“Whodunit” mysteries are common fodder for hidden object game stories – even ones involving serious crimes like murder. (For proof, we need look no further than I-Play’s successful Women’s Murder Club series.) Like its title implies, however, Real Crimes: The Unicorn Killer puts a different spin on things in that the events of the game are based on a crime that actually happened in real life.
You’ll step into the shoes of Jennifer Lourdes, an FBI agent who’s hot on the trail of Ira Einhorn, a hippie guru turned murderer who has jumped bail after being charged with killing his ex-girlfriend, Holly Maddux. The murder, and Einhorn’s subsequent run from the law, actually took place in 1977 and was well publicized at the time. Ira Einhorn, dubbed the “Unicorn Killer” because of the meaning of his last name, is currently still alive and serving a life sentence in prison.
Knowing this makes playing through Real Crimes: The Unicorn Killer a bit unsettling at times. The story plays out in a similar to “true crime” TV shows like America’s Most Wanted, but when the game started going into detail about how Holly died, and other aspects of the case, it left a bit of a bittersweet taste in my mouth because I couldn’t help but think about the real person behind the pixels.
Jennifer and her mentor, an older agent named Alan, travel to Ira’s various haunts – the park where Ira organized various protests and rallies (he was a self-styled environmentalist), the grocery store that was part of Ira’s alibi, the school Holly attended, and the rooms of Ira’s old apartment – searching for clues to further implicate Ira in the murder and offer clues as to his current whereabouts.
In each investigation you’ll have to search the scene for a list of clues to cross off your list. You have 10 minutes to find everything, and the penalty for too much random clicking is 45 seconds off the clock. You can add 30 seconds back onto the timer by clicking on at least three objects within 15 seconds. There’s also an untimed (Rookie) mode for players who prefer a more relaxed experience.
On the positive side, there are more than 20 locations to explore and they seldom repeat. Even when they do, the scene will have changed somehow, such as going from daylight to nighttime. If you’re a fan of “true crime” entertainment then you’ll definitely find the story engaging.
As a game, though, Real Crimes: The Unicorn Killer is nothing special. It’s a hidden object game at heart, but it also tries to employ a rather clumsy attempt at inventory-based puzzles, where picking up certain items adds them to your inventory to be used elsewhere in the scene. For example, to solve the clue “stir a pot,” you have to click on the spoon and use it on the pot. You only ever hold one piece of evidence at a time, though, so it seems unnecessarily cumbersome to have to open your inventory, select the item, and use it.
Another annoyance is that the game doesn’t automatically save your progress after each stage, which means you lose all your progress if you’re forced to quit unexpectedly. Saving involves having to exit to the main menu, then pressing “Continue,” which is a pain. I noticed the occasional spelling mistake as well, and sometimes there was more than one of the same object in the scene (such as two globes or two wrenches), which was confusing.
The game is also on the short side and can be completed in a couple of hours.
The most unique thing about Real Crimes: The Unicorn Killer is the decision to base its story on a real-life event, which is something that might appeal to criminology buffs. Otherwise, it’s another run-of-the-mill – and short – hidden object game.