten hours for some.
The game’s soundtrack on the other hand, channels the same kind of music you would find in the L.A. Noire or even Mad Men, but done on a much smaller scale. The music does get extremely repetitive to the point where I had to turn the volume down during some puzzles, as not to go crazy. The voice work is up and down – some characters are over the top, while others deliver their lines quite well and in a believable manner.
James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes 3D was a game that I was looking forward to quite a bit, but unfortunately, fell flat on it’s face and was quite a disappointment for me. While it’s not a terrible game – there’s a little bit of effort put in here, most of the game feels like it could’ve used a bit more work to make it feel more like a game rather than a mish mash of repetitive puzzles with hardly any interactive moments when outside the puzzles. With a better writer, more puzzles and dare I say it some more grittiness, Hollywood Crimes could be something really special. But for now, the Professor Layton series remains my benchmark for any puzzle adventure-style game, as James Noir unfortunately does not try hard enough to knock the esteemed man of his perch.