Alex is a former police officer turned private detective whose latest case takes some exciting twists in Affair Bureau, a run of the mill hidden object game that doesn’t live up to its potential.
The story is a typical gumshoe tale, beginning when Alex is paid a visit by a pretty woman who leaves her calling card on his desk. As Alex tries to find out who she is, his investigation uncovers startling information about his own past and that of a criminal mastermind.
Alex’s investigations take him from roof tops to subway tunnels, with each location requiring him to search for clues by finding a list of objects hidden in each cluttered scene. The scenes are quite dynamically drawn, and items are hidden well. An issue, though, is the fact that some scenes contain large dark spots where items are hard to make out.
Gameplay is untimed, and there’s no penalty for incorrect clicks. In this respect, the game is relaxed and stress-free. There are unlimited hints too, provided you don’t mind waiting for the hint meter to recharge – and be warned, it takes a while.
Every so often you’ll play a mini-game that ties in with the story, such as analyzing samples in the lab by matching cells in a microscope, rigging a fuse box by connecting the electrical currents, and picking a lock by rotating the knobs to the correct settings. The mini-games aren’t terribly difficult, but are quite fun; my favorite was having to dismantle a crate by using a crowbar on the correct box parts.
Alex calls upon several friends throughout the game, and the dialogue isn’t bad, although the game has a few glaring typos, one of which actually affects a puzzle. (In the opening scene you have to search for the woman Alex just met on the computer. She introduces herself as “Liza Wang” but the computer only accepts “Lisa Wang.”
The game also suffers from mislabeled items – a spatula is labeled “shovel,” a thumbtack is called a “pin,” a gas mask is called a “respirator,” and, most puzzlingly, a “vent” refers to what I could have sworn is a toilet plunger. When items are mislabeled you have no choice but to use a hint to reveal their locations, and given how slow the hint meter recharges, it can get frustrating.
The game is on the short side as well – expect to beat it in a couple of hours. When finished you can replay individual scenes from the main menu, or replay story mode again with items in different places.
The most disappointing thing about Affair Bureau wasn’t its various gaffes, but the fact that the game could so easily have been better than it was. The game toyed with giving you branching paths – in other words, more than one area to explore and it’s your choice where to go next – but this only happens a couple of times. The crime computer, where you look up suspects by name or photo, was also a cool idea but was under-used. You only ever look up one name and one photo, and you never even get to click on the fingerprints section.
On the whole, Affair Bureau is enjoyable but frustrating at the same time, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that the game could have been so much more.
For similar games, try Mystery P.I. – The Vegas Heist, Nick Chase: A Detective Story, and Private Eye: Unsolved Greatest Mysteries.