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December 24, 2012

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iPad Review – Criminal Investigation Agents – Petrodollars HD (2012)

by Master Pillow

Ahh Anuman Interactive, my “favourite” hidden object game company.  Of course I’m joking here but let it be said that no matter how “great” I find their games that they just keep pumping them out in their assembly line mentality to throw as much product out there as possible hoping to somehow strike gold.  To be fair it isn’t as if the games are unplayable but one would think that after so many misfires that they would have learned by now to at least expand beyond their comfort zone but alas Criminal Investigation Agents – Petrodollars HD feels much the same as past games with perhaps one big caveat.  When one thinks of all the best hidden object games out there and the storylines associated with them one can see that just about every genre has been touched upon from dramatic plots to comedic tales of revelry yet the majority focus on fantastical events and mystical lands of yore.  Criminal Investigation Agents – Petrodollars HD takes a much different tact although I’m not sure if I would describe the end result as being enlightening.

We’ve had plenty of games which cast players as police officers, detectives, secret agents or just plain average Joes who get caught up in grandiose plots.  This time around Criminal Investigation Agents – Petrodollars HD decides to eschew all that and casts players as special investigator Frances Keegan who belongs to the Federal Tax Bureau as she strives to ensure no corporate hanky-panky is going on.  While other games thrust you into solving crimes of passion this one has players essentially playing a bean counter that spends her day discovering fraudulent currency transactions or tax evasion.  Full points for originality for sure but surely tax code violations are not usually synonymous with gripping gameplay.

However, one gets the impression that Anuman interactive also realized the folly of crafting a game around someone who is usually stuck behind her desk combing through spreadsheets because as the story unfolds in predictably ridiculous fashion it makes Keegan into a kind of super spy who dons numerous disguises to fool clients, is nimble enough to avoid laser security beams, shoots terrorists in the head and has no care to pump innocent security guards with hot lead either.  Who knew working for the Federal Tax Bureau was so exciting?

If only the gameplay tried to be as “original” as its plot.  Once again anyone familiar with Anuman’s games will feel right at home as the user interface remains unchanged with a handy left side panel that contains buttons to open the key item list, a recharging hint counter and a rather useless clothing/costume icon that shows what attire Keegan is currently wearing.  The bottom of the screen is taken up by the object list showcasing what hidden objects players need to find.  In a bit of a surprise this game doesn’t include a massive list of items but more often than not will ask players to find one item at a time.  This is both good and bad depending on one’s opinion as having only one item can act to focus players on finding exactly that object but it also distracts somewhat from peripherally identifying other pieces.  At least with a full list players can scan all the items and be mindful of them making identification easier as they scour the current location.  Thankfully, the game allows zooming which is necessary to spot the smaller objects.

As mentioned there is a recharging hint system but extra hints can be obtained through the various mini games or spotting the hidden star icons in every location.  Make no mistake though Criminal Investigation Agents – Petrodollars HD is a very easy game with almost childish difficulty as more often than not the items are simple to identify making it rare for anyone but those who wish to speed through the title to use the hint system.  Additionally, the lack of difficulty really truncates total play time as a veteran can blow through the entire narrative in about 90 minutes to two hours.  That’s remarkably short considering the game is asking a fairly hefty $4.99 and comes with next to no replay value.

The only standout feature is one Anuman has used before which splits some locations into multiple layers or panes forcing players to tilt their iPad or iPhone/iPod Touch left or right to force the perspective to change usually revealing objects that are hidden from normal view.  It is a decent mechanic that is utilized with greater frequency here although it still doesn’t make up for the total lack of difficulty.

Like most other Anuman games once the player completes the narrative it allows them to play any of the included mini games whenever they desire.  All of these mini games are based on standard fare such as sliding blocks to unlock a door to a simplistic match three clone of Bejewelled.  However, there are a few which are incredibly lacking or badly worded such as one instance where players are tasked to triangulate a tracking device signal by finding sixteen empty areas of a map that resembles a kind of Sudoku clone but the instructions are confusing and vague.  Another time I had to reassemble a circuit board from a multitude of square pieces but no instructions were given causing me to fumble around blindly until I caught on to the intended pattern.  Still, the silliest mini games are the ones I previously alluded to where Keegan needs to shoot terrorists or armed security guards not only because they are ridiculously easy but that it makes her out to be better than James Bond or Jason Bourne.  In this case, she actually saves the life of a CIA agent by doing his job for him and in turn exposing a grand plot to blow up key installations in Saudi Arabia.  It makes one think Anuman would have been better served just making her a super secret agent rather than a tax fraud investigator.

Although it might sound like beating a dead horse, the totally bizarre nature of the narrative needs to be experienced to be believed.  At one point Keegan needs to break into a hotel room and search it for clues which is not too hard to accept until one realizes that the room is inhabited by a sleeping suspect who conveniently is wearing a sleeping mask so Keegan jumps to the conclusion that she can turn on the bright lights while rummaging through his stuff even though some items like a laptop are sitting next to the suspect’s head.  As for the items she is on the lookout for, the poor suspect must be some sort of junk yard kleptomaniac since his hotel room is filled with CD-ROMS stuck to the wall, USB flash drives strewn over the floor and more external hard drives than you’d find in your nearby Best Buy store shelf.  Yes, item placement makes little sense once again but that’s to be expected of most Anuman games.

Visually, the game is on par with Anuman’s other titles with completely static rendered environments and some truly heinous character art.  At least this game shows 2D graphics of all the important characters whenever there is dialogue between them unlike other titles which hilariously featured a cut-out black silhouette yet the problem here is that everyone looks like some sort of Frankenstein figure due to the fact that whoever was in charge of the character art must be a Photoshop novice as the clothing swaps and facial expressions are not believable.  Sound effects are par for the course although the soundtrack gets special mention because it is hilariously overwrought such as the times it decides to go bananas and sound like a action-packed Michael Bay extravaganza although the player is doing nothing but a simple jigsaw puzzle.

In the end whether or not a player enjoys a title like Criminal Investigation Agents – Petrodollars HD truly depends on what they expect from a hidden object game.  Those who don’t care for item placement , static lifeless graphics or a ridiculous plot might have some fun with this title but I doubt the market demographic for those who desire a game like this would be very big.  Although I do not expect iron clad plots with grandiose epic reveals I need to sit back and laugh whenever a narrative completely goes off the rails and forces players to suspend disbelief at every turn.  When Keegan can convince a male felon to let her borrow his golf clothing to go undercover to pretend to be him and that the major antagonist won’t notice the difference merely because it is too early in the morning one can’t help but laugh silly at the total incongruity of the explanation.  Yes, this is one truly mystifying game in all the wrong ways making Criminal Investigation Agents – Petrodollars HD one to forget.

* out of ****

Developer: Anuman Interactive

Publisher: Microids

Released: July 12, 2012

Version: 1.0

Size: 97.3 MB

Languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, German

© 2012 The Galactic Pillow

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