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Gumshoe Online
Gumshoe Online
Developer:Hiding Buffalo
Publisher:Hiding Buffalo
Release Date:2005
Article Posted:June 2006
System Requirements

Another day begins in Wheaton City as you browse through the newspaper. The article on the front page speaks of yet another mysterious murder in the city. Suddenly the phone rings. The chief of police is requesting your assistance. The police have not been able to crack the case in the newspaper. The services of a private investigator are required. You put on your fancy trench coat, obligatory hat, and head for the police station. Perhaps your keen eyes, sharp intellect, and detective instincts will be enough to put another criminal behind the bars…

Gumshoe Online is a Web community that puts players in the role of private investigators in a corrupt city. The gameplay consists of solving stand-alone cases by investigating crime scenes, talking to witnesses, and piecing together clues. At the beginning of a case, players can only visit a small number of locations. However, discovering clues and talking to characters unlocks other locations and gradually unfolds the storyline behind the case. As the investigation continues, various solutions for the case are listed on a board in the detective’s office. Players will have to identify the correct case solution, choose the right suspect, and select five items as evidence to solve the case. If the solution and suspect selection is correct, and the evidence identified provides sufficient proof, the case will be successfully solved. Upon submitting a solution for the case, players will receive a score based on the number of clues found, the time taken, and the selection of evidence to support the solution.

Gumshoe Online also aspires to become a strong Web community. The game Web site features a forum where players can share clues about the available cases. While there are currently only a small number of players who frequently post on the forum, as the community grows, the ability to share the gaming experience with other players may add a whole new level of depth to Gumshoe Online. Furthermore, the developers also seem to be responsive to player requests and comments. Administrators occasionally respond to player comments and offer hints to help with the cases. In addition, cases have been modified based on the messages posted on the forum to improve the gaming experience. Finally, developers seem to be paying close attention to player comments as they enhance the game with new features. For instance, a recent news post on the Web site announced that as of February 21st, 2005, players would be able to create save game files, allowing them to work on multiple cases at once. This new feature was apparently added based on player feedback.

Gumshoe Online has an interesting premise. However, a host of problems can significantly hurt the gameplay experience for many players. First of all, the game lacks a consistent storyline. Each case has its own scenario. There is currently no plot development across multiple cases. Furthermore, since the individual cases are much shorter than a full adventure game, the plot development within each case is also rather limited. The game’s approach to submitting case solutions can also take away from the experience. The cases do not have set conclusions. When players are ready to submit their solutions, they can simply go back to the office, select a solution, suspect, and supporting evidence and complete the case. While this may offer players a chance to use their deductive reasoning to solve the mystery, it eliminates any chance of building up to a climax at the end of the case. Gumshoe Online will disappoint those players looking for a solid engaging story with lots of plot twists and interesting, memorable characters..

The game also suffers from a time limit imposed on each case. While players can spend as much time as they need in any given room, moving from one room to another or traveling between various locations consumes time. If the time limit expires before players solve the case, they are required to restart. The allotted time is not short, however when there are a large number of places to explore, players can easily run out of time traveling from one location to another. To make things worse, even the locations where players may have analyzed thoroughly can change as the case progresses. Different people or objects may become available, requiring players to revisit locations. Especially since it is not always clear when or why the things available in a location can change, players can easily run out time as they try to figure out where they need to return. Rather than adding excitement to the game, the time limit feels like an unnecessary and annoying burden.

The conversation system implemented in the game can also be very problematic. Gumshoe Online uses a tolerance system to determine whether or not a character is willing to talk to the detective. As players ask questions, the tolerance level of characters goes down. Thus, players can potentially exhaust the tolerance of characters before asking all the vital questions and get stuck in the middle of the case. While the tolerance system does encourage players to choose their questions carefully, it does not necessarily add anything to the gameplay experience. Instead, the tolerance system creates uncertainty as players may struggle to solve the case without knowing whether or not they have missed a crucial piece of information by not asking all the right questions.

Another problem with Gumshoe Online is the repetitiveness of the puzzles. In all of the three cases that are currently available, players are required to find a crowbar and a set of lockpicks. While it may be too unrealistic to expect the detective to walk around with a crowbar, it is hard to explain why he would discard the lockpicks at the end of each case. The fact that the cases can be played in any order may provide justification for this, but the chore of finding the same two items three times does not become any less boring just because it can be justified. Adding to the repetitiveness are the abundant lockpicking and safecracking puzzles. Each of the currently available cases feature locks that can be picked after the lockpicks are located. The lockpicking interface makes an interesting puzzle at first, but after going through the process three or four times, it starts feeling like a chore. Similarly, the safecracking puzzle appears three times in the Moonshine case. While the puzzle is entertaining the first time around, the repetition can be frustrating.

A second problem with the game’s puzzles is that they sometimes feel very arbitrary. For instance, in The High Order of The Three case, the owner of a bookstore appears after players examine a number of other locations. The detective has no problems with going inside the store when the owner is absent. However, he refuses to go to the inner sections or the second floor of the store until the owner appears. It is hard to explain why a detective who has no issues breaking into buildings and opening other people’s safes will not go through a store that is open for business. Another example of the arbitrary puzzles is the torn or broken items. All three cases feature one or more items whose pieces have been seemingly randomly distributed across the town. It is difficult to conceive why anyone would go through the trouble of tearing something into pieces and hiding each piece in an obscure place. After all, destroying the item would have been much easier. It should of course be accepted that Gumshoe Online is a game and everything about a game does not have to be logical. However, this does not make it any less frustrating to pixel hunt for an item whose pieces are in five different locations for no apparent reason.

Thankfully, its various problems do not keep Gumshoe Online from being entertaining. Furthermore, the developers seem to be very willing to put in the effort to make the gaming experience better for players. Gumshoe Online is a relatively new Web community, and it is unique in the sense that each case will give the development team the ability to improve the overall gameplay. As more cases are released, the game can easily overcome its problems and grow into a very engaging experience that can be shared across the Web with many other players. As it stands today, Gumshoe Online cannot be compared with great games like the Broken Sword series or The Longest Journey. However, with its charming graphics, original concept, interesting cases, and potential for improvement, Gumshoe Online does have some good things to offer. With a free tutorial case and no need to install anything on your computer, Gumshoe Online is definitely worth a try.

PC System Requirements:
Internet Connection
Browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox,
Mozilla, Opera, and Netscape
Sound: MS Media Player, RealPlayer or
Quicktime plug-in required