Finding a Million Waldos
HIGH The sheer amount of detail and care put into each map.
LOW Way too much filler.
WTF The AI’s passionate hatred of goats.
The format of Crime o’ Clock lends itself perfectly to a monotonous, repetitive experience — the player is thrust into the role of a detective in the far future, working alongside a sophisticated AI named Eve. The detective is tasked with solving crimes in the past that never should have occurred and are now disrupting the normal flow of time. They solve these crimes through interacting with a diegetic, computer workstation-esque interface.
There’s really nothing wrong with a game about a fictional ‘office job’ leaning into a certain kind of monotony as the player repeats the same simulated tasks over and over – this monotony can, in fact, serve to highlight moments of beauty and grace. In the Case of Crime o’ Clock, unfortunately, the repetition of both gameplay and plot elements is so acute, so overwhelmingly hard to ignore, that most of its positive qualities quickly become buried in a sea of mind-numbing busywork.
In order to carry out their aforementioned detective work, the player is mainly tasked with finding different objects within large, extremely detailed isometric images, representing different frozen moments in time that occurred during the event in question — it’s a bit like the saved web pages in the Wayback Machine. For example, the player might be asked to identify an initial crime scene, with the computer telling them the approximate area it’s located in. Once they’ve identified the crime scene, the view might shift to a different moment in time, and they’ll be asked to find additional clues near the crime scene, and so on.
At its core, it’s simply a fancy version of Where’s Waldo, but the unique twists it brings to that tried-and-true formula serve to sustain the player’s curiosity — at least, for a time.
Crime o’ Clock is rendered in a simplistic, cartoony style, with many of the humans represented by cute anthropomorphic characters that carry on their own lives parallel to the stories the player investigates. I won’t lie, I let out a bit of a groan when I saw the pair of Rick and Morty lookalikes in the first level, but I was tickled to see them teleporting around the map every time I shifted through time, being chased through a replica castle before making their narrow escape through a portal.
Given that the player will return to the same ‘maps’ (corresponding to different time periods) many times over the course of the campaign, it’s inevitable that they will spot people that were involved in cases they have already solved, going about their newly-peaceful lives as the world continues to advance. These small moments of recognition, along with the playful way in which Crime o’ Clock lays out its alternate vision of history — Atlantis existed, there was a ‘Great Goat Guerilla’ at some point, etc. — thoroughly enchanted me for the first few hours.
…And then I realized how many hours were left.
Even before I clued in to how long Crime o’ Clock was probably going to be, I was beginning to tire of the repetitive minigames it kept throwing at me. Between selecting spots on the map Where’s Waldo-style, the player’s AI partner will often ask them to solve small puzzles to progress the investigation that are meant to correspond to, say, hacking a computer interface, or checking a glass for poison. The problem is, Crime o’ Clock has very few minigames on offer. Multiple minigames are variations on the same simple matching game, and while they slowly ramp up in difficulty, their repetitive nature along with the sheer length of Crime o’ Clock relative to its simplistic mechanics (and the fact that there is zero penalty for failure) means that the player will master them all long before they’ve reached the end credits.
At first, I appreciated these minigames for their slight tonal contrast with the Crime o’ Clock’s regular rhythm, but as the hours wore on, their appeal fell away completely, and I could only see them as padding. Really, Crime o’ Clock’s entire structure began to feel like padding, the repetition serving to elaborate on mechanics that warrant a one or two-hour experience at the absolute most. In the end, I began to feel a hopeless sense of dread pass over me, always shocked to find out just how much I had left to do.
Thankfully, Crime o’ Clock’s final level returns to its strengths somewhat, using the Where’s Waldo format to drive home its ideas in a way that felt satisfying – but the level, too, felt just a little bit too padded, circling around its central point one (or two, or three) too many times.
At the very least, I appreciated the creativity on display – the final level really hammered home the fact that the devs had a vision for the story of Crime o’ Clock that directly incorporated the unique format they chose to use, rather than offering a haphazard story applied to the gameplay after the fact. The whole thing feels a bit messy, but there’s a unique vision within it that might be brought to light with a bit of careful pruning… but I suppose we’ll never know.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Disclosures: This game is developed by Bad Seed and published by Just for Games and Merge Games. It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 16 hours of play were devoted to the single–player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: according to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Mild Violence. The ‘mild violence’ mentioned by the ESRB is rendered in an extremely stylized cartoon style, and only the aftermath of said violence is ever really shown.
Coloblind Modes: there are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered or resized. All the dialogue from the AI or other characters is fully text-based, and every game element is easily findable through the game’s interface. There is a sound-based minigame, but it is accompanied by a visual component that makes it quite simple to complete without sound. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable. Every interaction in the game is completed using the left mouse button.