These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play.
The Trace starts out like all good murder mysteries do: You play Baltimore police detective Sam Pearce, investigating an apparent suicide that turns out to be a murder. You’re aided by your lab partner, Alex, who checks in occasionally via phone, and a forensic flashlight that you can use to examine objects for clues, such as blood, fibers, and fingerprints. As you discover clues, you start to piece together a larger web of questions, which ends up leading you to the answer of whodunit?
At first, The Trace looks a little like other titles I’ve played from the App Store—it’s a point-and-tap adventure, part escape-the-room and part hidden-object, with a bit of puzzle-solving mixed in. But unlike other titles, which seem to be thrown together a bit haphazardly (think escape-the-room games in which the objects you find make absolutely no sense), The Trace is a precisely planned-out mystery with a strong, well-written script. You won’t feel like you’re blindly scrambling to find clues that aren’t even tangentially related to the case—every clue you find, and every question you answer, has a clear logical, connection.
The puzzles are just the right amount of challenging to keep you on your toes without frustrating you for days. But if a nicely plotted puzzler isn’t enough to convince you, here are three more reasons to play:
It has an impressive 3D environment: This game looks fantastic right off the bat—everything looks realistic and appropriately gritty, from the second you turn the doorknob and enter the first scene (a garage, with a dead body peeking out from underneath a hydraulic car lift). But it’s not particularly impressive until you pick up the first object to examine—the lift’s control box, which is dangling from the dead man’s hand. You’re still in the tutorial mode at this point, so on-screen instructions will walk you through this, but you end up swiping the control box to turn it around so you can see all sides of it. And here’s where you’ll see that Relentless Software really worked on getting its 3D environment just right—from now on, objects you pick up can be thoroughly examined, almost as thoroughly as if you were holding them in real life.
You’ll also find that The Trace’s environment is extremely searchable—which makes for a much more interesting, and more challenging, game. Sure, some drawers are locked, and a stack of file cabinets in the auto garage’s office will appear “uninteresting” (unsearchable) to your character, but for the most part, any drawer or cabinet you want to look inside can be opened and searched. Obviously, not all of these drawers and cabinets will yield clues, but you’ll feel fully immersed in the game.
You’ll discover leads and answer questions: TheTrace is not all point-and-tap object examining—you also have a murder mystery to solve! As you find clues, you’re presented with questions (“leads”) and answers (“clues”). The questions appear as a connected web, and some require two or three different clues to solve. When you find a new question/lead, a new question mark appears on your web—tap it, and you’ll see the question, as well as how many clues you need to solve it. For example, the first lead you find is “Did the deceased lower the hydraulic platform himself?” and the first clue is a fingerprint that, when scanned, does not belong to the deceased. Add two and two together—that is, drag the clue to the lead’s clue slot—and poof: You have an answered question, and you’ve completed one (small) part of your web.
As a reward, completing certain sections of the web yields short, revealing cut-scenes.
No hints and no waiting: I play a lot of detective-style iOS games (many are of the hidden-object genre), and almost all of the ones I’ve played have a hint system. But TheTrace has no hint system, and I think that’s a good choice. Most hint systems are either too easy but “expensive” (you’ll have to wait ages for them to replenish, or you’ll have to purchase them with premium currency), or “cheaper” but extremely vague. Instead of a hint system, The Trace gives you a social option—if you get stuck, you can Tweet about it for help. I didn’t end up using the Tweet system (though I did get stuck a few times), but it seems like a nice balance between “too hard” and “too easy” hints.
Because this is a paid title, there’s also no waiting for energy or points to replenish as you explore the scenes. As a result, you’ll get through the three-chapter storyline fairly quickly, but not once will you feel wrenched out of the story because your “caffeine level” or some such nonsense is too low. For some, The Trace will feel a little on the short side, but the story is so well written that, by the end of it, you’ll feel like you’ve solved a real mystery.