Shades of inspector Clouseau. This is a game for all 'Who dun it' fans.
In L'Affaire Vera Cruz, you take on the role of a newly appointed detective sergeant in Saint Etienne's regional crime squad. Your first case is to investigate the mysterious death of Vera Cruz, whose body was discovered by a caretaker in the Forez apartment block. Was it suicide - or murder?
Proceeding in an orderly fashion, you arrive at the scene of the crime. A high res picture displays the murder scene. You are not allowed to touch the body or its surroundings, but you are allowed to photograph them for clues, searching the picture with a magnifying window which might highlight important details. It is easy to rush through this section of the game, in an attempt to get on with solving the crime, but painstaking efforts now pay dividends later on. Some of the evidence is certainly worth looking at more than once.
Having completed your preliminary enquiries, you make a list of all the evidence you have discovered. Then it is time to do battle with the real enemy of the piece, the French police computer system. Buried away in its multifarious files is the information you will need to solve the case - if you can find it.
The nerve centre of the system is the research co-ordination centre at Lyon. This gives criminal records of suspects, some addresses and photographs, information about vehicle registration and ownership and other interesting snippets.
The Saint Etienne police squad is linked directly to Lyon, as are other police squads throughout France. But, not all relevant information is passed to Lyon, so you may have to contact other police squads.
The prison service is also linked to the system and contains important facts about prisoners and ex-prisoners. Unfortunately, most of these facts are kept at individual prisons, so they will have to be approached separately, providing, of course, you know which prison to approach.
So you delve into the system and begin to build up your case. This involves taking statements from suspects, comparing the evidence and conducting examinations such as autopsies. Sounds simple doesn't it? It isn't.
The key to the game is knowing what questions to ask and who to put them to. To take a statement, though, you must be able to provide both a name and an address or location. If you want to trace a car, you will need the full registration. None of these facts are provided for free.
This is where Vera Cruz is so different from games like Cluedo. You are not given a list of suspects, Colonel Mustard, Miss Scarlet, etc, nor a list of possible murder weapons. You must form your own list of suspects, decide upon their motives and whether or not they are lying, and draw your own conclusions. The failure to ask a particular question, of the right source, could mean that you fail to uncover a whole number of important suspects.
Just as important is the element of uncertainty. You may have uncovered all the relevant information and potential suspects, but you have no way of knowing whether you have missed something vital or not. As in real-life investigation, you will be operating in a state of uncertainty.
If in doubt, follow the police's example: go back to the beginning and re-examine all the evidence. Look for correlations which you may have missed and questions which remain unanswered. The printer option, which enables you to print out the evidence, is extremely helpful in keeping track of the investigation. But, don't forget that there may be advantages in returning to the original source.
Don't despair if you become completely stuck. Not even Sherlock Holmes solved every case. But, you might want to take a leaf out of Sherlock's book and acquire a Dr Watson. Get a friend to have a go at the game - a fresh viewpoint often brings surprising results.
Infogrames' Vera a Cruz, written by Gilles Blancon and converted for the Spectrum by Malcolm Herd, is an intricate puzzle which will take many hours of playing time to solve. My only real gripe, other than the idiocies of the French police computer system, which probably reflect the real thing, concerns the instructions. They give almost no help - maybe that's part of the game.
Certainly, the instructions were deliberately written to provide just enough information to play the game without actually being 'helpful'. Personally, I think I need all the help I can get.
The graphics are simple and straightforward and provide a much-needed break from the mental task of working out who did what to whom. I particularly like the photographs which accompany the police files on certain suspects. If all else fails, you can always decide who the guilty party is by seeing whose eyebrows are too close together.
The game actually provides a real insight into the way police investigations are conducted. No Miami Vice heroics, no screaming car chases, no street shoot outs, just lots of slow plodding hard work, taking statements and questioning witnesses to build up a picture of what really happened.
Where the game really scores is the way your fascination grows as you get deeper into the case. You are drawn into the investigation just as the much as any of the suspects you uncover. Spider-like, you are weaving a web which nets some surprising victims.
What is the Morrocan connection? Is the French military really involved? Who did Vera write her last letter to? Did she even write the letter or is it a forgery? The answer to these and other questions will be revealed when you start playing the game... maybe.
So, do you fancy yourself as a detective, are you an Agatha Christie fan, have you ever wanted to pit your wits against the great fictional detectives? Vera Cruz provides a stiff test for your powers of deduction and stamina.
As for who really did do it - I'm not telling. Whether I'm not telling because I didn't find out, or because I don't want to spoil the surprise, I will leave for you to deduce...
Author: Gilles Blancon
Reviewer: Brenda Gore
Very original and inventive game of deduction - has an authentic feel of real police work.
Photograph everything - you can never be too carefulList all the evidence.Build up you own files on suspects, places, objects and look for connections.Only arrest a suspect if you are sure of your case.Don't forget to take statements.Don't be discouraged - this game will take time.
Who dun it? A dead body, a pistol and blood on the floor. Plenty of clues, but few answers Vera's diary. What names are written inside.
Vera Cruz. What did she know that was worth killing her for?
Morroco bound. Who is this man? What does he know?
Gilles Blanc. An ex-con. Has he reformed or is he the villain? What role did his brother play? How is he linked to Vera Cruz?