I thought I’d skip the smart guy intro and get straight into the story for this one.
You have just been appointed Detective Sergeant in the Crime Squad at Saint Etienne, a place known to you, me and every one else who has sat through those interminably boring French lessons at school as just another faceless town on a that country’s wallchart. As an Officer of the Police and in your capacity as a Judicial Police Officer, you are capable of leading any criminal investigation (which rules out any comparison to the luckless Clouseau, not to mention the fact that I can’t even spell Clouseau).
No sooner have you taken up your new post than you are called upon to investigate what the press are fast terming L’Affaire Vera Cruz, or, in English, another one of those flippin’ Infogrames grames, sorry, games. On the 8th of August 1986 you are notified by the caretaker at the Forest apartment block of the discovery of a body. It has been provisionally identified as one of the residents and, from the caretaker’s description, it is believed to be a case of suicide with a shotgun as the weapon involved (although I could only find a 9mm pistol).
You and your team must go to the murder scene to ascertain the facts which, in actuality, involves moving a camera around a picture (you know, the one with the attractive young lady lying on the ground). When the cursor lies over some interesting object, like a handbag or ashtray for example, then you take an instant picture which pops up onto the screen. It’s worth noting here that the diary needs two photographs — one just shows the outside and it is the second which reveals the very important names inside. It is very easy to miss details here and to rush onto the second investigative part which loads next but, no doubt, like myself, you will resort to sweeping the screen systematically with your viewfinder in order to unearth all the details this scene holds. It would take a Clouseau sense of the inappropriate to try to commit these facts to memory and not to make good use of your notebook.
So onto Part Two and this is where the pace slows, not just because of the need to think out and to see through each investigation, but also because the instructions are inadequate leaving you to flounder in a most Clouseau-like fashion (oh crumbs, there I go mentioning that infamous French clot again, a right cliched review this one’s turning into). The State Police Force is one of the oldest French institutions since its origins date back to Napoleon. Its experience regarding judicial matters has led it to computerise rapidly, far in advance of similar services in other countries. So, in addition to traditional methods such as comparing evidence, interviews, sifting through alibis, you can use the Diamond Computer Network. Mastering this sophisticated system is far from easy but once achieved will ensure the tieing together of justice departments, prison administrations and other police services along with the overall body, the National Police HQ.
Code M for message is the first of many access procedures for the Diamond Network. A message addressed to any service must include the code for that service and its base town and must impart as much information as possible.
The P Code stands for printer and this refers to a printer connected to your Spectrum. It must be an 80 column printer, otherwise you’re with all the rest who must take notes manually.
S is for Statement. To hear someone’s statement you need to know, not surprisingly, their name and whereabouts. E for Examinations encompass things like Autopsy while Comparison allows evidence to be correlated and compared, for example, an alibi from one suspect can be compared to the evidence of another. If you are certain of someone’s guilt it only remains for you to arrest the culprit, but arbitrary arrest is the sign of a, oh go on, say it, a... Clouseau type of incompetent.
L’Affaire Vera Cruz is a much more promising release than Infogrames’ last — Mandragore — but it fails just as much in presentation to the reviewer. Little help is given to get through what is a very complex game and one can’t help but develop a healthy suspicion of games which are just dumped in laps; is it that the company doesn’t want the reviewer to get far enough to see through the game? Leaving such weighty considerations aside what can be said is that the program has an irritating auto-repeat on its input routine and the second part of the game chooses blinding white as its background colour (in fact the whole lot, including the super photofits of suspects, are all boring black and white). Regular readers of this column need no reminder of what I think of that idea!
Difficulty: very hard to get into the second part
Graphics: very good
Presentation: neat, but that blinding white!
Input facility: keywords and sentences
General rating: good detective yarn