Have you ever fancied yourself as a detective? Do you watch shows like CSI, Criminal Minds and True Detective and think, “yeah, I could do that”? Well, look no further than Unsolved Case Files. Don your trenchcoat and fedora, pull on your gumshoes and try your hand at cracking some cold cases.
Unsolved Case Files consists of a whole stack of evidence reports, photos, witness statements and suspect interviews pertaining to fictional murder/theft case that has gone unsolved. These files are presented in a decent quality folder stored in a sealed evidence bag. As far as presentation goes, the level of care and effort put into it is impressive. You feel like you’re poring over the files of a real life cold case.
The writing, for the most part, is suitably immersive. The evidence reports and more formal files feel methodical and technical, as you would expect, without leaning on jargon which could make it impossible for a layman to follow. It does just enough to respect the role the players are adopting without being unnecessarily obtuse.
The informal dialogue used in statements and interviews are more of a mixed bag. They are always written as if spoken, with characters going on tangents and using ellipses to show when they lose their train of thought. This works well in the interview documents but can be jarring in the witness statements. It’s hard to imagine the friend of someone who was recently murdered writing about who they think will win the big game later in a witness statement to the police.
The photos are similarly polarizing. Most are perfectly fine, while others are so obviously photoshopped it’s impossible to take them seriously. None of these things are game breaking, however, which is a testament to the care that has been put into the game overall.
Solving The Case
Players must complete three objectives, given one after the other. They usually involve finding a discrepancy in the statements provided by suspects or finding something the original detectives overlooked; in the Harmony Ashcroft case, for example, the first objective is to prove the innocence of the suspect who was arrested for the crime. In the Max Cahill case, you need to work out how the killer got to the victim.
Along with the case files, the game comes with three bonus envelopes, to be opened when an objective is complete. The first two contain the next objective along with additional pieces of evidence which tend to be helpful in moving the case along, while the contents of the third wrap up the game’s story, often by way of a written confession.
Also, solving the third objective usually leads to a delightfully janky video of a news report about the case outlining the entire story, which is a nice little reward for beating the game.
Completing An Objective
This involves going to a provided website and answering a question or two, so internet access is required to play. Finding the evidence required is always a satisfying experience, but the complexity of the solution can sway wildly; some are so obscure that even after using the three hints available, we still had trouble figuring out what was actually going on.
Other times, the solution is so glaringly obvious you wonder how the original detectives managed to dress in the morning.
Each case goes to great lengths to obfuscate the truth and throw you off the scent. All of the suspects tend to have compelling reasons to commit the crime you are investigating. Even if their tendency to make this as clear as possible in a police interrogation seems a little unlikely. You can spend a lot of time reading the witness statements, suspect interviews, etc. And get to know the characters without it feeling like wasted time.
A lot of it might be irrelevant fluff or red herrings, but it is clear a lot of care has gone into ensuring each character has a distinct personality and could easily be involved in the story in some way.
There is a criticism here, however; often the objectives only require very specific clues in order to solve, so if more than two people are playing the game it can be that players don’t see all of the relevant evidence for long periods of time.
It can also be very clear which pieces of evidence are not relevant to a particular objective, and if you have realised that but are stuck with only evidence that you know will not move the game along, it can be frustrating. If you aren’t hooked by the case’s underlying story, there will be nothing for you to really contribute.
In other words, there is little downtime for players who want to engage with the entire story, but there is potential for players who simply want to solve the puzzle to get bored easily. I found two players to be optimal in my group; with each additional player, the chances of this happening would increase.
There is a lot of fun to be had with Unsolved Case Files. It is immersive and compelling, and so obviously well crafted. As with many other games like this, you get out what you put in; suspend disbelief, consider these characters as real people and allow yourself to take on the role of a PI. This is how you get the most out of this gem.
The immersion is pretty key to the experience, however, so if the idea of spending most of your time absorbing useless info or staring intently at photos with nothing on them fills you with dread, then perhaps this is not for you.
There is also a family friendly case about a stolen bunny, so if you have kids, you may find that worth a look.