Cause of Death: Can You Catch The Killer? is a visual novel by Electronic Arts for iOS that revolves around criminal psychological profiling and crime investigation. Through a series of episodes, the player is taken on a text-based adventure chasing down serial killers, solving typical homicide cases and dealing with personal/co-worker relationships. It is the sister game of EA’s Surviving High School series. There are 15 volumes in total, but this review is going to focus on the first volume.
The first volume in Cause of Death, The Maskmaker Case, is free upon downloading the game. Volumes two through 15 must be purchased, and range from $1.99 to $7.99 (the newest volumes are the most expensive). Players used to buy one episode at a time, but the game was released in late 2010, so all volumes are complete and can be bought as a whole.
Cause of Death, an episodic adventure, is inspired by crime scene investigation shows and takes place in San Francisco. The game’s story focuses on law enforcement officers and technicians investigating a serial killer case, and is driven by interactive fiction elements that draw the player into the world of the story, making it more than just a visual novel. It’s a game that pulls the player into the role of SFPD detectives, an FBI agent, murder victims and the deranged killer himself. All characters in the game are believable and have great character development.
The two main protagonists that are played as most often are SFPD Detective Mal Fallon and FBI Special Agent Natara Williams. Det. Mal Fallon is a cop with police work in his blood and a “go with your gut” philosophy. Special Agent Natara Williams is a criminal profiler who can understand the minds of criminals in order to find them and bring them in. Both characters have their backstories and baggage, but some isn’t made clear until later volumes.
As the player switches between these two characters, he or she must make decisions to say or do something depending on the situation. In a dialogue sequence, the player is given anywhere from 2 to 4 different choices. Saying the wrong thing too many times in a row can sometimes lead to failure or death, especially when trying to talk down a killer. Other sequences are a little more fast-paced, and the player must make a decision under the pressure of time. Sometimes this happens during a critical conversation, and other times it acts as a sort of quick-time event during a fistfight or a chase. Every now and then, these can be problematic. For example: During a chase, a character will knock over a stand and spill its contents all over the sidewalk. The player is then prompted to choose between actions such as Slip, Stumble or Run under the pressure of time. The player may be prompted to do this more than once, with the action choices increasing in number and leaving the player to quickly find the right action. These happen a little too often, and are quite annoying.
The gameplay is simple: tap the screen to move on to the next piece of text or dialogue. There is no voice acting and no sound effects. This isn’t a bad thing, however. Being an interactive, visual novel, Cause of Death allows the player to use his or her imagination to create the sounds of the world they’re a part of. The text shows the player what should be heard, and it’s up to the player to imagine it. The game does, however, have a decent soundtrack. With the music being one of the only audio tracks in the game, it does a great job of pulling the player into the mood of the scene. The characters’ faces express different emotions depending on the dialogue. This helps the player understand the tone of the characters’ “voice.”
The decisions the player makes award Detective Points if the right decisions are made. If the right choice is made during an action sequence or a conversation, the player will hear a little bell and see small text saying “Detective score up!” The player will know he or she has made the wrong decision if a low-pitched note is heard, and the text/dialogue makes the immediate consequence obvious. Scoring enough points throughout the whole volume unlocks a bonus scene at the very end. The bonus scene seems to force replayability into the game. It is definitely worth replaying an episode for, but the replayability itself is not very great. I find myself speeding through the entire episode, only slowing down to read the different text that comes with choosing the right thing to say or do.
Besides law enforcement and criminology, the game also hits on other elements such as friendship, love, trust and morality. All of this brings the player into a story in which the characters feel very much real and believable. The characters interact with one another naturally and the relationships between them make the emotional aspect of the story incredibly deep. I had a lot of fun getting into the minds of the criminal as well as playing as the victim now and then. The dialogue and descriptive text is well-written, and there is a surprising amount of humor in the game as well. The writing is clever, heartfelt, funny, interesting and surprising. The volume itself is lengthy, with some of the episodes being longer than others.
-An easy, fun read
-Annoying quick-time sequences
The first, free volume of Cause of Death works great as just a standalone title due to its surprising length. The game’s believable characters and well-written dialogue kept me extremely interested in the story, and the plot itself is clever and enjoyable. I felt like some of the quick-time events were unnecessary, but they are definitely not a deal breaker. Cause of Death is a great game.
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