Name: Cate West: The Vanishing Files – Wii
Genre: Seek and Find
Platform: Wii, PC (Reviewed on Wii)
The seek and find genre is not one that many gamers would consider giving a chance, but it has definitely found a casual audience on the PC and consoles. The latest offering in the “find a bunch of random items loosely tied to a story” category is Cate West: The Vanishing Files, a PC game ported to the Wii. The game does a good job of employing several different variations of the same basic formula, but unclear images and repetitive chapters keep the appeal limited.
In The Vanishing Files, Cate, an author plagued with psychic visions, assists the local law enforcement in solving a bunch of unsolved crimes. She does this, apparently, by searching for a variety of items in cluttered environments, using what she finds to solve the mystery. Eventually, she stumbles onto a mystery somehow connected to her father’s murder, and the plot thickens. Cate West does a decent job of tying the story to the actual gameplay, an area where some games in the genre are severely lacking. While the murder mystery, and smaller crimes that surround it, are somewhat interesting, the plot itself is not compelling enough to stand on its own, especially since the gameplay has absolutely no bearing on any aspect of the story.
There are fifteen chapters in The Vanishing Files, each one focusing on a specific crime and broken up into parts. First, there is the initial collecting of clues, in which Cate must visit a handful of locations around town and find items from a pre-determined checklist. These can be things you would actually expect to find at a crime scene, such as weapons, or as random as lobsters or butterflies. After finding the first batch of items, Cate must spot the differences between two locations (one a photograph, the other from her vision), look through more locations for more items, identify a criminal based on her psychic connection to some key pieces of evidence, and watch as a lawyer uses his seeking skills to incarcerate the perpetrator behind bars.
Other than actually identifying each criminal, which is comparable to the board game Guess Who?, each part of the game is basically a different way to point at a screen with the Wii remote and try to find something hidden there. This wouldn’t be so monotonous if each chapter wasn’t laid on exactly the same, or if locations weren’t recycled so often, but these factors can make Cate West repetitive. As the game goes on, the number of clues you need to collect increases, and identifying the criminal gets trickier as well. There is also a time limit for each activity, but the game gives you such an obscene amount of time that it doesn’t even matter, and also negates the thirty-second penalty incurred for clicking in the wrong place too often.
Though the gameplay can get kind of redundant, playing Cate West is fine in short spurts—perfect for the casual gamer. However, the game suffers from an even bigger problem, which is that it’s sometimes difficult to make out what you’re looking at. Considering that the entire game consists of finding hidden items onscreen, this can definitely be a hindrance. Sometimes the image is just not sharp enough, even with the use of the magnifying glass; other times, items don’t look like what they’re supposed to look like (that was a pair of slippers? I thought it was a green pepper!). The game does employ a hint system that allows you to ask for help, so you’ll never be permanently stuck, but it feels cheap to have to ask for a hint because I couldn’t make out a tiny black object in a blurry black background.
Overall, Cate West: The Vanishing Files does have some casual appeal, but it’s not the most polished game in the genre. I had to strain my eyes playing on a 42-inch television, so I can’t imagine what it would be like to play on a smaller set. Despite some problems, Cate West is still worth a try if you’re a fan of the genre, but if you’re not, this isn’t the game that will draw you in. Thirty dollars isn’t a bad price for fifteen chapters of investigative clue-finding, but the repetitiveness and unclear visuals might be a deterrent.