It was an easier time, a simpler time. The concept of the nuclear family had yet to become an ancient relic and kids still went to the malt shop after school to share a soda. Gas station attendants didn't just pump your gas but wiped your windshield and checked your oil, and milkmen still dropped off glass jugs of milk on your front doorstep. For some it was as close to utopia as we ever got. And yet, in this postcard perfect picture of America, just along the fingernail thin white borders, there's plenty enough room for murder to creep in.
A high end plastic surgeon and an upper crust debutante are engaged, or at least they were until the good doctor mysteriously broke it off for hardly any reason at all. When he is found dead shortly thereafter, the girl's brother, famed socialite Walter Vanderbilt, becomes the prime suspect.
That's where you come in. Baxter, Al Baxter, retired police detective turned private eye. Under the employ of an indignant mother and a distraught sister, you must break through the stonewalls of the police department, and navigate the labyrinthine narratives of evidence to clear Walter's name. Or condemn him...
Your quest for the truth will take you across the country from star-studded sunny Southern California to the seedy underbelly of New York. Plot twists and turns await, and maybe just a little danger too in this, Uwe Sittig's freshman production of Dirty Split, a point-and-click adventure game with intrigue and style.
Analysis: Perhaps one of the most impressive things about Dirty Split is that this is the author's first venture in game design; a fact that I still find hard to believe. That's because once you get over the initial flaws, the entirety of the game exudes the kind of craftsmanship and polish found in far more experienced professional designers.
The artistry, an homage to the work of Josh Agle and the visual stylings of the late fifties and early sixties, is simply a treat, and mingles beautifully with the smooth jazz soundtrack. This combined with the top notch voice acting helps create a rather uncommon mood for a murder mystery; one that is surprisingly relaxed and subdued.
Indeed, when I think murder mystery, I typically revert to either the hardboiled gumshoes of prohibition era America, or the refined European gentleman detectives such as Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. Sittig dodges both sleuthing epochs as well as the high tech gadget riddled whodunits of the present to provide what is a truly unique experience in the genre. The fact that there's nary a bug to be found, and that the game is FREE, is all just icing on the cake.
Perhaps one of the saddest things about Dirty Split is that its more glaring faults are front-loaded in the game. Chief among these would be an exhaustive and repetitive dialogue script and poor puzzle choreography. For the dialogue, I understand where the game is going, you have to have some opening exposition to get a full grasp of what you're supposed to do. There's just too much of it and sticking with the game through the opening dialogue interactions can prove to be a test of one's patience.
As for puzzle choreography, I mean to say that Dirty Split seems off balance when it comes to finding that sweet spot where the tasks before your are relevant to the plotline, well timed, and suitably challenging. Unfortunately, just as you're dealing with all this dialogue, you find yourself also having to contend with tasks and pseudo puzzles which seem gratuitous and menial. This is too bad because after you get over this initial hurdle, Dirty Split really finds its rhythm.
Finally, I truly think that Uwe has found something of a star in his lead character Al Baxter. When I say this, I don't mean the kind of video game star that is juiced full of attitude a la Sam and Max or Sonic, but a more mellow kind of star that will appeal to a more reserved audience. More Mario than Sonic, more Trilby than Larry Laffer, Baxter eases his way through Dirty Split with a dry wit and a "Father Knows Best" kind of charm.
To sum up, if you're looking for a two-fisted, edge of your seat thriller, look elsewhere (though, as Uwe wrote to me, you may want to keep an eye out for his next release if that is what you are looking for). If, on the other hand, a calm afternoon spent solving a murder mystery with all the urgency of an afternoon tea sounds like a good idea, this is your game. A flawed jewel in its own right, I think this first (and hopefully not last) adventure of Al Baxter proves that Uwe Sittig will be a developer to keep an eye on.
(Note: Dirty Split is a rather tame game, but there are certain adult themes that may not be appropriate for younger children.)
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