If you religiously read this weekly column, as you should, you’ll know that I have a fondness for puzzles in all their many forms. I was therefore very happy to fall upon The Trace app, where you solve a murder mystery, based on collected clues, incident scenes, and other information picked up along the way. Just like other similarly interactive apps, you tap, swipe and zoom in and out of items and areas to see what you can discover.
I had been looking for a new challenge to enjoy after finishing the latest levels of “Monument” (one of my favorite apps), and based on the description, The Trace appealed to me. Besides, I’d already had years of police training, thanks to watching all incarnations of Law & Order over the years, and every episode of Prime Suspect. I was basically already a detective, so it was now time for me to work on a case.
The app was only $4.99 with no in-app purchases, so why delay? I downloaded The Trace and prepared to solve the mystery.
How it works
As is the case with a number of other apps, playing similarly designed games in the past will help you quickly grasp how The Trace operates, but even if you’re new to this kind of app, don’t worry – it leads by example. When you fire it up, it will indicate via animation and wording how to play along. By the time it backs off and allows you to go it alone, you’ll feel pretty comfortable with how it all works.
I’m not giving the game away when I tell you that detective Sam Pearce has been called to site to investigate a suspicious death. It has been rigged to look like a suicide, but from the very first clue it’s made clear that a murder has taken place. You will be taken through four levels, each a different location in the story. It all begins in the garage where a man has been flattened by a hydraulic lift.
From there you have to start looking around for clues. Tap madly away to move about rooms, and zoom in on specific areas. Tap on boxes, papers, and definitely take your time having a close look at any people you encounter. You can scan blood samples for DNA information and fingerprints to see if they appear in the police records, piecing together clues as you go.
Open any drawer you can find, and pick up useful items like keys and tools, as you never know when you’ll need them. The app keeps a database of all the clues and items you’ve collected.
When you’re faced with a lock that needs to be opened, check the keys you’ve accumulated to see if you have one that fits. If so, you can drag it to the lock and turn it. If not, keep looking – there’s a key around somewhere.
As you gather more details, you’ll notice question marks popping out throughout the rooms. Tap on any one of them, and they’ll take you to a diagram reminiscent of math class in high school – a collection of circles and lines connected together with question marks attached to them. You can now drag the clues you’ve found to the boxes along the left hand side of the screen. If you associate the right clues with the right question, you’ll get a green check mark, and then a video depicting that part of the crime you’ve solved. Got it?
While you do the dirty work, you’ll get a number of phone calls from Alex, a lady at the station (I’m assuming), who checks up on your progress and gives you help from time to time.
Once you’ve answered all the questions in a level, the app will play back everything that happened there as one long video, which sets you up for the next level until you solve the crime.
So suppose you find yourself stumped and don’t know what to do? The Trace does not offer hints; it only allows you to go to Facebook et al and ask friends for help. This, I would suggest, is unadvisable. If your friends are anything like mine, they regularly take to the social media waves, threatening to cut off the next person who asks them for things like Candy Crush Saga lives. I would rather advise that you keep trying to find something new before giving up (tap, tap, tap is the key), and if you can’t stand it any longer, go to the Internet instead, where you’ll find walkthroughs for the various scenes.
When I tried it
I really enjoyed playing this app from the very beginning. I’m proud to say that I got the majority of the clues on my own, but at one point I confess I did break down and take a sneaky peek at a Web walkthrough. I had gone around in circles for so long, I was getting tired of looking at the same sink, the same wall, the same floor, the same drawers, and not finding anything new.
This leads me to my one complaint about this app – when I saw what I could do next, based on the YouTube video I found, it covered areas I had already tapped, but for some reason they hadn’t come up. I went back, and sure enough, so long as I went to the exact position the walkthrough revealed, up came another clue or “lead,” as the app calls it. Sure, there should be some specificity, but I found it to be a little over the top. All I’ll tell you is that there are a number of people or items hiding more than one lead. Investigate, investigate, investigate!
This was a great way to spend a few hours, and I liked how the app helps you along without making it easy. When I read the reviews, I was surprised that some people complained about it being $4.99 for just the one mystery. Have we all forgotten what games used to cost? And this one is really well put together. A lot of work went into its design, and it costs less than a burger. I think everyone has become way too spoiled with the free apps available out there; many of which have constant ads popping up, or get you with sneaky in-app purchases that can add up to a small fortune.
My opinion is that The Trace is well worth the money.
Good storyline. Challenges your detective skills. Finite levels.
Can be a little too specific with its tapping requirements.
The Trace: Murder Mystery Game
- Cost: $4.99
- Seller: Relentless Software
- Devices: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
- Rating: T for Teen