James Patterson's new Facebook game Catch a Killer is being billed as the first 'mature' game on the social network. And once you start playing, that's all too apparent. The mystery game - created by the prolific author in conjunction with Sony Online Entertainment - features piles of dead bodies, blood spattered around locations like a Jackson Pollack painting and interrogation subjects who drop the occasional four letter word.
This type of mature content is nothing you haven't seen on CSI or the umpteen other cop/forensic shows on TV, but this is the one of the first times this type of content has made an appearance in a big-name Facebook game. (Before you sound the secret alarm and launch a million PTA meetings around the world -- don't. If you're under 13, you are not allowed to access to the game as per Facebook's rules and regulations.)
If you're someone of age, like me, who has been looking for something a little more engrossing than repeatedly planting crops and collecting taxes from virtual homeowners -- Catch a Killer delivers more often than not. All of the previously mentioned mature content is all part of a series of murder mysteries which you will solve with the help of forensic psychologist and Patterson's most famous fictional character, Alex Cross.
Each mystery kicks off with a movie/animation that sets up the story, usually a murder. You're then called in to examine the crime scene (by playing a hidden object game) and look for evidence. Then, you examine the evidence for clues by solving puzzles, such as matching DNA from a blood sample or putting together a puzzle to identify a set of finger prints. You'll also occasionally interrogate suspects choosing the right dialogue to get the information you want. It's hard to tell if there are consequences for choosing the wrong dialogue, which kind of seems to negate the whole 'game' part of these particular segments. So far, a lot of the missions require you to repeat the same activities over and over, but the varied storylines do a good job at keeping you involved.
Catch a Killer looks and plays like games that are available for download (Mystery Case Files comes to mind) and cost upwards of $20. That means that this Patterson vehicle has high production values -- a polished soundtrack, good-looking graphics and clearly developed plotlines. This game also manages to do a good job at integrating elements borrowed from other Facebook games. Each move you make in Catch a Killer requires energy -- which is indicated by a bar at the top of the screen -- and when you run out, you have to wait a certain amount of time until it refills again. Or, if you're impatient, you have to option to buy more energy with Sony Station Cash, which you can buy with a credit card, Pay Pal or by completing offers.
Like FarmVille, et al, you can also invite friends to play the game with you -- and you can send each other gifts, including energy, so you don't run out of gas as fast. The idea of using energy is rather clever and you start with enough get you through about 1.5 missions before you completely run out and have to wait for a refill. And, that that point, you might feel bummed, but still feel like you got some quality time with the game. And, you might be tempted to actually spend money to keep playing.
A less impressive component of the game is the customizable avatar system and avatar home, which for now, seems a little out of place. The avatar and house doesn't seem to have any real bearing on the actual game progress and seems to serve solely as a place spend the virtual currency you earn while solving cases. Maybe this will change in some future update. There's also a spot where you can use your avatar to chat with other players -- live -- which is an interesting idea, even though the chat rooms seem to be empty at the moment.
Back to that whole 'mature' thing. In addition to having 'mature' content, Catch a Killer is a game that will also likely appeal to people with more mature tastes in games. Maybe someone who has played FarmVille for a while and want something a little different. Or maybe someone who or someone who has played a lot casual games (shameless plug: many of which you find right here on Games.com) and has been looking for the same experience in a social game. I expect Catch a Killer will be just the first of many more mature games to arrive on Facebook in the coming year.
Read our interview with James Patterson about the game >
Play James Patterson's Catch a Killer on Facebook >