Carmen Sandiego's back

November 09, 1998|By Lynne Tuohy | Lynne Tuohy,HARTFORD COURANT

From the opening "Greetings, Gumshoe" from the chief of the ACME Detective Agency to the final execution of a warrant for a member of the V.I.L.E gang, the fun and learning are virtually nonstop in the latest release of Broderbund's Where in the U.S.A. is Carmen Sandiego?

Players traverse the United States, gathering clues by clicking on passers-by and then clicking on one or both lines on the Get-A-Clue Case Pad: "Where did the suspect go?" and "Tell me about the suspect."

The responses are often cryptic, making reference to a region of the country or a national landmark or park. Players amass a suspect profile on a warrant application. Once all the clues are in and the suspect is in sight, one must click on the "Issue Warrant" command. If everything is in order, the suspect can be nabbed. The game features a bonus legal lesson: An arrest without a warrant is invalid, and the suspect goes free. Aghhhh!

Before you can have a suspect, you have to have a crime, and most of these are ingenious. Example: Someone stole the Hoover Dam's drain plug, and if you don't get it back, Lake Mead will shrink to the size of a puddle. Players can activate a brief video about the construction of the Hoover Dam, completed in 1936.

Although the recommended age range for this Windows/Mac title is 8 to 14, I found myself engaged and learning nifty geography facts that eluded me in school. The difficulty level of the game increases with a player's skill. Beginners are assigned the rank of "rookie" but gradually move up in rank to "super sleuth," based on the number of cases they've solved. The only complaint my 9-year-old daughter (ranked a "senior inspector") had was that the nice citizens who give you clues are the same ones over and over. Not a fatal flaw.

There is no need to cart geography and travel books to the computer. The game features clever resources, including a "State-a-Base" in which to research any state, maps and even a juke box to decipher clues that have to do with music.

Even ace detectives are entitled to a break, however, and players have the option of declining an assignment and clicking onto "I want to explore now."

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