|NAME:Gumshoe||AUTHOR: Mike Oliphant|
|GAMEPLAY: Inform, usual||PLOT: Poor|
|EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org||WWW: http://cogsci.ucsd.edu/~oliphant|
|ATMOSPHERE: well done||AVAILABILITY: GMD|
|WRITING: Disappointing||PUZZLES: Good|
|SUPPORTS: Inform Ports||CHARACTERS: Shallow with one or two exceptions|
During the opening sequences of Mike Oliphant's new Inform game "Gumshoe", I found myself smiling a lot. With every turn Mike unveils yet another element from the private eye genre and sets the player up for a twisty ride through territory well blazed by the fictional likes of Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer. The dingy messy office, the caustic secretary, the beautiful woman who suspects her husband of infidelity, the drunken hangover, menacing underworld types to whom you, as the hero, owe money; the corrupt cop who enjoys harassing you; all of these are in "Gumshoe"'s delightful set-up.
I've loved the private-eye genre since I was in high school. What makes it great is the use of the "Gumshoe" set up as an excuse to explore the darker side of human nature, to guide us through a labyrinth of perversity, dark secrets, haunted souls and evil that strikes quickly and lasts for generations. Inevitably the initial case the detective is asked to solve is only the tip of the iceberg; the real story lies much deeper.
This is tricky territory to explore in interactive fiction and, unfortunately "Gumshoe" is not up to the task. We are asked to prove that Sandra's husband is cheating on her and that's exactly what we end up doing. We encounter no dead bodies, discover no dark secrets buried in families for generations, rescue no damsels in distress or uncover any surprising revelations that give us pause. All do is prove John's infidelity and that's what we do and rather quickly at that. In fact, one of the problems with the game is that we can provide the evidence we need to convince the woman of her husband's two timing very quickly. She gives us the money and that's that. Of course, there's more game to explore including a section where we get to prove his infidelity again, but it adds nothing top the story and feels like unnecessary padding.
All of the elements that are introduced early in the game come to nothing. The secretary and her delightfully caustic comments vanishes early, the corrupt cop is quickly dealt with and never reappears, the underworld figures end up posing no threat and are easily bought off and forgotten. This lack of development might go uncommented on an another type of game, but character development and is what private detectives are all about along with plot development.
Plot development or the lack thereof was the most disappointing element of the game. Once I got the goods on her husband, I expected to go to Sandra's house and find her still warm corpse with a couple of slugs in it, preferably from my gun. But she's home and she's fine and the game is over just when I expected it to take off. Likewise, when I entered the old house, I expected to solve the puzzle and find a body. But all that's there is the means to prove John unfaithful - again.
Fortunately, actual gameplay is good, if a bit too linear. Everything has to be done in a certain sequence or you'll spend a *lot* of time sitting around doing nothing. I spent hours (game time) in one location before I realized that by acting logically (I.e. calling up my client and presenting her with the evidence she required) I'd made a mistake. Puzzles were, for the most part, logical and easily solved. I especially enjoyed the old house puzzle and the scene at the restaurant where you have to get past the corrupt cop.
If you're looking for a pleasant afternoon's diversion, Gumshoe offers simple but enjoyable puzzles, and enough solid private-eye atmosphere to send you off to the video store to rent "Chinatown" or up to the attic to get out that old dog-eared copy of "The Long Goodbye."