A serial killer pulls a young FBI agent into a deadly game of cat and mouse. Tension builds, victims increase, and she is only step behind in the bloody high-stakes game. Can the homicidal mastermind be stopped in time?
While these few sentences might describe the next Hollywood blockbuster or New York Times best seller, it’s also the premise for Art of Murder: Cards of Destiny. Does it measure up or fall flat? Neither. It hits somewhere right in the middle.
Take a moment and think of a cheesy, made-for-TV movie. Maybe you’re recalling a mystery movie shown by The Hallmark Channel or a bad monster movie on the SyFy Channel. It might be entertaining, but you’re not expecting stellar acting and phenomenal writing. It just doesn’t have the same draw as one you would pay to see on the big screen. That is the exact feeling that I received from Cards of Destiny: enjoyable but average.
In stereotypical adventure game fashion, the cursor changes to indicate when you can interact with an item or where you can move in for a closer inspection. Nicole Bonnet, your FBI character, is moved by clicking on-screen. Double clicking will cause her to run, which is helpful when covering territory that you’ve already seen.
I know what you’re thinking: classic point-and-click adventure games equals pixel hunting and frustration. Cards of Destiny does a few things to try and avoid the common pitfalls. First, Nicole will talk to herself and mention what she thinks should be scrutinized or approached. These little comments not only function as a built in help system but also infuse personality into her character. Second, if her musings aren’t enough, there’s a “?” button that you can click. Doing so will highlight all of the items and locations on-screen that deserve your attention.
Even though she’s an FBI agent, Nicole quickly turns into a kleptomaniac by taking everything that looks useful. Items can be manually inspected with the naked eye or processed by FBI forensics for in-depth information. You’ll need to find the right combination of items in your inventory to interact with the environment. The majority of the combinations make sense but problems show up when sequences or puzzles can only be solved by trial and error.
If it takes a lot of items and work to progress, Nicole might say, “I finally did it!” It’s nice that the developers acknowledge that they created a tough puzzle. Unfortunately, they then make you double back to a previous location numerous times unnecessarily. I would try to pick up a camera or roll of film knowing I would need it later, but Nicole would say, “I’m not going to take that right now. I can always come back later if necessary.” Why not just take it now and save time? You are chasing a serial killer after all.
Thankfully, the action keeps the majority of the story moving at a good pace. Nicole travels to varied locations including an abandoned carnival, a snowy farm, and the Louisiana Bayou. Each area is only shown from one perspective, but the angles are mostly well chosen to add to the tense atmosphere. The sense of impending danger is palpable at times and I felt compelled to play “just a little longer” for the next scene.If you are scoring at home, I’ve been quite favorable about Cards of Destiny. It has some of the building blocks necessary to make it an enjoyable experience, but it completely stumbles with dialogue and character animations. When engaged in a conversation, the characters will sway back in forth or gesture repeatedly in short animation loops.
The dialog also felt disjointed and sometimes confusing. I’m not sure if the actors skipped a few lines or if the writing was just that bad. The conversation made massive jumps to different topics and Nicole even cracked a joke about a serial killer. Wait, what? To top it off, a number of recorded lines (like saying goodbye) were reused over and over again. It would have been easy to overlook if the voice actors didn’t give the statements exaggerated inflection that sounded odd the first time, let alone the seventh
Other foibles quickly add up. The talking will stop and give you only one “option” to continue the conversation. Why make me click to keep it moving? At one point, Nicole takes a personal phone call telling her grievous news about a family member. It not only doesn’t fit into the story (it’s never mentioned again) but Nicole has no emotional reaction. The voice acting proves to be hit or miss even with different lines from the same character.
Lastly, I also need to talk about the movies used for action sequences in game. The graphics definitely look dated. I don’t need Crysis-level visuals to enjoy a game. However, with low resolution and blocky character animation, it felt like I was watching a game made five or more years ago. It didn’t kill the experience but it’s worth noting
Art of Murder: Cards of Destiny is a guilty pleasure, almost like a TV movie with C-list actors. A few of the cards in the deck are winners. The story and puzzles were interesting and smart enough to keep me involved. I also enjoyed the locations and sense of dread as I chased the serial killer. However, the voice acting, dialogue and character animations were bad enough to bring the entire experience down. If you’re a fan of the genre, Art of Murder: Cards of Destiny is a decent budget title worthy of its bargain bin price. If you aren’t, then this title won’t change your mind.