Puzzle games have a fine line to walk. How does one test the intelligence, resourcefulness, and intuition of the player without slamming them into a brick wall? Is the fun in gathering the facts, processing the investigation, or the elation of feeling like a genius after tackling a particularly tricky test? Unfortunately, in Crime O’Clock, it is none of the above. Somehow, this game is tedious, boring, difficult, and exasperating all the the same time.
You’re probably wondering why I brought you all here tonight, to the scene of the crime that is Crime O’Clock. Here are the facts of the case: you’re given a large black-and-white map of a very busy urban area, filled to the brim with people, animals, and activities. And crime, of course. Lots of it. An AI named EVE, who is essentially a TVA Time Cop from Loki, is your new detective partner. An entity is creating time anomalies that must be stopped, but we have no idea what the fiendish interloper’s goal is – or who they’re working for.
Each level, EVE takes the player to one of a few gigantic zoomable maps where you are directed to locate a crime. Then, you’ll work backwards, with EVE changing the time of day (from Tick 1 to Tick 10) in order to find out why the crime occurred. You can probably piece together the basic idea already – at Tick 5, I saw a Sheep Man with a funny hat buying a bottle of poison. At Tick 8, I see the Professor is dead – of poison! Let’s run back to Tick 4, then 3, and so on until we find out when exactly the time anomalies intervened.
This general game loop pitch is what got me interested in Crime O’Clock, but I feel there is a glaring issue they didn’t mention: every single second of this is directed, step-by-step. There is no point in this point-and-click puzzle game where you must actually use your brain. Your mission will be up in the corner – perhaps it’s “Find the thief”. EVE takes you back to Tick 6. Okay, find the thief. Click on them. Five paragraphs of time-travel and faux tech-speak later, and I have my new mission. Back to Tick 5 now. “Find the thief.” Wearily, I push my glasses up my nose as I see the time. It has been 22 minutes I have been staring at this map looking for the thief. I weep.
You’d like a hint? Well, certainly. I can give you a hint to where the small, black circle symbol that signifies a time matrix is on this vast, highly detailed map. Great, on to the next one, then. Oh, you’d like another hint? No, no, we don’t do that here. You’ll need to wait 32 real time minutes in order to be given another hint!
I am still reeling at the hint system the developers chose for Crime O’Clock. When I got completely stuck and didn’t know where to look, and I was out of hints, I literally had to just leave the game running and go make lunch. When I came back to my desk, the 32 minutes had expired and I was able to get the hint I needed to progress. This is utterly deranged. Every other puzzle game in history has gotten by on giving players the ability to ask for hints if they are needed. The actually expect me to stare at this single screen for a half-hour.
Crime O’Clock is basically a guided tour the entire way through. EVE tells you what to do one step at a time, every time, over and over. It never makes any attempt to test your intelligence, only how good you are at squinting at a single image for 18 minutes searching desperately for a chicken wearing an Assassin’s Creed hood. EVE even does all the reasoning for you every single quest, saying things like “Oh, did you see that? That guy is holding an ice cream cone, and it hasn’t melted, so he must have just gotten it! Let’s find an ice cream stand!” Essentially, the part of puzzles that makes them puzzles (solving them) has been removed from the equation completely.
Every so often, EVE will come up with some new power it just remembered it had, and will open its database to initiate some kind of scan. Each of these lead to what I can only describe as the dumbest mini-games I’ve ever seen. It’s literally a matter of clicking an arrow three times, then the symbol is highlighted and EVE congratulates you for cracking the code. Then you are given one of the worst tutorial explanations I’ve ever seen for how to use a time-tuning fork, and stare at the screen dumbfounded because half the words in the explanation are made-up techno jargon. At this point, you realize the real crime was you all along.
While I did not have a single second of fun playing Crime O’Clock, it’s not without its merits. I love the art style and shading. Until I started losing my mind a few hours in, I thought the dialogue was pretty funny. There’s a lot of fun Easter Eggs hidden in each image – see if you can spot Rick and Morty, or Aladdin, or even the characters from Journey. I absolutely love the UI, with its curved but striking black lines, solid colors, and great use of space. It’s easy to know what everything on the HUD is and what it means. The music is also kind of a bop, especially the main menu theme.
I think the best thing about Crime O’Clock is that it reminded me of the old I Spy books from when I was a child. I was fascinated with them, and I think at one point owned every one of them. You’d search carefully through real life meticulously-created miniature worlds for small items that blended in with the backgrounds and goings-on, and feel a sense of satisfaction when you finished a page. I think that is the basic concept Crime O’Clock wanted to hit, but it missed the mark completely. By adding so many layers of gameplay elements to this basic idea, the very basic fun of finding a thing someone tried to hide from you is removed entirely.
Ultimately, there is no fun to be had in Crime O’Clock. Staring at the same huge, densely populated image for hours while the tutorial bot, who never leaves, spouts cryptic techno-babble about time travel is going to drive you up the wall. The time travel part of Crime O’Clock barely makes a difference, as in practicality each task is just finding some inscrutable symbol or unremarkable character in this vast ocean of black lines. The entire game feels like a tutorial, and frankly it does a terrible job at teaching the player what the new upgrades are or why they’re even in the game. I do not recommend Crime O’Clock to anyone. Go get an I Spy book instead.
Nirav played Crime O’Clock on PC with a key provided by the publisher. This game is available now on Nintendo Switch and will be available on PC soon.