God bless the common burglar. Without his sticky-fingered ways, the humble safe may never have been invented to keep important things in and unimportant people out. Sadly it also gave rise to Safecracker, a crime against gaming that has stolen something more important than jewels or money: our time and attention.
The story goes like this: a wealthy and “excentric” (sic – it’s in the intro) billionaire has died and decided, in a final fit of sadism, to leave his will in one of the 35 safes in his mansion. The recently bereaved – called, believe it or not, the Adams family – call you in as one of the world’s premier safecrackers to get to the will and let everyone know the good word. You walk in the front door and are immediately left to your own devices: there is nobody around to ask questions or interact with, just you and the steel boxes.
Navigating the mansion’s rooms to find the safes should be the easiest part of a puzzle game like this, but the game even messes this up. The top screen displays pre-rendered views of the room you’re in, and the bottom screen shows arrows for the directions you can currently move and turn in. Tapping any direction fades everything to black for a second, then the new view fades in. It’s extremely disorienting to go from place to place with no graphical transition, and makes remembering the physical construction of the mansion a nightmare. Granted there is a rudimentary map showing safes that are yet to be opened, but finding your way to the puzzles in any room is half the puzzle: you may have to walk in, step forward, turn left, walk forward and turn right to get to a corner unit. Although exploration is a key component of games such as this, a real-time 3D approach would have made so much more sense.
The safes themselves are as challenging as you’d want, made even more difficult by the complete lack of explanation or hints. You’re left absolutely alone to figure out what the game wants you to do and how to do it, with sliding block puzzles, number combinations, alphabetical dials and more all standing between you and leaving the mansion. As with the Adventure Company’s previous DS release, the rather more enjoyable Agatha Christie’s ABC Murders, there’s no way to call a hint or use the DS to record notes on puzzles that leave you stumped. If you become frustrated with a particular safe and decide to return later, your progress is mysteriously wiped by an unseen and mischievous member of the Adams family (Thing, perhaps?)
Safecracker is outdated and completely ill-translated to the DS. It was released on the PC years ago and even then it’s hard to believe it was ever on the cutting edge of design: its static, pre-rendered rooms belong firmly in the 1990s with Myst and its ilk. The sound and music are poorly compressed, with crackle evident even in the opening seconds of the game’s introduction, and your footsteps bang around whether you’re walking on marble or carpet.
It’s safe to say this wouldn’t even be seeing a release on DS without the popularity of Professor Layton, but the two couldn’t be more different. Layton is full of character, class and polish; Safecracker is a musty antique, lacking any spark or wit. Do yourself a favour and grab one of the DS’s many other accomplished puzzle games before attempting to crack this one.