This is an image from the video game "Unheard." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. Not otherwise rated. (CNS photo/NEXT Studios)
This is an image from the video game "Unheard." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. Not otherwise rated. (CNS photo/NEXT Studios)
NEW YORK (CNS) — Echoes of the popular detective-themed radio dramas of the 1940s resonate through "Unheard" (NEXT Studios). This PC game immerses players in a story that compels them to keep moving forward based not on what they can see but what they can hear.

Gamers are presented with five unsolved crimes. They must discover what ties all the cases together. It's a unique approach to the mystery game genre.

The dialogue includes coarse language, along with references to drugs and alcohol. But there's no sexual content, so at least some parents may consider "Unheard" acceptable for mature teens.

The premise is simple: The gamer is a detective practicing a new crime-solving technique that allows sleuths to hear every word spoken at the scene of a crime. The trial run of this new technology is overseen by a supervisor, but no information is given as to how it works.

For each crime scene, the player must sift the evidence provided by a short audio clip to discover what really took place. Gamers use a small avatar to move around a blueprint map of the scene, overhearing different characters and exploring the contained environment.

Each person's identity must be learned and labeled, along with whatever questions are posed at the start of each crime: "Who planted the drugs?" "Who planted the fake artwork in the safe?" Once players make their final deductions, the game reveals whether the answers and identities are correct — or if they must instead return to the start of the audio clip and listen more closely.

Since NEXT Studios is an independent Chinese developer and publisher, "Unheard" is available to play in either Simplified Chinese or English. The mechanics are easy, requiring only the click of a mouse to control the avatar as it moves from room to room.

The developers strongly recommend using headphones to have the complete experience, but built-in speakers work fine. Headphones do allow players to hear binaural audio — a method of recording that produces the sound equivalent of 3-D — furthering the immersive experience.

There is also a comment function that encourages players to write down notes as they listen to the audio, which is helpful since gamers must keep track of any detail that might help solve the case.

A definite downside is that "Unheard" must be played all the way through since there is no save function. So players should be prepared to set aside at least enough time for the length of a feature film. Otherwise, closing the game means restarting the timeline over from the first crime scene.

Playable on PC (Steam).

The game contains occasional profanities, at least one rough term and a few crude expressions. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. Not otherwise rated.