Using pre-recorded footage as the subject matter for a video game has always been dicey. It seems as though this style is the latest blast from the past and just like the late nineties, there are going to be some winners and some stinkers. Although some games have pulled it off, the latest being the excellent Her Story, most have ended up as gimmicks with very little going for them aside from the video. Recontact: Istanbul is unfortunately one of the latter.

The greatest challenge with using pre-recorded footage in a video game is to make the player still feel like they’re playing a game, even though all the outcomes have been predetermined. Recontact: Istanbul attempts to do this by placing you outside of the scene entirely. You are a security official tasked with quickly identifying suspects for the police. To do this, you watch a video clip of an Istanbul street, and when someone fits the profile assigned, you tap on the screen to select them.

It sounds easy enough. The concept is like a video version of a Where’s Waldo book. In theory that sounds like a simple, fun game. However, the gameplay itself is incredibly obtuse and frustrating. The only hint you get is the brief description of the suspect at the beginning of each clip. This description fades away shortly after the video starts, so hope you memorized it. There is no rewinding or zooming the clip, your only interaction is to watch and tap the suspect when you see them.

This in and of itself could be forgivable if not for the actual videos themselves. While the more close-in scenes aren’t too bad, the far-shots are absolutely nightmarish to play since scanlines have been added to each clip to mimic an actual security camera. These scanlines obscure the image to the point where it’s impossible to pick out any detail. So, if you’re looking for a male in his thirties wearing a pink t-shirt, there’s no way to use that description to accurately find the suspect since it’s hard to tell if they’re wearing a t-shirt or a long-sleeve shirt, and the color bleeds and warps around the scanlines. Also, this game was hard to play on an iPad, so I can’t imagine playing it on an iPhone or iPod Touch, though it’s technically compatible with those devices.

Recontact Istanbul interface

The icing on top though is that Recontact: Istanbul only gives you two attempts to find the suspect per clip. Wrong tap one and you get a warning, wrong tap two and it’s a game over. The most frustrating part is, if you get two game overs in a row, you have to wait for a one minute timer to count down before you can play again. Eventually the scenes get so obscure that it becomes a chore to play. Also, if you take a screenshot it triggers an instant game over, which is a bit ridiculous.

Maybe I missed the point of Recontact: Istanbul. It’s been called a fusion of game and art by it’s creator, and I have to disagree. Trying to find the suspect in each clip made me miss whatever art could be found, and poor design choices made the gameplay frustrating in the extreme. There’s a cool concept underlying this game, and I think with a little more thought and development it could be fun. Recontact: Istanbul misses a key design point that all studios to follow: it’s ok for game to be frustrating, so long as the player can also enjoy it.