CSI Meets Nineteenth Century Paris With Criminel

Developed by small London indie 4PM, Criminel is the kind of game we see very little of when skimming through the App Store’s bulging selection of new releases. To call it a game, however, is somewhat misleading. Although it’s currently downloadable under the store’s designated gaming section, Criminel is best described as an interactive experience, eschewing many of the mechanical design traits we associate with mobile games.

Set in the French capital of Paris, Criminel casts the player as a rookie detective, serving the city’s law enforcement ten years prior to the dawn of the twentieth century. Following the industrial revolution, it’s a time of great change both domestically and overseas in the years leading up to the First World War. Already, however, there appears to be unrest in Paris as you and your mentor, Maximilien Roget are called out to a murder scene.

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A messenger has been brutally killed during an attack, his body left in a shady back alley. After a very brief tutorial, players are tasked with surveying the crime scene using Criminel’s very basic control scheme. By swiping the touch-screen or using your device’s gyroscope functionality, you can navigate the game’s often small and often condensed areas, rotating the camera in order to spot and photograph any clues. Your objective in these sections of Criminel is to simply locate all the evidence – there’s no real challenge to it, especially with Max on hand to dish out hints.

The next gameplay segment warps both detectives back to their office. Here, you’ll go over any clues discovered at the crime scene, swiping through photographs and tapping on keywords to trigger a blurb of text. Again, there isn’t a “game” element to be had here – it’s all very linear with players guided down a single track as they come closer to solving the crime. Finally, you will be presented with a gallery of suspects, each with their own bio which can then be cross-checked against whatever evidence you’ve managed to compile. Choose the right perp and you’ll move onto the next case. Slip up and it’s just a matter of sitting through a game over screen before taking another crack.

This three-part template is used in each of Criminel’s five playable chapters which collectively weigh in at just over an hour. Although seemingly unconnected at first, sinister links between each case begin to form a dark conspiracy, culminating in a surprise twist at the very end of the game. It’s hardly a jaw-dropping set piece, yet one that admittedly caught me off guard, providing a neat conclusion.

Although far from being one the best looking games on the App Store, Criminel has the occasional artistic touch in the way it’s presented. Crime scenes are sparse and fairly basic, each one adorned with washed out greys and browns beneath an ever-present grudge filter. One odd yet strangely effective touch is the use of face-mapping on Criminel’s characters, all of which are made from photos or moving images of real people. The segments that stand-out the most are those that connect each of the game’s locations. Instead of fronting players with a loading screen, Criminel has them walking down dimly lit corridors that feel akin to a dream sequence with the lead protagonist projected their inner thoughts.

With very little to offer in terms of replay value, even a couple of quid may seem like a steep asking price. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of titles on the App Store that provide boundless amounts of content for much less, or even for free. Compared to your connect three puzzlers and tower defence games, Criminel is a different beast however. It’s an experimental interactive thriller that some will draw pleasure from, whether played in one sitting or staggered throughout several.

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