We choose our own adventure with EA’s CAUSE OF DEATH: Can You Catch The Killer?

Don’t let the generic and overly long name fool you: Cause of Death: Can You Catch the Killer? is as heart pounding as any thriller on TV, even if it is essentially a text based adventure. The actual interactivity is quite limited, but the game is so well written and finely tuned that it doesn’t matter. It also features a great episodic structure that hopefully means we’ll still be playing Cause of Death for some time to come.

The first episode of the game centers around a killer known as the Maskmaker, who kills young girls before fitting their face with a mask. The string of murders has the San Francisco Police Department stumped, so they call on recently suspended Detective Fallon to see if he can crack the case. With the help of Natara, an FBI agent with a secret to hide, he sets out to catch the Maskmaker. The story is actually quite intriguing and has the constantly on edge quality of any good crime drama. There are plenty of surprises and just when it seems like things are finally done, a new twist is thrown at you. It also ends on a delicious cliff hanger that makes you want to keep playing.

 Can You Catch The Killer?  Can You Catch The Killer?

And that’s a good thing, because Cause of Death is structured just like a TV show. Additional episodes are added every week, and are free-to-download provided you snag them during the initial week. After that they cost $0.99. It’s an ambitious move for EA, but if the developer can keep up the pace–and keep the subsequent episodes as good as the first–there’s a lot to look forward to here.

But you’ll have to set your expectations accordingly in order to fully enjoy Cause of Death. It’s not a game in the traditional sense. It’s more like a short story with limited interactivity; sort of a Choose Your Own Adventure book dressed up with lovely backgrounds and great looking character portraits. The game is told entirely through text, from descriptions of what’s happening to character dialog. You’ll frequently switch back and forth between different characters, giving you an interesting perspective on the events of the game. Sometimes you’ll be given a choice of action, and choosing the correct response can mean the difference between life and death. If you fail, you can simply go back to the last checkpoint and play again.

There’s not much challenge, since the second time you play you’re pretty much guaranteed to already know what needs to be done. But it’s still interesting to see the different ways that events can unfold. There’s also the occasional puzzle, but these too are quite simple and amount to little more than guessing a word. And if you have trouble the game will provide plenty of hints.

It may consist almost entirely of just reading and making a few decisions along the way, but Cause of Death is still bound to get your heart racing. It’s incredibly well balanced, shifting smoothly between tense moments of action and more lighthearted and playful bits of dialog. You’ll actually care about what happens to these characters. And hopefully you’ll get to spend lots of time with them over the coming weeks.