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

It’s time to put on your detective hats, grab a new notepad, and hit the streets for clues. Gumshoe Online is back with an exciting new case and the gaming experience is better than ever!

When it was originally reviewed several months ago, Gumshoe Online was a Web-based adventure game with some gameplay problems and a lot of potential. The game offered players a chance to work as a private investigator in a corrupt city in the 1930’s. Two mysteries were available for purchase along with the free tutorial mystery. The gameplay consisted of investigating various locations and interviewing suspects for clues to unlock the mystery. Solutions became available as players continued the investigation. Players were challenged to identify the correct solution, choose the right suspects, and provide supporting evidence to prove the case. While the core concept was sound, the game was plagued by a set of problems like a pesky time limit on each case and repetitive puzzles. Fortunately, the release of the latest case, Something in the Water, marks an overall improvement in Gumshoe Online. Something in the Water is a significantly longer and more engaging mystery than the previous two cases. In addition, changes made to the core game mechanics should improve the gameplay experience in the older cases.

The basic gameplay in Something in the Water is not different than the older Gumshoe mysteries. The investigation consists of visiting various locations, interrogating characters, and looking for clues. As players delve deeper into the mystery and solve the various puzzles, more locations will become available. This time around, players will be trying to discover who is threatening Wheaton City’s primary supply of water. The case begins shortly after the owner of the city’s main water plant receives a letter threatening that the water supply will be poisoned unless a large sum of money is provided. In order to avoid creating panic among the citizens, the owner decides to hire a private investigator to look into the matter. It will be up to the players to discover who wrote the letter and stop them before the entire city is poisoned.

The plot development in Something in the Water seems to be better-handled than the previous cases. As players go through different locations and talk to the various characters, additional information is slowly revealed, taking the investigation in different directions. Occasional scripted events will offer plot twists deepening the mystery and causing the players to question their initial analyses. Clues found throughout the case will seem to incriminate a number of suspects. Only a careful analysis of all locations and available clues will reveal the truth. While the facts at the end of the case should fairly clearly point to a specific solution, Something in the Water should keep players guessing until late in the case.

What fundamentally sets Something in the Water apart from the other Gumshoe mysteries is the length of the case and the diversity of its challenges. According to Iwan Roberts from Gumshoe Online, the case features 23 new characters, over 140 rooms throughout 11 different locations, and over 180 clues. The case also features a diverse set of puzzles. The abundance of lock-picking puzzles in the previous cases and the three safecracking puzzles in the Moonshine case created a feeling of repetitiveness. Something in the Water seems to do a much better job of offering a unique puzzles. The fundamental mechanics behind every single puzzle is not completely unique; however, by simply providing a different setting and look and feel for each puzzle, Something in the Water takes away the repetitiveness and makes the puzzle-solving process much more entertaining. The large number of locations, the abundance of clues, and a solid number of distinct puzzles not only provide a bigger challenge, but also help Something in the Water feel like a complete game. With an estimated 7 to 9 hour completion time, Something in the Water could easily stand on its own as a complete Web-based adventure game.

The general changes made to Gumshoe Online also contribute to improve the gameplay experience. Players can now save their games at any time. Previously, when players left the game, their progress was automatically saved, but they had to restart from the detective’s office every time the logged into the community. Now the game allows players to resume play from the last location they visited. Gumshoe Online also offers three save game slots to each player. Having the save-game functionality allows players to work on multiple cases at once, which was not an option in the earlier version. The game now also allows players to combine inventory items to make new objects. Something in the Water requires players to use this functionality in several places, adding to the depth of the game. Other new features include the addition of background music, the inclusion of PayPal as a method to pay for cases, and new puzzle types.

Perhaps the biggest technical improvement in Gumshoe Online since the original review is the removal of a feature. The game no longer imposes a time limit on the cases. The previous version forced players to complete the case within a certain amount of in-game time. In Gumshoe Online, time does not pass while players are at a specific location. However, actions like changing rooms within a location, or going from one location to another causes time to move forward. Initially, Gumshoe Online required players to complete the case before a predetermined amount of in-game time expired. This restriction meant that players could visit locations only a certain number of times and forced them to discover as many relevant clues as possible on the first visit. Players faced the frustration of restarting the case from scratch if they allowed the time limit to expire. The removal of the limit allows players to enjoy the game at a more relaxed pace and lets them revisit locations as many times as needed.

The Web community of Gumshoe Online has also evolved dramatically since the original review. The game Web site continues to feature a forum for players to discuss available cases. The forum now has a significant number of users who make regular posts. Many players ask for help about various portions of the available mysteries. The players who have already made it past those stages always seem to be willing to help, providing hints on the forum itself or sending solutions through private messages. (Special thanks goes to Suz who helped me when I was stuck at one point in Something in the Water.) Especially the more veteran members of the forum seem to try very hard to assist other players. If you are stuck at any point in a case, there is a good chance there is already a thread with hints available. Arguably, this is better than the walkthroughs you can find for most other adventure games since the forum can provide hints to help players discover what to do instead of just giving away the solution. As more cases are added to the site, the Gumshoe Online community will undoubtedly grow, adding a social aspect to the gaming experience as well as serving as an excellent source for help.

Gumshoe Online most certainly seems to be headed in the right direction, however all of the problems with the game have not been resolved. The event scripting in the game could be better. For instance, solving puzzles in one location seems to occasionally trigger the appearance or disappearance of characters in a completely unrelated location. By controlling the behavior of the characters in this manner, the game forces players to discover major clues in a specific order. The main problem with this structure is that players will have to revisit locations several times after solving puzzles just to make sure nothing important has changed. The game would perhaps be better-paced and players would not have to do any unnecessary backtracking if such arbitrary restrictions could be avoided.

A less significant, but nevertheless noticeable problem is the detective’s inconsistent behavior. For instance, right after breaking into an office, the detective refuses to look at a letter since it is not addressed to him. After picking the lock at a different office, the detective refuses to look through the pockets of a coat, because he’s apparently not that sort of guy. Yet in a different room, he does examine a different coat and announces the pockets are empty. It is hard to explain why someone who has no problems with picking locks to enter private offices or taking personal items as evidence will not thoroughly examine other objects that could be equally relevant. The game also continues to feature pieces of torn items randomly distributed around the city. It seems like the suspects in Wheaton City have a curious habit of distributing pieces of important clues across various different locations for no apparent reason.

Despite a few problems, Gumshoe Online is shaping up to be a good Web-based adventure game. The development team certainly seems to be focused on improving the player experience with each update. The latest case is a testament to their efforts to make the mysteries longer and more engaging, providing better value to the players. The overall improvements to the game interface, especially the removal of the time limit, have served to make Gumshoe Online more entertaining. The staff seems to be interested in hearing player feedback and willing to make changes. Finally, an excellent user community adds a level of depth to Gumshoe Online that is hard to find in many other games.

The final grade is 81/100 raised from 75/100 on the original Gumshoe Online review.

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