Play as Hotch and the gang to profile UNSUBS in this smart but dated licensed game
Criminal Minds stays true to the television series’ narrative format and beloved characters, creating the rare casual game of investigative substance. But while it’s intriguing to profile the unknown subject (UNSUB) as an expert of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), if you’re not a huge fan of the show, it may be difficult to endure this licensed game’s low-budget aesthetics.
Like most episodes of a police procedural, each of the two cases opens with an omniscient glimpse of the murder that the agents must solve. Once you solve the first case in Austin, TX, the second case in Seattle, WA, is unlocked. Those who watch the show know that the team is headquartered in Quantico, VA, so the case picks up with a team debriefing on the company jet en route to the crime scene. The investigation begins on the ground and you play as each agent throughout the case, using his or her expertise to ferret out clues, interrogate suspects, run background checks, and more.
Unique to Criminal Minds, the show and the game, is how the agents come together to share knowledge and evidence to build a criminal profile for the UNSUB. Once they understand the criminal’s behavior, they can guess his next move and solve the case. The narrative here is a treat, as it’s succinct and smart. Legacy Games states on their website that they hired a Hollywood writer—a statement that often makes a gamer quail in fear of blocks of dialogue. Although the majority of the game’s story is revealed through dialogue, I found it entertaining and well-paced, just enough to give me a sense of character and a fresh lead!
The mechanics are dated but solid: hidden-object scenes, I-spy scenes, familiar puzzles, etc. The hidden-object scenes are borderline junk pile, but they are interactive, offering two levels of challenge. Some items are nested, so you’ll have to open drawers or search other objects in the scene, and some item names are scrambled. You must find the question marks in the scene to “decode” the object name. The question marks also function as a hint recharge, so one can employ them strategically.
Profiling the UNSUB and interrogating suspects was handled deftly and through gameplay. Rather than forcing the player to click through expository dialogue, the information was revealed through mini-games, which I quite enjoyed. When profiling, the BAU would come together and offer conclusions as the player swapped tiles to create a path from the UNSUB’s case file to his behavior profile. And when interrogating a suspect, answers are extracted by matching green tiles in a game of Mahjong. My only complaint was that I wanted to make some deductions on my own—then again, I probably would’ve misprofiled the UNSUB as I’m not a behavior analyst.
However compelling the narrative and characters are, the game couldn’t escape the usual licensing woes. Criminal Minds has few bells and whistles and doesn’t even pretend to advance the genre on the mechanics front. A very similar gaming experience could have been had three to four years ago. One must surmise that the game’s cutscene, animation, and art budgets were eaten up in licensing fees. I was disappointed in the static, grainy scenes; cardboard-cutout character art; and lack of voice over. Even if they couldn’t afford the original actors, I would’ve happily settled for talent whose voices were remotely in the same register. Moreover, I was hoping the Expert difficulty mode (there are two modes: Casual and Expert) would offer a more cerebral challenge, such as more control in the interrogation or profiling, rather than the surface distinctions of Hint and Skip button recharge time and highlighting active areas.
All in all, Criminal Minds is a smart game that stays true to the series but is behind the times with its classic hidden-object gameplay. If you don’t mind engaging with an unsexy or baseline model in terms of animations and extras, then challenge your mind and learn how to analyze criminal behavior.