There’s no shortage of murder mystery games on iOS, so any new entries in the genre will have to do something pretty new and do it well to get attention. The Trace came out just a few days and immediately started attracting buzz on blogs and on the App Store, so I decided to give it a look.
The Trace places you in the shoes of a police investigator who arrives on the scene of a crime and must reconstruct what happened based on the evidence at the scene, much like CSI. In fact, once you have figured out the sequence of events, the game will play a cinematic flashback complete with zooms and slow motion depicting what happened.
The way you actually go about solving the crime is rather well done and intuitive. You move around the scene by tapping and can also swipe to look around wherever you are. If something looks interesting, you can tap it to go for a closer look which will allow you to gather evidence or interact in some way (for example, by typing a PIN into a computer). The things you can do are quite varied including scanning for fingerprints, assembling torn pieces of paper together, or making some quick electrical repairs.
Your investigation will generate questions, leads, and facts about the case. The game puts these all on a rubric which you can populate when you think you have enough facts to answer all the questions about what happened. It’s very satisfying to see the clues click into place and generate an answer which will then lead to a flashback showing you what happened. It really gives you the feeling that you are piecing together what happened alongside the detective (even though I’m sure real detective work isn’t anything like this).
This puzzle aspect of the game is fundamentally fair. A little common sense reasoning will allow you to figure out which clues you need, and when you have to complete basic tasks in order to get access to something, it won’t take you long to figure out what you need to do. The main challenge is searching the scene thoroughly enough to make sure that no corner goes unsearched and no clue goes unfound.
With all the things this game does very well, it still has one glaring weakness (which you’ve already figured out if you read the title). It’s just much too short. You only end up investigating three crime scenes which are all tied to the same story. After that, there’s nothing left. There are is no extra material or new mode to play. All you can do is play the game over again, but there is no replay value at all. I completed the game in an afternoon. You could say that at $4.99, the game is priced fairly since a movie ticket or DVD costs much more than that and will only give you two hours of entertainment. But the fact is there are games with much better value for your money available, and for that reason, I can’t give this my wholehearted recommendation. Keep an eye on the price, though. If it ever drops to $2.99, I would snap this up in an instant.