Tired of squabbling housewives, disingenuous bachelors, and spoiled Beverly Hills teens? How about a reality show that ups the ante and gives you a first-hand look at someone being murdered? In ERS Game Studios’ Reality Show: Fatal Shot, you’ll investigate the mysterious death of a man that was filmed on a television episode designed for the thrill-seeking voyeur: the Fright Reality Show. Though it's a bit on the simple side, this hidden object-free lite adventure includes a slew of well-integrated puzzles wrapped in detailed hand-drawn visuals grounded in reality, which propel you through an intriguing journey across the back lots of a creepy entertainment studio.
The game opens with a gorgeous cinematic that swoops in amidst rain pelting the cables of a suspension bridge. The view settles on a poor soul teetering on the edge of the bridge. He jumps. And it’s all caught on camera. The man’s wife comes to you, a detective, for help, but your investigation immediately encounters a few obstacles. While Sarah, the bereaved wife, did have evidence she says proves her husband was murdered and did not commit suicide, she no longer has it. Unfortunately, she had a run-in with a creepy clown that had been hanging around the studio (ugh, if there’s anything that scares me more than a malevolent clown, I can’t think of it), who mugged her and stole every piece of evidence she had. Now without proof, Sarah relays her concerns about the studio that films the reality show her husband was participating in. According to her, LTV and its owner don’t seem to be on the up and up.
It isn’t much to go on, but then total strangers have agreed to marry each other on reality shows based on a lot less. Armed with what little information your fellow cops have dredged up on the police database, your investigation gets off to an inauspicious start when you’re chloroformed and end up back at the station, where someone has left you a mysterious package. The parcel contains an ultraviolet light, which you’ll use to literally bring to light clues left behind for you by a stranger who seems to want to help you with your case. Your unknown guide makes it fairly easy to determine when you should use the device, so while it is a fun diversion, there really is no challenge in using it. Nevertheless, it does add some variety to the gameplay, and some of its uses help involve you more into the detective aspect of the game. A little more of this type of puzzling with a little less handholding would have been a great way to add another layer of immersion.
It's still easy to feel immersed in the mystery, due in no small part to some great animations like the friendly precinct dog who leaps up to catch the chew toy you toss. Ambient animations are also quite nice. In one bucolic scene, twinkle lights thread their way through the branches of trees as butterflies flit amidst colorful flowers, while bugs swirling around a lamppost round out the scene. But it isn’t all twinkle lights and flowers. Reality Show deviates from typical casual game fare that has you roaming through haunted mansions or ghostly countrysides. Here you’ll be exploring a large, modern city. It’s hard to tell which city you’re in, but the suspension bridge reminded me of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco and a tall building soaring into the sky topped by a flat, circular tower looks like the Seattle Space Needle. Parts of it are gritty and at times filled with the squalid detritus of an urban downtown. Travel a bit further into the city, and garbage-strewn streets are bordered by graffiti-covered walls. Sarah herself lives in a down-and-out part of town with packed apartment buildings that have seen better days. Look more closely around you and you’ll notice other odd details that add to the darkness of the setting: As if evil clowns weren’t bad enough, you’ll also encounter a hairless cat, a cardboard cutout whose eyes follow you around, and eerie studio sets that stand empty except for grinning mannequins.
The atmosphere of the city is fleshed out by the cacophonous sounds of urban life: You’ll hear the crackle and monotone voice on a police dispatch radio and the incessant honking of cars (which you oddly never see as you walk around downtown), dogs barking, and police sirens wailing. The music consists of the pluckings of a deep bass and a chorus of somber strings, helping to paint a sad portrait of this cold metropolis. There are voiceovers by some decent actors, such as the gravelly-voiced cop in charge of the police database and the southern twang of Sam, an oddball bum who has a penchant for strange hats, blue jeans that don’t quite button up all the way, and flip-flops. Despite his disheveled appearance, Sam’s a fairly helpful informant, giving you plenty of information in his wheezy, drawling tones. There’s also the sleazy, whispery voice of the mysterious person who seems to be helping you. The voice acting for Sarah, however, is not as successful, instead feeling affectless and utterly boring to listen to.
Luckily, listening to your client isn’t the main objective. This is a straightforward casual game with a variety of inventory puzzles that you’ll need to solve to move through the story. Most of the obstacles are logical: You’ll use sharp objects to open up other objects and you’ll need to scour the environment for treats to give to hungry informants. You’ll also find puzzles where you must examine and interact closely with the environment to gather clues, such as determining combinations for locks. Much of the inventory you come across is intuitively placed, such as a wrench in a toolbox. However, given the amount of item collection you’ll be doing, it’s inevitable that you’ll get the occasional non sequitur contrivance. For instance, you’re based out of a police station; why on earth would you have to steal coffee? But thankfully, these random fetch quests don’t pop up nearly as often as they do in other casual games.
You’ll also encounter logic puzzles that are fairly well integrated. If you need to move crates, you’ll find yourself viewing a miniature version of the room that requires you to use a forklift to move the crates out of the way while avoiding getting blocked in. To move a rotating stage, you’ll be asked to solve a rotating tile-like puzzle, which is nicely suited to the task at hand. A number of these obstacles are quite easy. A puzzle where you have to move a cat by filling in a series of gaps demands no logic at all, really, just an eye for matching patterns and a bit of patience. Overall the puzzles run the gamut from easy to mildly challenging, from gear puzzles to complete-the-circuit puzzles, to pipe puzzles, and many, many more. Quite a few are different from what I’ve seen in previous casual outings and are just plain fun. I enjoyed a combination puzzle that lets you know when your guesses are too high or too low (though such a mechanism in a locked safe seems a bit unsafe to me) and one where you had to cut various parts of a video together to get to the final version. A small sprinkling of minigames are offered as well, including one where you attempt to win the most tiles from a mechanical opponent and an extremely easy target-shooting puzzle.
Eventually you’ll get to explore the LTV studios, where a variety of sets are populated by puppets and mannequins. In one scene, you’ll have to find puppet parts and then arrange their outfits in a particular order. Many of the puppet/mannequin puzzles fit more into the inventory rather than logic puzzle category, requiring you to search your surroundings to figure out how to save a damsel in distress from a hungry mannequin, for example. One especially charming puppet show puzzle involves finding items to help the protagonist get the girl. These are fun and great to look at, but I did wonder why I kept running into all of these puppet props in the studio of a developer that produces reality shows. Regardless, the multitude of sets gives you a good variety of environments to explore, from a dark but romantic balcony set for a Juliet and vampire Romeo scene to a primitive setting populated by cave people and a saber tooth tiger, to a Civil War scene with soldiers rallying around a cannon. In addition to all of these sets, you’ll venture through back lots leading to prop and light rooms as well as bits of the city, from Sarah’s apartment to the bridge of the crime scene. It all adds up to a good amount of exploration.
My initial investigation clocked in at a little over three hours. During that time, I was asked to trust no one, was bowled over when a character I didn’t expect maced me in the face, and felt a small shiver of unease at discovering additional gruesome clues at the crime scene that both creeped me out and added to the mystery. I didn’t really guess how the story would end ahead of time, though the supernatural twist that gets thrown in at the very end of the main game and introduces the Collector's Edition bonus chapter felt like a bit of a cheap throwaway to me. I wish the developers had left well enough alone and kept the adventure anchored in its reality setting. The main game has a satisfying ending that really didn’t need any follow-up, so the half hour bonus chapter has you learning more about the strange goings-on behind the Fright Reality Show. You’ll play through just a few more additional scenes and some extra logic puzzles that are not as well integrated as they are in the main game, so the standard version of the game is probably the better value this time. Either way, if you’re looking for a wide variety of puzzles and exploration set amidst wonderfully detailed hand-drawn TV lot sets, then you’ll want to flip to the Reality Show: Fatal Shot channel.