When best-selling true crime author Regina Blacklock turns up dead, the police think it's suicide or an accident. Her friend Claire Washburn, chief medical examiner for San Francisco, knows better, and not just because Regina apparently scrawled Claire's name at the scene of the crime before she died. Women's Murder Club 4: Little Black Lies is a hidden-object mystery adventure about a little town and a very big secret. Based on the best-selling books by James Patterson, the Women's Murder Club series is about four women who are frequently drawn together to use their varying skills to solve mysteries. Which is entirely different from the murder club I have with my friends... uh... forget I said that.
Swapping perspectives between the women, you'll solve puzzles and search for clues in a remote town that would like to pull in the tourists, but resents you prying around old wounds. See, Regina, it turns out, had intended to use a 35-year-old unsolved murder as the basis for her next book; a young girl who was rumoured to be involved with a cult, and was discovered dismembered decades ago. Although the police had their suspects, they couldn't prove anything... but Regina might have gotten a little too close to the truth in her investigations. Sounds like a good time for you to go sticking your nose in, too, eh?
Most of the game is played like a standard point-and-click, searching locales for items or points of interest and gathering inventory objects to be used later. Hidden-object scenes are marked with shimmering sparkles (ooooh) and playing one will net you a few items you'll need to use. Most of the puzzling is split equally between figuring out what item you need to use where, and good ol' fashioned brain twisters. If you get stuck, clicking on the recharging flashlight next to your character's portrait will give you a clue. The game also comes with a built-in strategy guide that can be accessed at any time by clicking on the folder icon in the bottom right corner.
Analysis: I've never read any of James Patterson's books, but Little Black Lies reminds me of what I call "afternoon snacks"; short, pulpy novels you devour in a sitting. All the characters and plot points are about what you'd expect in your typical contemporary mystery story, up to and including the usual small town stereotypes. If you've read a suspense story written within the last twenty years, you've probably seen variations on all these characters before. And yet, it works. It's entertaining, has a few good twists, and most importantly, is told well. Things unfold at a natural pace, and the game is good at giving out just enough clues to keep you interested. The story isn't going to break any new ground, but it's got a likable cast, and is at least as interesting as most of your standard lineup of cop dramas. If you enjoy NCIS, CSI, L&O, or any other random grouping of letters, you'll probably enjoy this too. (Speaking of, isn't it about time Crossing Jordan got its own hidden-object game?)
The grim and gritty atmosphere the story calls for doesn't quite make it into the gameplay, which isn't that challenging, and is occasionally downright goofy. Characters tend to make large leaps of logic and do things that seem absolutely pointless just because the plot requires them to, or because it makes the game longer. It's also a little disappointing that the game involves so much backtracking and in such a limited range; you'll explore the same places repeatedly with different characters, usually with only minor changes, and solve the same hidden object scenes multiple times before you see any new locations. Even then, the game still sends you back to places you've been before, over and over, until you're ready to set that freaking library on fire just to change the scenery and... uh... sorry... went to a place there that was kinda... hm. Where was I?
But despite this, Little Black Lies is a solid title. It's incredibly well presented, with great artwork, sleek interfaces, and a nicely done soundtrack. It's great to see such a professional piece of work come out on the market, and while fans will be happy to see their favourite characters return true to form, newcomers (such as myself) will also find the game fun and accessible. It's not incredibly original, but it will provide a satisfying chunk of creepy mystery solving to keep you sniffing for clues for a good long while.