Criminal Expert – Barely proficient

Clearly I'm an amateur

Criminal Expert wants to be an FMV Ace Attorney game, but it’s hard to get a clue.

As an FMV game, Criminal Expert had me interested quickly. It’s one of those genres that I find hard to resist as the blending of game and real-life acting can lead to some genuinely fascinating results. Criminal Expert is not one of those results, sadly. Poorly explained mechanics and no real way to make use of the live-action scenes make this a difficult game to recommend.

It’s worth mentioning early that this is a Polish game with English subtitles. If the idea of playing an undubbed game where you have to read is off-putting, then you’ll likely want to give this one a miss right away. With that said, some of the subtitles seem a little hard to follow. This may be due to mistranslations or the conversation going at a different rate to the text making it hard to follow who has said what, but in some scenes, things were a little hard to follow. Something of a death knell for a mystery game.

Criminal Expert
Some of the story is told in these comic strips which look jarring compared to the rest of the game.

Anyway, you play a police detective who is trying to solve the case of a seemingly kidnapped woman appearing in the middle of the road. You’ll find the perpetrators by interviewing people in FMV interrogations, looking through the police database, and analysing clues at crime scenes. The choices you make and successes you have can lead you to different endings, almost all of them failures, but with some luck and persistence, you may just make it to the conclusion. 

Time isn’t on your side either, as you’re given three days to complete your task. This translates to three hours in-game time, and certain actions can deplete those minutes very quickly, so you can fail by running out of time. Or you might get a game over in the first five minutes like I did, by trying to phone someone without knowing their number. You’d best do things in the right order or you’ll be heading right back to the start.

I found Criminal Expert to be something of a frustrating experience. I liked the FMV scenes well enough. They seemed well acted, even without me speaking the language, and dialogue choices came and went logically, although there were instances where I’d get the same response from multiple different choices. The thing is that these scenes are pretty inconsequential. Following one line of inquiry rarely leads to opening another set of options with a different character, and going through the clips doesn’t drain nearly as much time as you might think so there isn’t really any impetus to streamline your questioning. It feels like a missed opportunity, although I imagine storyboarding and coding something so reactive could be quite challenging.

Criminal Expert
The FMV sections feel well acted at least.

The things that actually progress the story are the phone calls that unlock evidence to bring in new or returning witnesses, and the minigames that you really need to succeed at to be victorious. And those minigames are infuriating, coming down to guesswork and blind luck until you’ve memorised the solutions through repeated playthroughs. You need to match up sets of evidence with little to no clues provided, with two errors before you completely fail it. The best example of this is when you go to a victim’s apartment and need to find three clues that are linked to each other. With twelve clues, some of which are nearly identical, it’s very difficult to work out what you’re meant to choose. Worse, when you make a failed attempt, there’s no feedback about any that may have been correct. They’re frustrating and really not fun as you don’t feel as though you’re solving a case, rather you’re clicking on things with your fingers crossed.

All this led to me feeling as though I was just wildly clicking on things on the screen in the hopes I’d get lucky this time around, but that “You failed to solve the mystery” screen just kept on coming back to haunt me. I suppose the saving grace is that you can get through a run of Criminal Expert in about half an hour if you skip the FMV scenes that you’ve already seen.

Then there’s the visual design, which seems to be all over the place. The video footage is solid enough during the interrogations, and the opening scene is pretty well shot. You only actually get these scenes for a few interviews though, with other conversations being relegated to comic strip style back-and-forths that look, to be frank, ugly. There are photographs used of some of the actors, so quite why they didn’t use these if they had to implement comic panels I don’t know. The sound is passable at least. The video clips sound clear enough which is good, but the music is very up and down. The general ambience is good, but investigation scenes have excessively dramatic background music that comes across as rather laughable.

Criminal Expert
You’d think, given the time limit, that you might need to read through this evidence and make connections, but really the evidence just unlocks other options simply by you opening it.

Criminal Expert is a disappointment in my book. There’s a neat idea here with a police procedural FMV game, but the implementation doesn’t carry it in the slightest. There’s a solid story buried in amongst all of it too, it’s just that trying to scrabble around to get at it is more of a chore than it’s worth. Better to leave this case cold.

Criminal Expert is available now on PC, Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo Switch.

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