Archive for March 11, 2010

Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth

The Ace Attorney series is notable for two things – firstly, it made the jump from being an obscure Japanese Game Boy Advance game to a global DS phenomenon. Secondly, after four games in the franchise, it hasn’t updated its core gameplay mechanics at all. Well, that’s all about to change now for the fifth game in the franchise, as you finally get to take control of one of the series’ most likeable personalities: prosecutor Miles Edgeworth.

This time the action centres around five cases, all of which have a hidden thread tying them all together, as you jump back and forth in time to unravel a complex mystery that haunts both Edgeworth and his new assistant, Kay Faraday. Along the way, some familiar faces crop up, including Detective Gumshoe and Franziska Von Karma. As the body count rises and the killers get more devious, both the player and Edgeworth are going to need all their combined mental prowess to crack the cases.

Of course, ‘mental prowess’ refers to one of the many changes to the usual formula in this new instalment. Instead of just blundering through an accusation like a certain defence attorney, Edgeworth has ‘Logic’, the ability to collect certain bits of information and pair them up to open new trains of thought. Unfortunately, this never gets any more complex than matching ‘there’s a key on the hook’ with ‘there’s a locked door’.

In addition to this is the new third-person perspective on the unfolding case. Instead of the normal first person lawyering (FPL?), you can now walk Edgeworth around a crime scene and gather evidence. It is, admittedly, very jarring to see legs for the first time in the series and some characters look downright weird in the new animation angle (the judge, in particular). It does add just enough onto the game to be classed as a new feature, but only just – while you will have a lot of time to investigate, you’ll spend several hours more watching the animations as they chatter away in the series’ trademark brilliantly scripted puzzles.

The game is as lovingly crafted as all the others have been, with the right mixture of humour, character and contradictions laced into the reams of text as well as any other title in the series. In fact, this might be the best scripted game of the lot so far. What does make it disappointing is that, for every new feature added, something else has been taken out.

While exploring the crime scene in more detail is a great new idea, all the touch screen and microphone features established in the last game have been discarded, as well as the crime scene recreations and video introductions. Testimonies and cross-examinations are now ‘arguments’ and ‘rebuttals’ – not that it makes a jot of difference to the gameplay – and the character animations are the same as the old GBA versions. Even the music is original series’ bleeps and blorks instead of the silky DS remixes. In addition, the murderer never makes it to court, meaning that you spend all your time at the crime scene, looking at things and pointing fingers. While it makes for a refreshing change of pace, there is still the overwhelming sensation that it feels less like justice and more like a witch hunt.

Perhaps what’s most disappointing about the prosecuting experience is that it doesn’t actually feel any different. As a prosecutor, your job is to accuse people of crimes and prove it was them, but before that, someone else will be arrested and you end up trying to clear them. For a prosecutor, you do a suspicious amount of defending.

As for finally controlling Edgeworth himself, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. While Phoenix Wright and Apollo Justice were both underdogs, Edgeworth is somehow too perfect, with his own train of thought only sometimes meshing with the player’s own. You’ll either be three steps behind him or one in front – the bond between player and protagonist seems slightly off.

That isn’t to say that it’s not a good game, because it really is. Like the rest of the entries in the Ace Attorney series, Investigations is chock full of stunning revelations, incredible plot twists and jaw-dropping conclusions. It even manages to ditch its longest-running gameplay flaw – this time around, it’s actually very difficult to get helplessly stuck, thanks to a crafty script and intelligent puzzles.

Investigations, like the previous four games, isn’t going to be for everyone. In fact, if you’re not already a fan of the series, this side story instalment is probably going to be the most difficult to get into of the lot. It’s perfectly enjoyable, deliciously humorous, mentally taxing and beautifully written, which makes it all the more disappointing that it isn’t the series evolution we were promised.

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