Red Johnson’s Chronicles (PS3)

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Red Johnson’s Chronicles is certainly one of the more interesting titles on PlayStation Network – for just R95 you get a jazzy, noir-ish tale of murder and deceit with beautifully rendered backdrops and challenging puzzles. Although it will take you a good five hours or so to finish, the story itself accounts for a mere fraction of that, and feels more like an episode of a crime series than a well-developed narrative.

Another disappointing aspect of the game is that there are only a handful of environments, all of which are cramped and claustrophobic. Thus those people looking for an expansive point and click adventure (such as Riven) will be sorely disappointed by Red’s first foray into this genre.

Red Johnson's Chronicles Screenshot 1

Red Johnson is a character infused with verve – a young private investigator with plenty of attitude and self-belief. You take control of him and attempt to solve a murder case which has been assigned to you. A man has been killed in Metropolis and it’s up to you to bring the perpetrators to justice by collecting evidence, gathering statements and piecing together exactly what happened on that fateful day.

Unfortunately Red Johnson’s Chronicles lacks PlayStation Move support, so you’ll need to use the left analog stick on your DualShock controller to move a circular reticule around the screen which changes depending on what you hover over. You can also change the reticule into a magnifying glass which is handy when you’re looking for small bits of evidence lying around a location.

Red Johnson's Chronicles Screenshot 2

The flow of gameplay in Red Johnson’s Chronicles basically consists of gathering evidence and witness statements by solving puzzles, and then going back to your headquarters to analyze and compare evidence so you can slowly piece together the exact particulars of the crime at hand.

Every now and then there’ll be a QTE (Quick Time Event) where the colour drains from the screen and you need to correctly input a short sequence of commands to survive. Failure is never a problem in Red Johnson’s Chronicles as you’ll just return to the moment before your life became endangered.

Tricky, multi-tiered puzzles are at the heart of this game, and are likely to occupy the greatest percentage of your play time. These are cleverly constructed and should appeal to people with a love for puzzles or mental challenges. Many of the items around which the puzzles are based can be rotated with the right analog stick in order to access concealed areas like back panels, and SIXAXIS controls are used occasionally to perform such tasks as brushing off the dust on a windowpane.

Red Johnson's Chronicles Screenshot 3

Item interaction during puzzle solving has a wonderfully realistic feeling to it thanks to intelligent button layout. For instance, you can remove screws by rotating the right analog stick in the indicated direction, or lift a flap by pushing up on the right stick. Half of the fun in Red Johnson’s Chronicles is this type of intuitive interaction with the large range of available objects – tape recorders, telephones, safes and newspaper vending machines, to name just a few.

Puzzles are not the only area where you’ll need to have your brain operating in top gear – piecing together evidence and getting witnesses or people related to the case to spill the beans is the other part of the equation. You’ll need to summon all your powers of deductive reasoning to solve the case with a 100% rating, and I must admit the eventual outcome is more interesting than I expected. The ending clearly sets up future instalments of Red Johnson’s Chronicles, although there’s no information on the next entry in the series as yet.

Red Johnson's Chronicles Screenshot 4

When you finish the game you’re left with a bit of an empty feeling, as if this should have been part of something far larger. It’s almost as if you were given a random case from L.A. Noire to play and couldn’t access anything more after that. Some people may feel R95 is a bit steep for what is essentially just one case, but the game has high production values for a PSN release and is well worth the price of entry if you like this type of game. Hopefully developer Lexis Numerique will release more titles in the series over the next couple of years and package all of them together for an affordable price once the series is complete.

The audio-visual presentation in Red Johnson’s Chronicles is very well put together, featuring a jazz-themed soundtrack and stunning backdrops with muted colours and grimy textures. Character models and accompanying animations are stellar for a PSN release, and the voice work fits well with the overall style of the game. Ambient sound effects are suitably moody, and the rotatable items instrumental in puzzles are rendered with exceptional attention to detail.

Red Johnson's Chronicles Screenshot 5

Unfortunately the game’s environment feels very confined because there are only about five different locales to explore, with each one featuring one or two small areas to investigate. There just aren’t enough locations in the game to satisfy most point and click adventurers, and you’re left feeling like this was a missed opportunity to reignite this long-dormant genre.

Red Johnson’s Chronicles is a worthwhile purchase if you’re looking for an aesthetically pleasing and mentally challenging experience on PSN. The puzzles in the game are great, as is Red Johnson’s winning personality. Just don’t expect a vast environment to explore or a narrative arc which leaves you feeling satisfied and accomplished.