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Find 'Missing' clues on Web sites, e-mail

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Marc Saltzman, a freelance technology journalist whose reviews also appear on the Gannett News Service.

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Cryptic clues given online and on the CD-ROM will help players solve the mystery that develops in "Missing: Since January."
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"Missing: Since January" is a fresh adventure that uses the Internet and e-mail to make some of its game play more realistic and intriguing

When playing the game, which loads from CD-ROM, you assume the role of an investigator who has been charged with unraveling the disappearance of photojournalist Jack Lorski and female companion Karen while the pair was researching a string of serial killings.

The only lead you have is some video footage sent to Lorski's employer, SKL Network, by The Phoenix, the mysterious murderer who holds the key to finding the missing journalists.

After analyzing the video, you must gather more clues by cracking word puzzles, analyzing video clips, scouring more than 300 actual and fictitious Web sites and by following instructions sent in e-mail messages from virtual characters, including The Phoenix himself.

Receiving and reading e-mail and surfing the Net takes place outside of the game, using your own e-mail address and Web browser. While this helps immerse you in the game, it also means you'll need an Internet connection to play.

Illusion of 'outside' help

As an example, someone by the name of Kristin Lark will e-mail you early in the game. She writes: "I'm a history major at Indiana University. I'm currently on a study trip in France. I got your address from SKL Network and they offered me the chance of being your partner on the Jack Lorski case. The guy who made the CD is just so wacko! He's also got a thing for the esoteric. That's handy because that's what I'm majoring in! Check out my site -- www.salemwitchmystery.com -- and you'll see what I mean."

Virtual characters, such as Kristin, won't write back if you attempt to e-mail them, but the illusion of help "outside" the game is effective. The clues, such as those found on Kristin's Web site, will help solve The Phoenix's increasingly tough riddles, shed light on the motives behind the murders he commits and eventually will help you locate the kidnapped couple.

SKL's Web site is also an integral part of the game as it provides tools such as a Google search engine, a language translator and a notepad so players can jot down assorted clues.

Its disturbing videos -- which appear to be inspired by films such as "The Blair Witch Project" and "Seven" -- make a lasting impression. The actors' performances are convincing, and the moody music adds to the suspense.

All puzzles are not equal

When it comes to the game's puzzles, some are better than others. Challenges such as dragging video snippets into chronological sequence proved more enjoyable than the arcadelike tests cooked up by The Phoenix.

"Missing" isn't an easy mystery to solve, so players may consider downloading a free walk-through of the game, available at Web sites such as GameBoomers (www.gameboomers.com). Look for the game under its European title, "In Memoriam."

If "Missing" sounds familiar, that's because it's reminiscent of "Majestic," an online serial adventure from Electronic Arts. "Majestic" tried to immerse players by calling their cell phones and faxing them at home or work with cryptic clues. "Majestic," which required a monthly subscription to play, didn't find an audience and was eventually pulled.

"Missing"'s use of real-world technologies, such as e-mail, isn't nearly as ambitious as "Majestic"'s, and "Missing" doesn't have a monthly subscription, so it might succeed where its predecessor didn't.

Overall, this innovative blend of documents, puzzles, video clips, Web sites and e-mail messages makes for an eerily fascinating and unique game concept.


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