How to Shoot a Criminal from Pandorica
It’s impossible to discuss How to Shoot a Criminal without mentioning Sam Barlowe’s award-winning Her Story. Both games task the player with unraveling a story in fragments by assembling a series of full-motion video (FMV) scenes. Both also feature a keyword search system to unlock the scenes. Where Her Story made innovative use of both FMV and nonlinear storytelling, however, How to Shoot a Criminal falls flat, at best coming off as an homage.
Tell Instead of Show
The central conceit of Her Story was that the video clips from which the story unfolds are interrogation footage from a murder investigation – an innovative means of tying the FMV presentation with the game’s central themes.
How to Shoot a Criminal, on the other hand, concerns itself with a newspaper in the 1920s, and specifically the efforts of its staff to take down its power-mad editor-in-chief. The clips are presented as memory flashbacks, but it would perhaps have been more effective to present actual newspaper clippings.
Making matters worse, the keyword parser seems to be missing a lot of obvious words. In Her Story, each clip unlocked bits of plot that could lead the player’s “investigation” in multiple directions, requiring careful attention and note-taking.
The clips in How to Shoot a Criminal drop loads of what seem like hints, but entering them as search terms provide no results more often than not.
An example: an important memory revolves around a document regarding a “Polish man,” but entering “Polish” into the search box yields no results. Unlocking additional video – or, later in the game, audio – information feels like guesswork as much as anything else.
An additional quibble: lack of editing and proofreading. Admittedly, the game is translated adequately from its original French (the FMV scenes are subtitled in English), but there are enough grammatical and typographical errors to be distracting. Especially in a game about newspaper editors.
Black and White and Read All Over
How to Shoot a Criminal does have a lot of positive things going for it — the story, while a bit slow to start, is intriguing, so is the way it’s presented. The game’s interface uses a stark black and white color scheme with occasional hints of red for emphasis. The FMV clips show attention to detail and really capture a sense of ‘30s-era decadence, despite the initial seeming incongruity of a group of young, wealthy New Yorkers speaking French.
Unfortunately, the game’s more stylish elements don’t quite make up for an interface and a mechanic that doesn’t entirely work. The end result is ambitious but flawed. What could have been an engrossing narrative experience ended up feeling frustrating and clumsy.
How to Shoot a Criminal is available via Steam.
Watch the official trailer for How to Shoot a Criminal below: